The Pareto principle states that in organizations 20% of the people do 80% of the work. (Some have wondered if it may be more like 10% of the people do 90% of the work!) Yet, even a cursory reading of the Gospel of Matthew makes it clear that service is not a nice add on for disciples; service is integral to what it means to be a disciples of Jesus Christ. You cannot become more like Jesus and not serve. If congregations want to help people grow spiritually, they must help them discover ways of joining Jesus in service to others.
God’s word is clear about service and discipleship being inseparably linked, though this goes against the grain of our consumer culture where it is all about what I want.
· “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29) After inviting us to come to him for comfort, we are urged to be co-yoked with Jesus in service to the Father. Serving next to Jesus we discover true soul rest.
· “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) Unequivocally, discipleship involves sacrificial cross bearing in service to others.
· “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-8) People may come to our congregations to be served, but if they grow to become more like Jesus, they must be taught and challenged to serve.
According to Move: What 1,000 Congregations Revealed About Spiritual Growth, serving is a “causequence” of spiritual growth. It is both the result of people maturing spiritually and a catalyst for continued growth. In fact, the Reveal Study indicated that among the quarter million church goers surveyed, serving others was more conducive to spiritual growth than even involvement in small groups or passionate worship services! (Which is not to say that we shouldn’t offer both of these, too.)
All along people’s spiritual journey, joining Jesus in service to others and God’s causes helps them continue growing spiritually.
· Serving in the church. From the beginning, people should be encouraged to find places of service that fit them at least monthly. How can we possibly say we are following Jesus if we are not joining him in serving others?
· Serving through the church. As people mature spiritually, they need to learn to go public with their faith, to not keep it compartmentalized to church. Helping people gain experience in serving others in the community through the church enables them to gain confidence in living out their faith in the rest of the world where they live. People need to be taught and coached regarding how to speak about their faith and how to serve others in ways that reflect Jesus’ own style of serving. (Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways, talks about Jesus’ style of serving being characterized by the 4 P’s: proximity, presence, powerlessness and proclamation.)
· Serving beyond the church. As disciples continue to mature and gain deeper understandings both about how Jesus serves others and how they are wired up to serve, they need to be encouraged to discover ways to join Jesus in serving in their community and the world that have Kingdom impact. When the needs of the world, a disciple’s own gifts and passions, and the nudge of the Holy Spirit intersect, mature disciples pick up their crosses in service to others.
How do congregations help encourage serving in these ways? Here are four suggestions:
1. Teach that disciples serve or they are not disciples. The church is not just the community to which you come to be cared for; it is the community through which we discover how we are meant to care for others. Jesus offers every disciple the privilege of serving others beside him.
2. Help people discover their SHAPE for service. (Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience) God wires us up for service in very different ways. How is your congregation helping people discover how God has uniquely shaped them to serve and to make their Kingdom contribution?
3. Provide on-ramps for service. On-ramps are easy ways of beginning to serve in the church, in the community and around the world, for example: church work days, community service projects or mission trips. Ideally, on-ramps should also involve an opportunity for people to reflect with others about the significance of what they are doing and about what the Holy Spirit is teaching them through service. Many youth and young adults want to make a difference in the world and are more open to serving others than they are to worship or small group experiences. Serving is a much more natural point of entry into the life of Christ’s community for them, than it is for their baby-boomer parents.
4. Celebrate those who serve constantly. What gets the light of public attention grows. If you want more people to serve, celebrate those who are serving. Honor their contribution by telling the story of their impact. And at the same time, offer ways others can get involved with them.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence