This first appeared six years ago here at Thinking Out Loud and has been edited and updated…
Several decades ago, I was hired by a Christian 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. Basically, I could get up in front of a group of people and talk and engage their interest. 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: Each year, people in our town organize to present an 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.’ There’s no ‘doing for,’ it’s about ‘doing with.’The plates are on the table as they would be at a family Christmas dinner, and everyone at the table is equal. It’s about being among.
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 even behind the scenes service, that it can be difficult to fit into a new ministry paradigm.
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. And years later, 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.
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 those in leadership are still taught to keep a buffer zone, or safe distance, between leaders and parishioners. That ministry paradigm is just not always applicable or helpful.
Update: As time passed, it was necessary to have some servers roaming around between tables. Eventually, this group grew too large; people wanted or needed to be there, but perhaps didn’t want to admit this, so they rationalized their service as a ministry opportunity and perhaps missed an opportunity to be ministered to. Nonetheless, the event has grown to the point where this year, it is being split into two dinners in two locations. A lot of people are lonely on Christmas Day… What can you do in your city or town or small corner of the world to make a difference?