Service

“The message of a risen Savior always ignites a mission of radical service in the one who believes.”

Dwight K. Nelson

By: Gabriela Yareliz

When all of the train chaos happened, this past week, I remember one of the first texts I got was from my fiancé telling me he was going to come get me. I was standing at a corner watching ambulances and police speed past me. I discouraged him and told him everything was gridlocked and impossible. There was no use in him coming down there only to be stuck in traffic. I would walk home; that is what made sense and had the highest probability of safety. But one thing I knew (that warmed my heart) was that this man was willing to do what it took to get to me. I knew he was serious. I talked him out of it due to the circumstances, but had I gone missing, he would have been there looking for me himself. It reminded me of how God ran straight into chaos for us, and how if we are to be imitators of Him, we are to do the same. He calls us to serve like that.

People nowadays think service to the point of sacrificial giving is toxic. It has built resentment in religious circles, and many are leaving the church over it.

I have been reading Jesus Over Everything by Lisa Whittle. It has been a good read so far (I am about halfway through). There was a chapter on service that made me smile and really made me reflect on what true service means (and not the way the world sees “healthy service”). Service is a complex topic, I feel. Churches tend to make the easy mistake of having small groups of people serving, where they want a handful of people to do everything and everyone else sits back. That is not the way to do things. It can lead to exhaustion. No one can do it all. Service requires a community-wide commitment. When it’s a widespread commitment, it leads to widespread transformation.

As someone who has held different types of leadership roles in the church, I know that there are seasons for some roles and pivots from others. Boundaries are definitely needed. But something that has been interesting to watch is how now everyone is like a mini-therapist, and there are a lot of tweets that get reposted about how churches who use volunteers are exploitative (and while some are, most are not). I think there are situations where people must use discernment to leave truly exploitative situations, but we also need to sort of come to the realization that service is always giving. Giving costs us something. A lot about how we serve starts with our mindset.

People nowadays want to serve if they are paid and praised. People literally want to be on payroll at the church, which is comical to me (and some churches operate like this– everyone is paid). Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in churches like that, but this is weird to me. I grew up seeing churches that were all volunteers, sometimes even the lay pastor (or he made a miserable salary and had another job that provided for his family). So, this idea I have been seeing lately of ‘pay me or I leave’ is hilarious to me. I find that most churches who use this method are dying and superficial. And it’s not that I don’t believe in a living wage– I do. But I find many in ministry who want to make six figures. I disagree with this. My personal philosophy is that I don’t take from the church, I put what I have into it. I believe leaders in ministry should do the same. (That marks true leadership to me, personally).

We live in an age where people lack fortitude. Everything gives people ‘anxiety’, and people can’t handle simple things and concepts that people in the past saw as normal parts of life that you just needed to work through. People label any type of discomfort as “toxic” or authority as exploitative.

What I found interesting about Whittle’s chapter on service is the reminder that service is literally giving yourself away. (That more-often-than-not means without a paycheck and without a spotlight). Service is sacrificial. And if we take Scripture seriously when it says Christ is our example (1 Peter 2:21), Christ gave Himself over to the point of death. Folks want to be paid and praised, and yet Christ’s example is so opposite to this. We want a “clean” therapist-approved environment (maybe this is our sanitized Instagram mentality), while what we see in Scripture as the early church was born was messy. It was tough conversations and at times conflict, it was sharing to the point of losing ownership, it was inconveniencing oneself and showing up so differently it meant you were persecuted. Sacrifice transforms us, and Whittle points out it has the power to heal us. When we reject the messy service the way Scripture reveals it, we cheat ourselves out of transformation, and I think we cheat ourselves out of some of the most impressive demonstrations of love.

Being a volunteer has been spun into yet another reason why people are leaving the church. And if people have been truly exploited, it’s time to find another church, but that means actually finding a place where you can serve, not just stop attending. I think so much of our pride bubbles to the surface lately in so many ways. We can come up with a million excuses why not to serve or attend fellowship. I see it in real time, all the time.

I won’t pretend to be blind to some of the mess one sometimes has to wade through in a church setting. I have served at every church I attend because I believe that this is the whole point of church. It’s a community where you find out what you can give. It’s not about receiving. This may mean teaching or literally setting up and tearing down tables and chairs, cleaning, giving of your resources or informally counseling someone in need. Sometimes, a heart of service needs to leave one church to find one that better aligns with its missions and boundaries (nothing wrong with that– that is necessary) or sometimes, it means staying and serving in a church where people may not know or care to take a closer look at you or they dislike you. (Yep. I have served at churches where I knew people had disdain for me). The point is that service is a lifelong commitment when you follow Christ. It means you are always in community. It means you are always giving. There is no way around that. And no, that isn’t toxic, it’s what we are called to do. I think we often conflate our lack of discernment when it comes to whose leadership and authority we allow ourselves to fall under with service itself.

By today’s standards, people would see how Jesus, the disciples, apostles and early church operated and call it toxic. And yet, it was how God Himself served us and called us to serve each other. It’s not clean. It’s not perfect. It’s filled with people. It’s messy. It’s late nights in a hospital. It’s early mornings bringing food to someone.

I think one of the troubling aspects of our new self-proclaimed therapist role in society that we have assumed is a lot of our perspective becomes consumed in ourselves. It’s all about us. It’s a fine line between healthy and unbiblical, by today’s standard. We think we are butterflies. The service God calls His church to has nothing to do with us. We are spent, and it’s all about Him. He gave Himself, first.

This topic keeps spinning in my head. With the passage of time, I am seeing that the “healthier” people seem to think they are, the farther they seem to drift from God’s calling for us. The original one. None of that has changed. The calling is still the same. It’s still messy. We cocoon ourselves thinking the safety and change is away from the mess, only to realize we aren’t butterflies. We are worms not caterpillars. We are called to give it all in the mud. Our purpose is found in the mess. It’s in the dirt that things grow.

God is still looking for people who run toward the dysfunction, toward the chaos and danger. This is a rescue mission and the church has been drafted. I am not sure how we have come to forget this. If you aren’t serving, it’s time to realize you weren’t called to stay home.

“Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.”

C.S. Lewis

Published by Gabriela Yareliz

Gabriela is a writer, editor and attorney. She loves the art of storytelling, and she is based in NYC.

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