It was a hot July afternoon. We were lounging in the front yard sipping lemonade, our lunch plates overflowing with hamburgers, hot dogs, and pasta salad. Our annual DCE picnic conversation drifted from one topic to another and finally came to Servant Events. Most of us had either been on a servanting trip or were about to attend one. Dave’s group went to a soup kitchen in Chicago, Chris’s group went to Alaska where they helped with a VBS to the native Alaskans, Emily’s group was going to Mexico, and my group had just finished a local Servant Event rehabilitating homes.
Then our Servant Event discussion took a different turn. Dave had been reading Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David A. Livermore. Based on information in the book, we started discussing topics like how much a Servant Event really changes a community, how much a Servant Event changes youth, whether there’s such a thing as drive-by servanting, and how, after an Event, we can live as servants in our daily lives.
As the host of thirteen local Servant Events I was deeply intrigued by the conversation. I’m even more invested in the concept that Servant Events can change communities for the better. We have re-habilitated 67 homes in our county. And I believe that Servant Events do change youth in a positive way. If I had only one thing to do in my youth ministry it would be Servant Events. Lastly, I believe we can live as servants after the Servant Event is done. Having previously written youthEsource articles on the first two topics, this article will focus on the remaining issue: how to operate as servants in our daily lives.
Few would question that Servant Events are intense, mountaintop, faith-growing experiences. If you’ve taken a group on a Servant Event, you’ve seen that growth, that closeness, first hand and probably experienced the mountaintop yourself. Let’s be honest though. We’ve also seen youth (or maybe our own selves) come down from that mountain-top Servant Event and go right back to “normal.” What happened and why couldn’t the spiritual growth continue in their daily lives?
There are three components of a Servant Event that need to be carried over into our daily lives. Think of them as three legs of a stool. If any leg is removed, the safe, level platform is lost. Or to drop the metaphor, if one of these three components slips from our lives, the spiritual growth suffers. The three components are Word, Work, and We. Let’s look at each one more closely.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV
Daily, at our Fixin’ Up The Thumb Servant Event, there are morning devotions, prayer before the work day, prayer and a devotional question at lunch, and evening Bible study. We also have specific worship times at three different points during the week. Depending on the specific day we will spend between two and four hours in God’s Word. If we then go home and never open our Bibles, never attend a Bible class, or never have our personal devotions, how do we expect God to bless that? We wouldn’t dare attempt to eat one week per year and fast the remaining fifty-one weeks, thinking that would be good for our bodies. Why would we even consider feasting on God’s Word one week and fasting the remaining fifty-one? And yet, that is what far too many servants (leaders included) do!
Devotion to God’s Word must remain strong. The introduction to the Thompson Chain Reference Bible says, “Adopt some systematic method. Haphazard reading of a few verses of the Scriptures every day is better than nothing, but it is not real Bible study. It is simply nibbling at the truth and does not tend to build up strong Christians.” Great benefit can come from a systematic method of Bible study. Read through the Bible, do a character study, find a topic to study, have daily devotions, attend a weekly Bible study, or use some sort of Bible study aid. God will continue to work on your heart and mind all through the year and not just that one week of the Servant Event. Just think of the servant He will shape you into. Then Philippians 1:4-6 (NIV) will ring true: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:14-17 NIV
Servant Events involve some type of meaningful work. That work might be new construction, or re-habilitating older homes. It might be working with children or mentally challenged adults. It might be running a VBS, or street evangelism, or working with the homeless at a soup kitchen or food pantry, or it might be (you fill in the blank). But no matter what, it involves work, probably lots of work. That work takes us out of our comfort zones, provides for other people’s needs, and glorifies God.
When heading back home, we need to continue to be God’s servants for the same exact reasons: taking us out of our comfort zones, providing for people’s needs, and glorifying God. The work may not be the same exact work done on the Servant Event, although it may be. There is nothing special about my hometown of Caro. It just happens to be where there is need and a church willing to meet those needs by hosting a Servant Event. Your community has needs too. God has put you there to meet those needs!
At the end of this last year’s Servant Event we asked the youth how they planned to serve back in their communities. They had good ideas: hosting a Servant Event back home, leading a Bible study, helping paint a neighbor’s house, painting the church, volunteering with Habitat For Humanity, helping flood victims in their hometown, volunteering at church, and, my personal favorite, “I don’t know but I’m going to start by cleaning my room.”
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” Philippians 1:27 NIV
“We” is infinitely stronger than “me.” As Christians we are not called to be stand-alone towers of strength. Rather, the Bible refers to us as an interdependent body.
Fellowship is the word I’m going for here, but having the three W’s of Word, Work, and We was just too good to pass up. On Servant Events we often experience strong fellowship that encourages our walk with the Lord. We rejoice in the connection that we experience and grieve when we must say goodbye at the end of the week. But do we really have to say goodbye?
As a body we should stay connected to our Christian brothers and sisters and not retreat into our “own little world.” Through the technology of our day we can continue to stay connected to one another. Within seconds of piling into a van for the return trip we can be calling each other on our cell phones and texting each other. At home we can stay in touch through e-mail, Facebook, or even by mailing a letter or package (wow, consider it). To take this one step further though, the connection needs to be more than just “what Im doing now, blah, blah, blah.” We need to continue to talk about and encourage each other’s faith walk.
The “we” also needs to expand beyond just those who were with us on the Servant Event. We need to be in fellowship with Christians around us. That means we need to be active in youth ministry at our church. It will be immensely good for us to sing in a choir for our worship services, attend youth Bible class, help out with a youth dinner, go with the youth group to a baseball game, or organize a fund raiser for another mission trip.
Here’s a personal example. This summer I connected with a girl on my worksite. After the Servant Event we were communicating via Facebook and she commented about not wanting her Bible reading to slide. A while later I was thinking about that comment while mowing the lawn. I decided to follow up with her by simply telling her what I was reading at the time and asked her what she was reading. She shared that she was reading Esther and that she was also working toward providing a Bible class for high school youth at her church in the fall. That’s what “we” is all about. It’s like Aaron holding up Moses’ arms.
Word, Work and We
With this three-legged approach our Servant Event experience doesn’t have to be relegated to an annual shot in the arm, but can rather be a sustained way of life.
So raise your glasses of lemonade with me. Here’s a toast to no more drive-by Servant Events!
David A. Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-term Missions with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Books, 2006).
Frank Charles Thompson, Thompson Chain Reference Bible (Indianapolis, IN: B.B. Kirkbridle Bible Co., Inc., 1990), p. 1416.
Published September 2008