Motivation to Serve

What compels people to serve? It’s a question every ministry coordinator asks when trying to attract volunteers. Some people serve because it makes them feel good. Others serve because they believe in the “cause,” whatever it may be. Some serve out of a sense of obligation. A few serve because they don’t have anything better to do. Figuring out how to motivate people to serve is like trying to hit a moving target!

But there is one common denominator for every Christian, one thing that should motivate every one of us to serve: Gratitude. Lavish gratitude for the countless ways Jesus has served us should be what compels each and every Christian to serve. Stop and think: When has Jesus served you?

Remember the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law? Mark says that Jesus, along with James and John, heads to the home of Andrew and (Simon) Peter following a time of teaching and casting out demons in the synagogue. There they find Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Now, it’s helpful to know that back in Mark’s day, fever wasn’t understood to be a symptom of some disease–it was just considered a disease in and of itself. So it’s a safe bet to say that this woman was very sick with some disease that brought on a high fever. So Jesus does what Jesus does: he heals her. Immediately Peter’s mother-in-law gets up from her sickbed and fixes the evening meal for Jesus and his companions.

If you’ve ever had a high fever, you know that when it breaks, you are spent. No way do you feel like getting up and fixing a meal! Yet this is what Peter’s mother-in-law does! Jesus has not only healed her, but he has strengthened her as well. No residual lethargy, no lengthy recuperative period. She’s fit as a fiddle and good to go! I’m guessing that she was so grateful healing vesselthat she couldn’t wait to serve Jesus! Her response to the lavish love of Jesus was to allow that love to flow through her and out of her as she prepared the meal and met Jesus’ need for nourishment.

If you are a ministry coordinator looking to motivate people to serve, here are three questions to ask of them:

  1. When has Jesus served you personally? (I’m not talking about Jesus going to the cross and saving us from our sins. I’m talking about something more uniquely personal: being spared a near disaster, something needed that was miraculously provided, an instance of physical or emotional healing, etc.)
  2. How do you feel about that?
  3. What is your response?

The lavish love of Jesus compels lavish gratitude, and an appropriate response to lavish gratitude is following the example of Jesus and serving others as He has served us.

When Need Gives Way to Want

Most of us come to faith through desperate need. Somewhere along the way of life we realize that, apart from a Savior, we will choose unwisely again and again. The knowledge that we are helpless in the face of temptation, that sin has us firmly in its grasp, and that death–utter lost-ness–is the final outcome provides the catalyst to accept Christ’s offer of salvation. The need for mercy drives us to our knees as we cry out for help, and God graciously answers.

It’s easy–too easy–to stop there.The need is met. My eternity is secure.

But if I diligently read Scripture and pursue the things of God rather than the things of this world, it eventually becomes obvious that there is something more. As I ponder and pray, it occurs to me that needing God is no longer enough. I realize that I want God even more than I need him. Need has given way to want.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. -Psalm 73:25

God needs nothing. But I believe he wants me desperately. What’s more, he wants me to want him just as desperately. I am growing in that desperate want, and I find satisfaction for it through communing with God in prayer and Bible reading, and through living out what I learn in acts of service.

What is the deep want within you? If it’s anything less than God himself, stop right now and examine your conscience. Having the need met is not the end! Life–abundant life–begins when the need gives way to want. Pray, study, serve. This is worship that satisfies the want…a life that is blessed to be a blessing.

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Back to the Basics: It’s All About Love

Trust me, this not a sappy Valentine’s Day post! Actually it’s somewhat of a response to my last post. To be honest, there was something about that post that felt a little off the mark. Not because I wrote anything untrue. Not because it was direct. No, there was just something missing…something very important. Motivation.

The danger of throwing out scripture verses out of context is that they can be misunderstood. One could interpret that post in light of the scriptures I employed as me contending that we should serve others out of a sense of obligation to Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth! Obligation has little to do with it. It’s really all about love.

Know that you are loved by God.

The first step in serving others is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me, that I am his beloved child and that nothing can change that. I can do nothing to make him love me more or love me less. And because of God’s love for me, Christ gave up his life for me. Judging by my behavior, I wasn’t worth that. But God sees me differently, and loves me unconditionally.

Know what is an appropriate response to that love.

