My wife and I are a little concerned.

Tonight, we served at an event called Three Trees at our church for over 3 hours as a family. We sat at tables with other families who are struggling to provide Christmas presents for their kids, and part of the event was to help with that.

The main focus is a Gospel presentation both in the smaller party rooms and in a worship service. We got to know these families and were with them through the whole event. It was the ride home that bothered us.

“Where did you see adults serving tonight?”

Silence.

“What did you see us do tonight?

Nothing. (I spoke to the whole room, btw. You’d think they’d remember dad doing that!)

They eventually remembered some things, but that got me thinking about serving and why we struggle not only to do it, but to recognize it. Here are a few thoughts I came up with off the top of my head.

Serving others isn’t natural.

The one thing you will never have to teach a child is how to give in to their own selfish desire. I don’t even need to appeal to Scripture on this one (or shouldn’t have to), you can look around and see this truth in action. We are selfish people, looking out for our own interests most of the time.

So serving others isn’t our natural state. We need help to become others-focused. It’s why God gives us the Holy Spirit and why we pray. Selflessness is the learned behavior, not selfishness. So, when you blast your congregation with guilt for not serving, you’re only confirming what they already know and probably don’t like about themselves. It’s like telling someone who is overweight that they are fat in order to get them to diet.

Serving others requires Encouragement.

In order to mobilize your people to service, a pastor needs to see his role as an encourager. Like a cheerleader. Those who are not serving in your church aren’t going to mobilize because you taught them the story of the rich young ruler. They are going to mobilize because you kindly tell them that it is required and when and where it is required. People need details and reminders constantly.

Serving others requires guided opportunity

As much as I’d like to believe that simply telling your congregation that you have a need is going to bring them in, I can’t. I’ve heard too many children’s pastors stressing for Sunday volunteers to buy it. I think one of the best ways to get your people to serve is to infuse it into your church culture by programming it.

“Hey, John, this is George, the executive pastor. I need your Sunday school class to serve in children’s ministry this weekend. Which 3 couples should I expect Sunday?”

“Paul, while I have you here, I’ve noticed that your Life Group hasn’t signed up to provide any meals for the children’s camp workers this week. What day would you like to do that?”

“John, would you reach out to Ringo, I think he is struggling with a few things and could really use a friend. Let me know how the conversation goes.” What? I’ve been listening to a lot of The Beatles lately.

I’m not asking if, you’ll serve, I’m creating a culture that expects you to. Now, I wouldn’t ask that of new members, but if you’ve got regulars (especially ones who like to complain) who aren’t serving, I have no problem asking them to politely put up or shut up.

We’re talking about people’s souls here, not trying to convince them that our NFL team is best. It MATTERS and we need to disciple our people to recognize that whether or not they serve matters.

Serving others is the other half of discipleship

I’ve seen churches that lean hard towards knowledge as the path to discipleship. I’ve also seen churches push people to serve in order to grow spiritually. It’s my opinion that both are in error and have only half of the game plan.

Knowledge without practice is called arrogance and practice without knowledge is called foolishness. You need both knowledge and practice (service) to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus.

It’s easy to fall in love with the one that fits our personality best and pretend like the other one doesn’t exist. Kind like I do with the Star Wars prequels. Midichlorians…pshhh!

Serving others isn’t always measurable stuff

Tonight, I saw just how important it is to sit down and talk to people. I’ve always been a talker, but watching my wife work today, I realized that the problem isn’t always the lack of resources or opportunities.

Maybe we don’t count relationships as “valuable” ministry. That’s why your project to paint a house gets better turnout than your project to visit a nursing home.

Nope. We need something measurable. Souls saved, baptisms, lives changed. We want the I Am Second video and the big numbers at the altar. Next to all of that, sitting and talking about school sports just isn’t that exciting. As long as we only reward the stuff we can count, we will continue to miss the other half of discipleship and stunt our own growth.

Tonight, I hung out with an eight-year-old boy who’s father isn’t around. Positive attention from an adult male is the most important ministry I did tonight because that kid left knowing that not all fathers leave and that Jesus would never leave him.