Thinking Out Loud

December 27, 2008

When Service Isn’t What’s Called For

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Faith, theology — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:12 pm

Several decades ago, I was hired by Muskoka Woods Sports Resort, a prestigious residential facility two hours north of Toronto, Canada offering one-week programs to the children of the well-heeled.   Not coming from a ‘camping’ background, I suppose that I brought a different skill set in my toolbox, and was told that I was a helpful person to have around.

Later, I learned that this meant I was able to bring strong leadership skills, especially the ‘upfront’ abilities needed to chair a meeting or an event, or facilitate a discussion group.   In later years, I learned that having ‘profile’ really feeds the ego (and prevents others from having a turn) and that a better place of service might be at the back of the room instead of the front, or perhaps behind the scenes altogether.   I am now comfortable serving in either capacity.

However, more recently, I’ve been aware of situations where neither gift of service — profile, or behind-the-scenes — is called for.   Case in point:  A few days ago a team of people in our town presented the third annual Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day.   This event is put on for the sake of people who can’t afford a fancy Christmas dinner, or simply don’t want to be alone on the 25th.   At this event, no one is ’serving’ anyone else.   True, there is a core team of volunteers; but they sit together with everyone else; there’s no ‘us’ and ‘them.’    The plates are on the table as they would be at a family Christmas dinner, and everyone at the table is equal.

Because of family commitments, my wife and I have been unable to attend these, but clearly, a different mentality is needed if a thing like this is going to be effective.   The problem is that so many — okay, I’ll say it: so many of us – have been ‘bred’ for either upfront profile service or behind the scenes service, that it can be difficult to fit into a new ministry pardigm.

Or is it?  I think that anyone, if they take about thirty seconds to think about it, can buy into a different way of thinking.*   The problem is, being behind the scenes or being up on a platform or stage is really, really safe. Especially if it’s a ministry to the poor.   You don’t have to share serving utensils; you don’t have to breathe the air if someone has a bad cough.   Sadly, it’s those safe ministry roles that people are still being trained for and still being ‘bred’ for.

*And a couple of years ago I did actually buy-in.   The ministry my wife pioneered to people living in a dilapidated motel centers around a weekly dinner.   For the first 2-3 weeks, I would eat at home first, and then show up to help serving.   But my wife didn’t need people to ‘help serving’ and the people there didn’t need ‘help’ to scoop up a slice of roast beef and mashed potatoes.   They needed people who wanted to be their friends.

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