Because God loves me–because Christ gave up his life for me–I am motivated to respond. This is not a matter of somehow earning this love. It was already mine, long before I was aware of it! No, this is a visceral response to a love that I really can’t comprehend, but for which I am beyond grateful. I want to respond, I want to return at least a small measure of that love. Not out of obligation, but out of this deep fountain of gratitude that wells up within me. Anticipating this response, Jesus left instructions about how I might express my gratitude and my love for him.

Know how to love others.

Jesus simply said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) The way that Jesus loves me is that he gave up his life for me, and now walks with me every day. He points out the people he wants to serve through me. He provides everything I need to do what he asks me to do: the gift of the Holy Spirit, friends who have complimentary talents and abilities so that I do not serve alone, spiritual directors who are willing to share their God-given wisdom to encourage me to become more and more like Christ. All I need do is make myself available to him.proof

And that is what I do, as best as I am able. I make myself available to Jesus Christ. Not out of a sense of obligation. Not because I think I can somehow earn what has been freely given. Neither of these are adequate motivation to go the distance in the way that Jesus calls me to serve. No, what motivates me is love–God’s love for me, understanding the appropriate response, and loving others as Christ loved me.

Back to the Basics: The Word

acts_pageWhat does scripture have to say about who does ministry? Here are five passages that I think are critical to a proper understanding of equipping:

  1. Ephesians 2:10–we are created in Christ Jesus to do what?
  2. Ephesians 4:11-16–who are the trainers? who are they training? what are they training them for?
  3. 1 Peter 2–who belongs to the priesthood?
  4. 1 Corinthians 12–how does this body work?
  5. John 13:15-17–Jesus did what? commanded what? promised what?

If we are to follow Christ’s example, I think there’s no room for doubt that each and every believer is called and commanded to serve, whether it’s washing feet or preaching the gospel, or something in between. Moreover, between the gifts of the Spirit and the efforts of apostles, evangelists, prophets, and pastor/teachers, each and every believer is equipped to fulfill the ministry God has prepared for him or her.

Together these passages beg the question, What part don’t you get?

Something old may just be something new!

I haven’t blogged in well over a month. I haven’t felt like I had anything new to say. Maybe I don’t. But in the past two weeks I’ve had two conversations with ministry leaders from two churches in two states, each of whom sharing with me something that set off my equipping alarm! I have been reminded that each person learns at their own speed, implementing what they can, when they can. In other words, when someone attends a training or reads a book or blog, there may be only one or two points that grab their attention and around which they take action.

Case in point: in the first conversation, the ministry leader shared that their church had enthusiastically encouraged gifts discovery, providing curriculum and a class for those who were interested in learning. Many of their members went through the class and were excited to learn their spiritual gift. However, there was no follow through. No follow up. No process for helping those folks find a serving opportunity that would utilize their gift in fruitful ministry.

This reminds me of the first Christmas we gave our son an electronic toy. He squealed with excitement when he opened his gift, then cried with equal fervor when it wouldn’t work because we had neglected to purchase the necessary batteries. I saw the same frustrated disappointment on the face of my grandson just a few weeks ago when, after gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, he was told he couldn’t open the box to play with the toy because his momma was concerned that the small parts would be lost in all the empty boxes and wrapping paper. What’s the fun of opening a gift that you can’t use?

In the second conversation, a ministry leader shared that they had at one time offered a discovery process, but it had now been years since spiritual gifts was a topic of conversation around the church. New folks who had come since that time had not been provided an opportunity to discover their unique design for ministry, and those who had participated previously had not been encouraged to re-visit the process to see what new thing the Holy Spirit might be doing in their lives to birth new ministry.

In each of these cases, a discovery process was implemented–probably in response to a new idea gleaned from a book or a training–but the process was incomplete in the first instance, and relegated to a program (with a predictable end) in the second. I’ve no doubt that the intention of each of these ministry leaders was to encourage their congregation to serve, but they had only a partial understanding and implementation of what is necessary to equip their people for fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

These conversations lead me to believe that I may not have anything new to say, but the stuff I’ve said before bears repeating. With that said, I will focus the next few posts on casting the vision for what is necessary to create and sustain an equipping culture. For those of you who have heard it all before, I hope you will share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to make that which is old (to you) into something new for others…and perhaps for yourself, too!

something old made new

What difference might it make…?

