Archive for the ‘Servanthood’ category

Essential Practices for the Small Group Leader #6: Be a Servant

March 4, 2009

Be a servant.

If you wish to make a significant contribution to the Kingdom of God, you will have to serve others. Unfortunately, in our consumer-driven society, that is often a difficult thing to ask of small-group leaders. We tend to be busy people – busy with jobs, busy with family activities, and busy with church stuff. Often, we think we’re just too busy to serve.

Be a servant.

Ministry can be messy. Being a servant is often awkward, difficult and frustrating. Not everyone appreciates acts of service or kindness. Your motives may be questioned. The people you wish to help may disappoint you. You may wonder if you are really doing any good.

Be a servant.

And ministry is often inconvenient. The immediate needs of another person can disrupt your schedule. Pain, hunger, misery and despair have a nasty habit of interrupting at the most inopportune times. It’s easy to be caught off-guard when someone unloads on us out of their fear and helplessness. You will feel inadequate.

Be a servant anyway.

Lest I make servanthood out to be some loathsome, terrible burden to be avoided at all costs, let me share the upside of ministry.

1. God made us to serve. Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Serving is in our spiritual genes. Our Creator has made each of us uniquely useful. We have gifts, talents and abilities that can benefit other people that God places in our path. We don’t have to worry about our own adequacy – He has already given us what we need to serve.

2. God prepares us for service. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. Paul reminds us that our ability to minister to others comes primarily from the overflow of God’s ministry to us. As we consider God’s kindness, mercy and comfort, it gives us something worthwhile and tangible to share to others in their time of need. What God gives to us, He expects us to give away to others also.

3. God honors those who serve. In the gospels, we see that Jesus values servanthood over worldly status. Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35. The Lord clearly equated servanthood with greatness. Servanthood may never get you noticed in the eyes of the world, but it will please God. The honor and glory for our service ultimately belong to Him. After all, he’s the one who equipped us to serve. Jesus also said, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

4. Jesus showed us how to serve. Throughout the gospel accounts, we see Jesus healing the sick, mingling with children, and sharing meals with social outcasts. He did not shun the poor. He did not turn his back on those who were in bondage to addictions or sinful, destructive lifestyles.  He didn’t allow criticism from the religious elite to deter him. He showed us that anyone can serve, as long as we don’t allow our pride to get in the way: When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:12-17.

To sum it up, God expects for us to be proactive in our service to others. If you see a need, do your best to meet it. Don’t just sit around waiting for someone to show up with a need. If you do, you may find yourself ill-prepared to help. As you become intentional about serving others, you gain a greater sense of what to do and what to say in a variety of circumstances. But be careful to avoid the trap of seeing people as “projects.” Ministry is not about simply doing good –  it’s about showing the love of Christ to another soul who is likewise loved by the Creator. That’s what is meant by “giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.”

Get ready to get your hands dirty and make an impact for the Kingdom of God! Small group leaders and Sunday School teachers, here’s your chance to set a strong example for others in your group. You’ll be amazed at the joy that will be yours as you serve others.

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If I Were Starting Again . . .

February 9, 2009

(Note: This came out of a conference I led for a group of Ministers of Education in Alabama. It’s not particularly profound, but maybe it will provide some food for thought.)

I enjoy serving as a Minister of Education in a local church. That’s probably a good thing, considering I’m probably not qualified to do much else. I enjoy my role as an equipper, encourager and minister, but sometimes I look back and “wish that I knew then what I know now.” No, I’m not speaking of regrets – think of this as a list of suggestions for anyone who is involved in Christian education – whether as a vocational minister, or Sunday School teacher, or small-group leader. Some of these, through God’s grace, I managed to get right the first time. Others, well, not so much.

As always, feel free to leave comments or add your ideas to the list.

If I were starting again as a minister of education, I would . . .

