“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.” (Isaiah 58:6-7, The Message)

“The risen Christ beckons us to the ministry of the towel. Such a ministry, flowing out of the inner recesses of the heart, is life and joy and peace.” Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline, p.140.

What do we really want to see happen in the lives of our youth?

I believe what we’re aiming for, what God is sending us into the ministry to strive for, is to help youth (and even the adults in our ministries) become more alive, more aware of God and God in action. This alive-ness is the freedom Jesus speaks about in John chapter eight; it’s what Paul details in Galatians five with the Fruit of the Spirit. The greater question might be, “How do we become more alive or more aware?” Maybe it’s better put, “How is God at work within and around us to cause us to see Himself, His grace, and His purposes more clearly?”

Our Scriptures reveal several lifestyle patterns that God brought people into and worked into their souls. Through these practices, God cultivates the soil of the soul, removes the rocks and thorns, and enables his Seed of Life to grow within. The center of this action is God – God acting, God speaking, God causing. We simply find ourselves invited for the journey of God on the move. We are somehow passive and strangely active at the same time as God renovates who we are. This all occurs within our baptismal identity and calling. We are God’s chosen, clothed-in-Christ people, and He’s not going to leave us in some kind of static state – He’s going to renovate every corner of our sin-tainted lives and show us how to really live the abundant life Jesus came to bring to us (John 10:10).

One of these renovation patterns or practices is an attitude of service. I want to emphasize the word attitude and I’m going to quote a bunch of Richard Foster to show why.

In Celebration of Discipline, Foster writes a fantastic section that I find very helpful in a world where youth ministry seems to always be asking for the next big trip, the next distant mission activity, or the next adventure. Now, these things are very beautiful pieces of ministry and have tremendous effect on the souls of our youth. But, I’m going to ask the question I started with: What do we really want to see happen in the lives of our youth? Here’s Foster contrasting self righteous service and true service: (p.128ff)

Self-righteous service comes through human effort. It calculates immense amounts of energy calculating and scheming how to render the service…. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.

Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” It is concerned to make impressive gains on ecclesiastical scoreboards. It enjoys serving, especially when the service is titanic. True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.

Self-righteous service requires external rewards…. True service rests contented in hiddenness. It does not fear the lights and blare of attention, but it does not seek them either.

Self-righteous service is highly concerned about the results. It eagerly waits to see if the person served will reciprocate in kind. It becomes bitter when the results fall below expectations. True service is free of the need to calculate results. It delights only in the service. It can serve enemies as freely as friends.

Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve…. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.

I think we can see a strong thread of truth in Foster’s writing. What I’m also seeing is a call to move from seeing service just as a mission trip of some kind. Instead, I’m hearing an invitation to be attentive to needs around us in a very local, very personal kind of way. Again, this is more of an attitude than an action alone. It’s a God-grown and cultivated freedom to be attentive to the needs of others. This, I believe, is what we’d all like to see in the lives of our youth. This is true freedom. This is true life.

The aspect of being a servant also resonates with two of the four “aspects of strong youth” written about in Kenda Creasy Dean’s latest release, Almost Christian. She writes (p.42), that these aspects are: 1.) a creed to believe; 2.) a community to belong to; 3.) a call to live out; and 4.) a hope to hold on to. A servant attitude, awareness, and lifestyle touches on each of these, really, but mostly so with living out a calling to be agents of God’s love and to embrace a hope in a God who deeply cares and is sending us out to express such a resurrection-style care.

So then, how do we become a people who grow in and through service? How do we help our youth walk a servant lifestyle? I believe it’s rooted in a posture of prayer, of slowing down long enough to be attentive, and to intentionally be on the look-out for needs around us. This takes an immersion in the story of Jesus in the Gospels. It’s here we’ll really start to recognize what kinds of servant opportunities we might become attentive to. It’s here God will show us how to slow down, permeate our days in conversation with God our Father. It’s here Jesus’ pattern of being with people can be seen and then imitated.

May God guide our steps and remind us that we are His beloved children through the waters of baptism. May He continue to renovate who we are so that we can experience the freedom of life that Jesus came to free us into, now and forever. May we see that in learning to serve, God is freeing us to understand that humility is the way of life, our way isn’t always the best way, and that through availability and vulnerability God cultivates a field of peace within our souls, by His grace.

And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV)

Download a PDF of a Bible study on Service to accompany this article.