I like Vince Vaughn movies, but more often than not, he seems to play the narcissistic and witty guy who through some moral epiphany becomes the selfless hero. This is the case in The Break-Up, where in one scene Vaughn’s character and his girlfriend, Jennifer Aniston, get into an argument about the remaining dirty dishes in their sink following a party. In the exchange, Aniston’s character isn’t so much upset that Vaughn didn’t do the dishes, but rather that he didn’t want to do the dishes. He is completely confused because he has no idea why anyone would want to do the dishes…
On Sunday, Dave wrapped up the discipleship pathway series by discussing the importance of service. If you stood outside a church in the Bible-belt after a sermon on serving and asked people if they believed service was important, you would get a resounding “yes”. However, while discipleship isn’t complicated, it is difficult. For some people, connecting to community (part 1 of the series) is difficult. All my fellow introverts say “amen”…from the back of the room.
For others, consistently committing time to serving others can be difficult. While most of us know we should want to do the proverbial dishes, the fact is we don’t always want to. We then remind ourselves that we should be cheerful in our service which leads us into thinking we should focus on getting our hearts lined up before we serve. However, it’s called the “discipleship pathway” for a reason. Each of the four parts (Connect, Worship, Give, Serve) lead us through a process of sanctification. We’ve all likely seen the signs on the interstate, “One day you’re going to love I-35”. I highly doubt this, but regardless, the interstate will never be my destination. It is the path that takes me TO my destination. In the same vein, service isn’t the goal; service is the road to becoming more like the Father.
Circling back to the movie, everyone (hopefully) knows the real reason that Aniston’s character is upset. In her mind, their relationship shows a level of support and service that emphasizes the “who” more than the “what” of the task. This support is likely why you would feel compelled to help your child, parent, or close friend that needed assistance. There’s a relationship there. However, as a church called to serve a broader community, service is a means through which we can form relationships. This idea is important because relationships give heart and energy to our service.
Think about it like this, why are some of the most emotionally moving pieces of music country songs? If you subscribe to Malcom Gladwell’s podcast, you know it’s because of the detail and specificity of the music; go listen to Golden Ring. In much the same way, developing relationships with those you serve adds detail and specificity to the experience and makes the service meaningful. Consider the example below of serving with Feed My Sheep; how different is the experience once we introduce the idea of relationship:
I’m going to serve at Feed My Sheep, and we’ll be providing meals to several dozen people in need today.
I served with Feed My Sheep and met Marvin who is an Army veteran like me. He’s been homeless for six weeks after a fallout with family members. We talked about the work Habit for Humanity is doing in the area to help homeless veterans, and how faith was important to him during his service and now dealing with everything he’s currently facing. We actually prayed together before I left.
Get to know the name and lived experiences of those you come into contact with when serving, and see if your heart doesn’t line itself up. Service won’t be as difficult to prioritize. You’ll pull a 180 degree turn just like a Vince Vaughn movie, and you’ll not only do the dishes, but you’ll WANT to.
Putting It Into Practice
Below, I’ve outlined a process that helps me when I notice I’m not prioritizing service like I should. I’ll also add that, while service doesn’t always entail working with a community organization, it is a relatively simple first step.
1. In the next two days:
Email Jonah (Vista’s Missions Coordinator) to find a place to plug-in. Vista has connections with many faith-based community organizations in the Temple/Belton area that are doing fantastic work, and he can help get you connected. Here’s an example email, feel free to copy and paste and fill in the blanks.
Hi, Jonah. My name is ____________, and I’m interested in finding a place to serve. I currently ______________ (i.e., job, student, etc.), and have interest/experience ______________ (i.e., special skills, certifications, previous volunteer experience). It’s easiest for me to serve on ___________ (i.e., day of the week) in the ____________ (i.e., morning, afternoon, night).
2. In the next two weeks:
Get it touch with an organization and schedule at least one commitment to take place by the end of March. We all have time demands, but as Austin said, our lives are environments perfectly designed to grow whatever they’re currently growing. Therefore, just like with giving, you may have to make a few cuts to really allow service to take hold in your environment. Block off one evening or one Saturday morning to serve. Make it a date or family time. Just be intentional, prioritize the commitment, and find the time.
3. In the next two months:
Engage at least twice with an organization for as little as an hour each time, and make the time more meaningful by thinking or talking your way through these simple questions during your drive to and from the service site. I teach at a university and use these questions with my students in our service-learning courses. If you’re serving with your family, this list can be really helpful for teens.
What are my expectations? (before participating in the service)
What do I expect this experience to be like?
Who am I serving, and how might they be like me?
Why am I serving?
Quick pre-experience prayer
God, please open my heart and guide my hands as I prepare to serve. Help me focus on the needs of others, and please use this process to sanctify me. Amen
What was my experience? (soon after participating in service)
What did I experience?
How did my expectations line-up with the experience?
What was someone’s name that I met?
Quick post-experience prayer
God, please continue to press this experience into my heart and thoughts. Please be with those in need (insert name if you engaged with a specific individual). Help me continue to shift my eyes off of myself and be more like Christ.