Ready and Willing: A Church That Serves

serveI would like to be ready when called upon. Ready to serve that is.

I notice that we call the military the uniformed services; implying a strong sense of servant inside the colors of the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force.

Also: The police are known by a motto: To serve and protect.

Serving is valued and admired in many parts of our society. However, I wonder if it is valued by many as it should be in the church. Are we known by serving the way the military is. Do we get people coming up to us regularly saying, thank you for your service. Well, maybe that is taking the analogy too far. We don’t do it for public recognition.

But shouldn’t this same attitude of serving be emblematic of the church. Shouldn’t we be known by our love and not our divisions, Our charity and not our self-focusedness, compassion and not our protests, mercy and not condemnation, by our good deeds and not our holier than thou attitudes, our graciousness on  social media posts and not our complaining or divisiveness, by our serving and not our preaching? Shouldn’t this be what defines the people of God. I know it did define many of those in the “Hall of Faith”. God called David his servant, Moses his servant. Even Jesus said he came to serve and not to be served.

Now, I know the stereotypes are not true of every church just like codifying a generation as the Millennials likely poorly defines any one individual in that generation. And yes, there are many churches and good Christians who embody what it means to be Christ-like and serve their neighbor, their family and their community.

I am fortunate enough to be part of a church that has this as their ethos. #LoveServeConnect

The Connection Church in Lake Forest has worked hard to not only serve but earn a reputation of serving. When two years ago, we tried (before my time here, I was still in Thailand as a missionary) to get into city events to serve our city, we were told no. We tried repeatedly, but continued to get a closed door. Finally, we simply served by picking up trash after city events, quietly living out our value of serving or being Christians In Action (CIA).

Eventually, after doggedly working to serve the community God placed us in, the city called back. Another club could not fulfill their commitment, and the city event had become shorthanded.

The city told us we could serve under one condition. No preaching. This is a city event. And rightfully so, we would come alongside what the city was doing and serve the people of Lake Forest.

One event turned into another and another until we started getting a reputation with our bright orange Connection Church hats which pegged us as the church that cares for their city.

At a recent city council meeting where one of our staff pastors gave the invocation before the meeting, the Mayor stopped the meeting to tell the 100’s of people waiting to receive their prizes from the 4th-of-July parade that this pastor was from the Connection Church, the church that serves in all the city stuff.

Now, here is the kicker. Last weekend was the Autumn Harvest Festival. Yes, the event that happened to be the first event we tried to get into. We tried again last year, and again we were told no. The city had begun allowing us into some of the events, however, this one had plenty of volunteers from the different clubs at El Toro High School. But this year, things were different.

Scheduling conflict. Uh oh, and the city was scrambling. Why?

The Homecoming dance fell on the same night as the Harvest Festival, so the city was down some 40+ volunteers. With only a few days’ notice, they called us. They called us. I thought I should write that twice for effect.

Out of the clear blue, unsolicited, and without any notice, the city called us to ask for our help. When they were in a pinch, who did they turn to? They turned to the church. The church who has earned a reputation for serving. Isn’t that simply the coolest thing ever.

They called us, a church. Yes, a church and asked for help. These are the same people who used to tell us no for whatever reason. I tend to think  it was likely not trusting churches to be about serving anything but themselves now called on us, a church. Why, because they have grown to know we are about serving God in every way he asks us. Whether it is cleaning the parks, the waterways, being a part of events that we could be ambivalent about, or being a part of everything else they do. The city knows we care genuinely for the well-being of the city and not merely what gets us butts in the seats at our services or events. They know we are selfless and trustworthy.

They called, and we rallied our forces as best we could do last minute. Sure we wish we had more people available or could have done more, but what people wouldn’t want to always do more to serve the kingdom of God and the community in which they live.

All we could do is be ready and available for when the call came. We could simply be obedient servants of Christ to our world.

Sometimes God meets us at our point of obedience. And sometimes he doesn’t. We are simply to be obedient.

We might serve our heart out and say, what was the point. Often it is hard to quantify the point of serving. We just serve. We serve with the reality there is a balance that we do not run ragged or exhaust people in the process. We serve strategically and to our fullest capacity and not beyond.

All that to say, we served and saw some big wins:

  • We have gained great favor from our city. The future benefits cannot be imagined. God has opened a door for us that rarely gets opened to any church in any city.
  • We had people come to serve who saw a rough day turn into a good memory as they served their hearts out. They can see that the church and God are connected to them being a blessing to their city.
  • We connected with people in our community that we have lost relationship with. But because we were there, they saw us and reconnected relationally.
  • We allowed the city to keep their event open. At the end of the event, I talked with the city’s point person, their recreational specialist (a title I would love to obtain one day). I told her as our church’s point person, I apologize for not getting more people to turn out. Last minute, we just had a ton of scheduling conflicts with our people. She was more than gracious. What she said in reply warmed my heart more than words could say. She said, because we came, they could keep the activities open. Let that sink in a moment. They might have had to close down parts of their big harvest party that draws out tons of families from their normally isolated, individualistic  suburban rhythms. Children and parents might have walked away disappointed or worse.

But because a church had earned the reputation they had, the city could rely on the Connection Church to be there when needed. It takes a lot of work to earn a reputation, and sometimes when it feels like what is the point, God opens up an opportunity. It is our responsibility to step into the void and answer the call.

Let’s be people who embody the core value of Jesus found in Phil 2—a servant.

What are ways that you work to serve people?