Posts Tagged ‘serving’
What if I told you that Amy and I have an open marriage? That we give each other permission to engage romantically with others anytime the mood strikes? I can almost hear the sounds of gagging as you read this… but consider it for a moment. Maybe we each have a few kids by other partners, perhaps we talk about getting some of our closer relationships together for a party. And what if we kept a schedule of dates with others, or planned out the year so that we have a good idea of when we’ll each go our own ways to different places to find other people. Each of us could have our go-to spots or websites to find what we’re looking for. Our justification might be that we each have so much love to give, and there are just too many people in the world who aren’t loved, so we should spread ours around as best we could. Would we have a flourishing marriage? Would we experience demonstrable growth as friends? Would our ‘partners’ benefit from our strategy? How would our children respond to this plan?
OK. If you’re like most of the people who read this blog, you’ve had just about enough. You’re starting to question my beliefs and probably my sanity. Amy and I do not have an ‘open’ marriage. The very notion is difficult for me to even suggest. But bear with me here, because I’m trying to illustrate a point.
If we’re all repulsed at the idea of Christ followers having an open marriage, at the possibility of such a distortion of covenantal relationship, then shouldn’t our logic carry over? Shouldn’t we be equally disgusted when we see other covenants mistreated or neglected? We should, but too often we don’t.
Let’s stop for a moment and consider our approach to serving through the church. Before I get myself into more trouble with you, let me acknowledge that there are a lot of churches doing a lot of good in this world for the sake of Christ. Data would suggest that the Christian church does more for those in need than any other group. And so it should be. But are we doing the best we can? Does the prevailing strategy cause any negative fall-out? You bet. If you’re not totally convinced, read When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. The fact is while most, if not all of us are motivated to serve others, sometimes the way we help can leave those we help worse off than if we hadn’t helped at all. And these strategies can also hurt us.
Before we get into it, let me be totally clear. Spontaneous service in the name of Christ is not only good, it’s Biblical. The gospels are full of accounts where Jesus intentionally goes out of His way to serve, bless and heal people along His journey. The woman at the well comes to mind, the woman who touched his clothes, Zacchaeus; the list goes on. Meeting needs as they present to us should be a rhythm of our lives, no matter how inconvenient. I wish not to present my case as an either/or but as a both/and. Too often, though, we see things through the lens of either/or, and spontaneous service becomes our only strategy. When that happens, we risk leaving a lot of good footage on the cutting room floor; much of the story can be left untold. Let’s take a look at the problem.
In our fast-paced, ultra-connected world it’s difficult to miss all the brokenness around us. Today, we have a vivid portal that opens up to child soldiers in Africa, human trafficking, abject poverty, fatherlessness, and all kinds of other oppresion right here in our own backyard. We tend to recoil when we see these images on the Internet and in our horror we spring to action. We spend a little time helping homeless families and then a season working with organizations trying to raise the literacy rate and then a spell focused on victims of dictators or tyrants or warlords. Then we discover a cause closer to home. Maybe a family in our neighborhood who lost their bread-winner to disease or death. We reach out to them in the early stages of their recovery, but then just as quickly as we entered their hurt we fly away to the next need.
And so it goes in many cases, that we operate as though we’re in an open relationship with God and His mandate to enact shalom in this world. Generosity is good, and most everyone I know has pure motivations behind their serving. But the most prevalent of our serving practices, this tendency to move from one service project to another, is no more beneficial to us or to those we serve than an open marriage is to the couple or their indiscriminate partners. It may satisfy some deficiency in our hearts or their lives temporarily, but that fulfillment is short-lived. My point is that many of our Gospel-originated, well-intended efforts to serve are thwarted by the fact that our generosity is promiscuous. So what can we do about it?
We must, we MUST give up our ‘service project’ mentality. In fact, we ought to just delete the term from our lexicon. At the very least we should replace ‘service project’ with ‘service partnership.’ When a small group in a church wants to respond to God’s Grace by promoting human flourishing, they should pray and decide to do one thing and do it well. Forget trying to meet every need you encounter. Just focus all your energy on one family or one people group. Do this until Jesus comes back.
One great example of this is a smaller church here in South Florida. They have spent the last two years building a plan to do one thing and do it well. It’s been no easy road, but they have raised a quarter million dollars and purchased and renovated a quad-plex in their neighborhood to house homeless single parents and their kids. They provide these families with mentorship, tutoring, work development and of course a roof over their heads. This church probably won’t ever get credited with changing the world, but you can bet the families they will serve over the next 20, 30, 40+ years will claim that their lives were changed by the love of Christ that came to them through this incredible and faithful generosity.
In his book To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison Hunter proposes a solution to the Western church’s presently fractured approach to culture. He calls it faithful presence. I’ve heard a lot of arguments against this concept, but most, I perceive, are taken out of context. I believe Hunter’s point is that Scripture reveals to us a way of enacting shalom, of loving God and neighbor and of making disciples that is rhythmic, steady and longsuffering. This is in stark contrast to the short-burst, project style of ministry for which the church has become known. Faithful presence says that these three mandates in Scripture are seamless and not compartmentalized. Many times we find ourselves activating just one or the other in our efforts, but everything we do in response to God’s Grace ought to be inclusive of the Cultural Mandate, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
Changing your systematic approach to service from ‘projects’ to ‘partnerships’–long-term, focused commitments–will open doors to joy you never thought existed. Perhaps you’ve already made the transition, and you know it isn’t easy. Keep at it, trust God’s holy Word, and if you get a chance, share your story in the comments below.