I was in Colorado last week to come alongside ministry leaders, helping them develop the skills and systems to create an equipping culture in their churches. Their enthusiasm for creating a vibrant, serving mentality among those they influence encouraged me, and I sensed the question rising in me again, What difference might it make if you simply focused on helping others to live their God-given vocation in their everyday-walking-around life? To BE Christ wherever they are and whatever they are doing?

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you are probably thinking that this is nothing new, and you are quite right. This has been my theme for quite awhile! But the fact that I regularly pray Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven prompts me to continue asking if I’m doing all that I can–all that God is asking me to do–to encourage that reality.

It seems to me that if every believer is living their true vocation in their everyday life, the kingdom will come sooner. So, what does it look like for me to partner with God in making this prayer a reality? What is needed? As I asked this question, this is the answer that rose up within me: Each and every believer should…

  1. understand his or her true identity in Christ (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:23)pitcher&basin
  2. grasp how the Spirit moves and works through His people (Matthew 5:16)
  3. discover and embrace his/her unique design for ministry (1 Corinthians 12 and 13)
  4. be ready and able to verbally share the gospel message (1 Peter 3:15)
  5. be connected to the body of Christ, the local church (Hebrews 10:25, Acts 2:42-47)

Each step is integral to becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, to facilitating the coming of the kingdom that we believers continually pray for. We can have systems and processes and programs to encourage an equipping culture in our churches, but if we neglect these basic five steps I don’t think that we–as equipping leaders–are doing all we can to hasten the coming of the kingdom of God.

Your thoughts?

The Path to Sainthood

My husband is a saint. He lives with me, an ordained deacon, who speaks, blogs, lectures, teaches, and thinks about serving…a lot. (He would say that’s an understatement!) It’s not easy to live with someone whose calling is to serve the church when you are stuck with serving the retail masses. One appears so much holier than the other. And for those who think–subconsciously or otherwise–that ordination might just be the true path to sainthood, David would be happy to debunk that myth!

But do I–the “paid holy person”–regularly affirm that his ministry is no less holy than mine?

Last week David was savoring the last few minutes of his lunch break as he sat in his car, listening to some blast from the past rock & roll tune–his way of de-stressing–when he noticed a young woman walking across the parking lot toward his car. She stopped a couple of feet from the door and asked him if he could help and her boyfriend. They were on their way to another town and had run out of gas. Not the most original story and he’s no fool, but he gave her a little money and she walked away. A few minutes later as he was entering the store to return to work, he saw her sitting on the curb by the door. He walked up and asked her what she was doing and she said she was hoping someone would come out who might give her a little more money. What David had given her was not enough, she said, to get her to the neighboring town. He knew this was true. He asked if she was telling him the truth and she pointed to her boyfriend across the parking lot standing next to the car. They walked over together and the boyfriend showed him the gas gauge sitting on empty. David believed the Spirit was prompting him, so he gave enough cash to fill the tank to help them on their way. Were these people taking advantage of him? Who knows. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

Two days ago, David was in his department working when a woman came up to ask for help. As she explained what she was looking for, he realized that he was in for a long, drawn-out story–the kind that often signals a difficult customer. David’s initial inner reaction was irritation. But he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him that the task he was working on would wait, and so David listened patiently as the woman’s story unfolded. Before long, tears were sliding down her cheeks as she poured out her frustration about a contractor not finishing his job, leaving her house in disorder, and a blind daughter who had suffered many surgeries and who now couldn’t make her way around the house because nothing was in its proper place. My husband stood there in the paint department aisle in the middle of a busy day, serving this woman simply by listening compassionately. Would his supervisor have said David was wasting time? Probably. But it was a holy moment as David responded to the Holy Spirit.

My husband is a saint, but it’s not because he’s married to me. It’s because he fulfills his calling to serve as he goes about his everyday life, often in the most unholy places.

Ministry leaders: who needs your help in identifying the ways they live their call to serve in the everyday walking around moments of serve like Jesuslife, in the unholiest of places? Who needs to hear that the true path to sainthood is not reserved for the ordained, but rather open to all who believe in Jesus, who hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Encourage them to be aware of those holy moments, ready to act, ready to serve. Ready to be like Jesus.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45 (ESV)