In many circles the word service is defined as doing something for others. Sadly, the vision that is often projected so others hopefully will be intrigued to get involved is: “It won’t cost you anything…it won’t take much time…all will be provided for you…just give a few minutes of your time for this serving project.”
The truth of the matter is this; there is hardly anyone who really wants to get on board with this kind of service. Most would rather do what’s in-achievable, what’s hard, what’s impossible and see God do something great through them. In order to really do this, we must cast a different vision.
Dr. J. H. Jowett said, “Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” And Warren Weirsbe further explains his quote with what I think is the best vision for service:
“If there is to be any blessing, there must be some “bleeding.”
We are not going to change the world with what’s comfortable or even achievable. We may make a small step forward, but there will never be any lasting passion that comes from it. This type of serving creates apathy. Those with this kind of service attitude might think, “If it feels good at the moment, I’ll do it or if it fits my comfortable schedule and doesn’t shake up my world too much, I’ll do it.” In the end, this kind of service dies very quickly. The serving project isn’t the worst thing that dies, it’s the person serving. They see no reason for being involved or see no fruit from their easy service time. “So, why bother…” is their response to the next service project.
I think as leaders of service projects, the greatest reason we cast an easy service vision is because we fear people won’t want to “bleed” for blessing. We fear that if we don’t make things easy and achievable no one will serve. With this attitude we have missed the purpose of serving and misunderstood the hearts of those who want to be involved.
There are three things we must consider when it comes to having the attitude of Christ in serving:
1.) People want relationship. A serving project must meet the need of relationship. It must be a ‘people to people’ project. If Jesus died for people for the sake of people finding an eternal relationship our Heavenly Father, than we must serve in such a way that we die to ourselves for the greater good of making another person’s life better now and for all eternity. If helping people is not a part of the project, and if building relationships with people is not the end goal, then we might want to reassess our project.
Example: We can feed the homeless by providing food for the food bank. This is a noble project. But dropping off food at a food bank is hardly exciting and life changing for the servant. Wouldn’t it be better to prepare a boxed meal and a few bags of groceries and actually deliver it to the families that need the food? This puts the people serving into the hungry people’s lives. This opens the door for relationship. And it shows the people serving that their service is changing lives, not just filling up shelves with food. (I’m not against the food bank, just wanting to make this ministry more person to person.)
2.) People want to suffer for the greater good. Paul tells us something about himself that I think we need to also desire, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (Philippians 3:10). To know the power of Christ’s resurrection is like knowing the power of blessing. To be resurrected from the dead is to be relieved from the horror of pain, misery, sorrow, bondage and death. This is a great feeling, but if this is the only thing we are experiencing as a follower of Jesus, we will become complacent, selfish, and entitled believers. Service will only be attractive to this believer if it’s comfortable, fits with their lifestyle, budget or time constraints. This follower misses out on the true blessing of “bleeding” for others.
I don’t think people really want an apathetic experience with Christ. This does not meet the need of doing what’s great in the kingdom of God; it doesn’t empower, instead it confines.
In Paul’s statement, he doesn’t dismiss blessing but includes suffering. None of us will truly understand the power of God if we don’t walk the sufferings of Christ. God is not asking us to die on a cross (even though some have for His name’s sake), but He does want us to sweat, to work hard, to sacrifice and serve to the point that it costs us something.
Example: My oldest two children took part in a “Starv-a-thon” when they were teenagers. Their youth group decided to fast for 24 hours so they could understand the suffering of others. They also gave up sleep for 24 hours. Now that was not all they did. Leading up to the 24 hour fast of sleep and food, they collected money from the community so they could buy Christmas gifts for the veterans and their families. These soldiers had lost limbs and suffered greatly for our country and were in the hospital downtown in Washington, DC.
Using the money they collected, the youth shopped for gifts and wrapped them. Then early in the morning, they went to the hospital to meet the soldiers. They were able to meet the veterans, their families and give them gifts. This “people to people” interaction was the most life changing for the receiver and the youth who were giving. It has forever marked the heart of my two children and all the other youth involved.
The youth sweat, they suffered, they worked hard, they sacrificed, they heard horrific stories from the soldiers, and they made another’s life better and were forever changed as a result. This is true service. This was a cause the youth looked forward to every year! Giving up something for the sake of the suffering invoked a desire to “bleed” more and more for others. In the end, my two children love people and missions! I am forever grateful they experienced a small portion of the “sufferings of Christ.”
3.) People want to do the impossible. If the project is too easy, too fitting, it can create apathy and even an indifference to the need at hand. People want to experience the power of God, not just the calling to serve. If we truly want to know His love, we must taste the impossible in life. People of today want to follow a cause and make a difference. You hear these two phrases often. They will give themselves to something that is great not just something that is needful.
Once we have determined that there is a “people to people” component to the service project and we have designed an opportunity to truly “bleed” for the cause, then we need to make sure the service project is one where there is an irrefutable chance to know the power of God.
To know the power of God will mean taking steps of faith for the servant. This will be different for everyone, as everyone is on a different spectrum in their faith journey.
For some, just saying yes to the project will be a huge step. For others, it might be leading the project, or in some cases it might be funding it. And there are many other ways to take steps of faith in a serving project; more than I can list; for God is at work in the believer and the stories that come from these projects are endless.
The following four components to a service project that define the impossible are:
- We go where no one else will go. If another church is making a difference in an area, we don’t invade their project. We find an area where no one is making a difference. We also choose areas that might be unfavorable, even scary, or maybe dangerous; whatever the fear is, we must walk into this place with faith and love. For love casts our fear and fear is only a symptom to no faith. “Believe,” Jesus says, “and I will do it!”
- The cost and time need must be beyond our own ability and availability. If we can fund it; if we can do it within our plan, we will also take credit for the results. We need the opportunity to believe that God is needed and only He can make the project a success.
- We must expect God to do greater things than we ask for. We pray for God’s hand and blessing in the project. Prayer is at the core of any successful service project. However, in our prayers, we must believe that God is at work in it. As Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20); we must remember that it is God’s power that is at work in us, not our own. His plans, His love for people and His ability is far greater than what we can muster up in our human flesh.
- We must have the gospel ever before us. We must see the project in light of the gospel, just as Paul did. As Paul said to the Philippian church, he was grateful to them. Why? They were partners with him in the gospel. They were partners with him in grace. He taught them to see their suffering as a means to further the gospel. He challenged them to defend the gospel and to work side by side in faith so that the gospel would be proclaimed. We must choose to live for the mission of the gospel, for the good news of Jesus Christ to be shared with all people. In all we do, we are hope bearers for the lost on behalf of our Savior.
Example: About four years ago, the children’s ministry at our church provided Christmas gifts for 85 children living at the nearby homeless shelter. We had three weeks to collect money, buy gifts, wrap them and deliver them. I had a meeting with my 4th and 5th grade leaders; I shared with them this impossible vision. They looked at me like I must be mad! Even so, they were very much on board.
There were moments where I was even thinking that I had lost my mind.
I remember asking God, “Are you sure we can do this?” His answer, “No, but I can.”
Once this project was shared with the church, the church jumped on board. We not only collected all the items on the Christmas list that was requested from the children, we also collected enough money to buy an Adventure Bible for every child (this was not part of the plan). The Bibles cost a whopping $15 each! We delivered these gifts in the required time. It was a faith builder for me and my leadership team.
Excitement surged our team; we were in amazement at what God could do through mortals like us.
Service needs to cost and it needs to meet the abilities of our powerful God – which is endless. Anyone who wants to truly know Christ will not be content with following him safely, but with a dangerous faith to “bleed” for the sake of others.
Church, let’s do this!