Over the next six months, every congregation is being asked to begin tracking weekly the number of persons in worship who self-select that they have been salty servants the week before. It goes without saying, that if people are going to do this, they have to have a pretty good idea what a salty servant is. So, what is it?
The image of being a “salty servant” comes from Jesus in Matthew 5:13. “‘Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.’” (The Message)
Here is our working definition for a Salty Servant:
A salty servant is someone who joins Jesus in service to persons outside their congregation for at least one hour during the previous week in one of four ways:
- Hands-on mercy ministry alleviating the suffering of others;
- Justice ministry addressing systems that cause suffering;
- Earth-care as a steward of God’s creation; or
- Relationship building to ease the emotional or spiritual needs of others.
Let’s look at this definition more closely.
A Salty Servant ministers to persons outside their church family. For Jesus the neighbor we should love is anyone in need. We are sent out into the world. We are called to follow Jesus beyond our comfort zones, as his hands and feet and voice: light in the darkness. Salty Servants are compassionately focused outward beyond themselves, beyond their family, beyond their group. Jesus died “for the whole world,” not just for those we know in our congregation; and so, we are sent out as ambassadors of reconciliation, agents of the Kingdom which God desires to give to all his creatures.
A Salty Servant ministers for at least one hour. Admittedly, it is an arbitrary time period. The point is that being a Salty Servant involves more of an investment of our time than just smiling nicely at a stranger. Salty Service is not always convenient or quick. (Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan?) And like Jesus saying that we should forgive seven times seventy, the intention is for us not to stop after 490 times . . . or after 60 minutes. The hope is that making time in our busy schedules to serve others will become something that we keep choosing week after week, until it becomes a habit in our lives and then a Christ-like part of our character as mature followers of the one who came “not to be served, but to serve.”
A Salty Servant can be involved in hands-on mercy ministry alleviating the suffering of others. Feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; befriending the immigrant; teaching the ignorant; providing shelter for the homeless; caring for orphans, widows or sojourners; providing medical help to those who are sick or comfort to those who are dying – these are some of the ways salty servants offer mercy to persons in need in the name of him who offers mercy to all. Mercy ministry is messy, chaotic, even risky. Christ’s compassion carries us into needy, painful places we would never otherwise have chosen to go, had it not been for our commitment to join Him where He is already at work: soup kitchens, neighborhoods, jailhouses, clinics, construction sites, class rooms, court rooms and living rooms. Human need is expressed in a multitude of ways from community to community. But where ever people suffer, Christ is with them and He calls his followers to join Him serving them.
A Salty Servant can be involved in justice ministry addressing systems that cause suffering. Christ calls us not only to feed hungry people, but to wonder why in a country as rich as ours, there should be so many hungry people – and then to address the broken systems that keep causing people to be hungry amidst so much plenty. Lobbying for industries, communities and states to establish a “living wage” is justice ministry. Working to pass a law limiting the interest that loan sharks can charge desperate people is justice ministry. So is establishing a shelter for homeless families, becoming a guardian ad litem or taking in foster children. Speaking out against racial, cultural or religious discrimination is justice ministry. Justice ministries address the social, cultural, economic or legal causes of human suffering as an expression of God’s common grace, God’s love for all persons.
A Salty Servant can be involved in earth-care as a steward of God’s creation. Genesis tells the stories of God creating all that is, declaring it “good,” and then giving Adam and Eve responsibility for tending the garden. We humans have a history of using the earth as if it was ours to abuse, but the Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is on it.” Scripture repeatedly calls God’s people to be good stewards of the gifts entrusted to us by our Creator. The consequences of poor earth-stewardship are now threatening the future of life on our planet. Examples of earth-care service could include working on planning an Earth Day event in your community, participating in a beach or highway cleanup, raising concern about water or air pollution in your area, getting involved in a tree planting project, or researching and then educating others about green practices that lessen our depleting impact on the earth’s resources.
A Salty Servant can intentionally cultivate relationships for purposes of easing the emotional or spiritual needs of others. To intentionally invest time to get to know your neighbor, someone who is lonely or new or different or left out, someone who is anxious or afraid or ignorant of God’s love for them – these are all salty servant examples. We are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, building relational bridges where once there had been walls, healing strained relationships, offering welcome instead of overlooking, warmth instead of coldness, understanding instead of judgment, and hope instead of despair. Salty servants help weave people into community that begins palely to reflect the Kingdom community God graciously offers to all people.
My hope has been not to define tightly who qualifies as a salty servant and who does not, but to suggest the flavor with which Jesus’ followers are called to salt the world in his name.
Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation