Serving is at the heart of Christianity. While some people find fault with the church and Christianity as a whole, serving seems to be where we shine.
Lifeway found that “religious organizations were the main organizations people volunteered for, with 33.1 percent of people responding this way.”
There is a very clear reason for these numbers – the Bible instructs Christians, repeatedly, to practice service.
Did you know that the majority of charitable organizations in the United States are faith-based? Not only are charities where people give money often religious, but Christ-followers also tend to give of their time more than non-churchgoers.
The National Association of Evangelicals reports, “More than one quarter of all Americans volunteer each year for an average of 50 hours spread out over a 12-month period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The organization for which volunteers worked the most hours during the year was most frequently religious.”
Being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong pursuit of the Kingdom of God and following in the way of Jesus through faith and obedience. That includes humbling yourself and serving others.
Today, we’re talking about practicing service is a spiritual discipline.
Jesus Modeled Service
On their last night together, Jesus taught his disciples their greatest lesson with a towel on his side. Before he talks about breaking bread and drinking wine or describes any kind of new covenant, Jesus takes a towel, fills a water basin, and washes his disciples' feet.
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. Very truly I tell you, 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 3:12-17
Jesus the Christ, God in flesh, makes himself a servant to his friends.
Jesus says that the student is not better than the teacher. In other words, Jesus wasn’t asking his disciples to do anything he was not prepared to do himself. Jesus instructs his disciples to follow the example he has just set.
Serve Without Expectations
What Jesus did is radical – he served without wanting anything in return. We tend to serve with an agenda.
Richard Foster notes, “In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel than his word to wash feet.”
Even in our serving, there is often an underlying motive of our needs being fulfilled and our desires being served in return. If we’re honest, most people prefer to be the one being served, not the one serving.
We believe the saying, “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”
We serve with an expectation of return.
We serve with an expectation of a “thank you.”
We serve with an expectation that they will buy the product we’re selling.
We serve with selfish motives.
This is, in no way, following the example of Jesus.
What Christlike Service Looks Like
Most Christian believers love the idea of service, but their service is more self-righteous than Christlike.
Often, we are serving because it is simply “what we are supposed to do.” Paul encourages us to follow Jesus’ model of making ourselves a servant so that we might learn the “mind of Christ.”
Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine your motivation for serving.
- Are you wanting to do something big and attention-worthy, or are you willing to do small, trivial things?
- Are you looking for praise, or are you content to serve in the background?
- Are you serving in hopes of getting something in return, or are you serving without expectations?
- Are you serving as a one-off on your to-do list, or is serving a lifestyle?
Why Practice Christian Service
Serving others helps us to see people how God sees them and produces the attitude of Christ in us.
When we discipline ourselves in service, our character is changed in the likeness of Christ.
We find compassion. We find humility. We find grace. We find strength.
We learn to sympathize. We learn what it means to be good news to the lost, hurting, and poor in spirit. We learn how to love people of all persuasions in many different matters.
We come to appreciate the life and community God has given to us.
When we take on the discipline of service, we become people who steward God’s grace, shine a light for the Kingdom, and glorify our good and perfect Father.
How To Serve
According to Got Questions, “The Bible gives some specific examples of Christian service: show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2), remember those in prison (Matthew 25:36), provide for the needy (Matthew 25:35), and mentor others (Titus 2:2-8). Some examples speak to our day-to-day living: care for children (Matthew 18:5), tend families (Titus 2:5), treat employees fairly (Colossians 4:1), deal honestly with customers (Leviticus 19:36), and be diligent with employers’ resources (Matthew 25:14-30).”
There are countless opportunities to practice the discipline of service within the church and outside of it.
Here are some other service ministry examples:
- Ministry of generosity – giving of your resources and time to meet another’s need
- Ministry of hospitality – welcoming in friends and strangers as a means of honor and love
- Ministry of holding one’s tongue – refusing to speak ill of anyone
- Ministry of listening – lending your ear for another to feel seen without a need to respond
- Ministry of helpfulness/small things – simple assistance in small external matters (such as holding a baby so a new mom can rest)
- Ministry of presence – being present in someone’s moment of grief
- Ministry of exhortation/encouragement – to admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak
- Ministry of proclaiming – speaking the word of God over someone gracefully and appropriately
We can all serve in these ways and others. The list is endless! It doesn’t have to be anything big or flashy.
Many religious organizations operate homeless shelters and food banks, and they are always in need of people with servant's hearts. Moreover, there are likely opportunities for you to serve within your own church. Many churches lost their regular volunteers during the pandemic, and pastors reported “committed volunteers [are] among the biggest needs for their churches” in a recent Lifeway survey.
For those that call South Bay Bible Church home, serve with us!