* Make my relationship with God my top priority and my family right behind that. No other relationships come close.
* Read – read – read
* Get to know others in my field – find a colleague that’s been doing this a while and pick his or her brain.
* Remember that people are more important than programs.
* Become my pastor’s friend and confidant. If I can’t be his friend, I’ll be loyal. If I can’t with integrity be loyal, I’ll find another place to serve.
* Network
* Be an encourager and equipper for my volunteer leaders
* Maintain my physical health through reasonable diet and exercise
* Develop interests outside of my “church job”: e.g. hunt, fish, collect stamps, play the bagpipes . . .
* Develop relationships outside the church
* Take all of my vacation time
* Write things down (journal, blog, list, etc.)
* Focus my best efforts on things that really matter
* Pray more. A LOT more
* Say “no” more
* Read – read – read . . . outside my areas of responsibility or expertise
* Sit in Bible study classes – not to teach, but to listen and learn
* Write more “thank you” notes to people who have encouraged me, helped me, prodded me
* Not take myself or my position so seriously
* Get out of the office more to serve in the community
* Take more pictures (You will REALLY be glad you did!)
* Spend more one-on-one time with leaders, less time in group meetings
* Think outside the box, once you’ve determined what’s IN the box
* Don’t fear failure – learn from mistakes
* Be a friend
* Continue to grow in faith
* Be transparent
* Be humble
* Be grateful
* Get over being a leader. Get into being a servant
* Have fun!

Godliness with Contentment

February 3, 2009

Unless you have been living on a remote desert island, you are aware of the world-wide economic meltdown that has been underway for the past few months. It seems that the primary focus of the new administration and congress is to address this problem. Politicians, pundits and every average Joe has an opinion on this financial crisis, but no one really seems sure how to “fix” it.

Christians are not exempt from the economic downturn. We all know people who have lost jobs, retirement accounts devalued and stores that have closed or are on the precipice. Perhaps you’ve been hit particularly hard yourself. It’s a trying time for everyone and we are left wondering, “What next?”

In the midst of the upheavel, we need to be reminded that our source of peace and security does not lie in the hands of the government or Wall Street. Our hope and security lies in Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8:35-37 reminds us: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The implied answer to “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” is – No-one and no-thing! Although we are not exempt from hardship or trying times, our circumstances cannot separate us from Him. We all need to cling to that promise.

So, how do we face such uncertain times? How do we live out our faith as followers of Christ when the world is in an uproar?

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words to his young protoge’, Timothy, who was facing similar trying times:

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. – 1 Timothy 3:6-7

Godliness . . . with contentment. The two go hand in hand. And therein lies our security – the peace of Christ in our hearts – NOT financial gain (despite what the prosperity gospel advocates say). As we adhere to the teachings of Christ by living godly lives of obedience, we discover great contentment – in spite of the chaotic circumstances that surround us. Living godly lives does not exempt us from trials. Far from it. Paul shared his own experiences thusly . . .

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. – 2 Timothy 3:10-13

Did you catch that? Godliness does not exempt us from trials. In fact, it opens us up to persecution! Today, most of us are struggling over financial issues and the future as a result of the actions of such “evil men” who have done much damage to our financial system. But don’t miss what Paul also said in the middle of this passage – “Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” Our Lord is in the rescuing business. We may face difficult times for the foreseeable future. Our savings may dwindle and our retirement accounts evaporate. And we may endure even further financial setbacks. Yet, in the midst of it all, the people of God are called to live godly lives with contentment. That contentment is a sense of peace and gratitude for how the Lord has blessed us and the provision for our needs – both now and in the future. It is confidence in the One who knows what tomorrow holds.

Followers of Jesus are not exempt from hard times. But neither are we exempt from remaining faithful to Him. In fact, in times of uncertainty we have a tremendous opportunity to be both encouragers and servants as people see foundations made of sand washed away. This is not a time for God’s people to point fingers of blame; it is a time for us to extend a cup of water in Jesus’ name and point toward Him as the way, the truth and the life.