Sunday, June 07, 2009

Why do we serve/bless others? Getting to our motivation . . .

I was doing some reading this week in Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster about the Discipline of Service. In my Spiritual gifts listing, the gift of service is more narrowly towards physical, "menial" types of tasks. There is, of course, a broader understanding of service that would include this, but also could be defined as simply blessing others' lives.

In his book, Foster distinguishes between "self-righteous" service and "true service." Self-righteous service comes from human effort. It is more scheming than anything else, and is "highly concerned about results"--and if these results fail to materialize, the service ends.

In contrast, true service is a lifestyle. It comes from a heart that is willing to help anyone. It both springs from and fosters humility. It is based upon compassion for all of humanity. (See Foster, p. 126-140).

I can remember talking with a church planter once at a symposium. He said that his church had tried service ministries to the poor, but he had had no responses. So he "scrapped" all of that.

I am sympathetic to the plight of church planters. They have limited resources and time, and yes, it is biblical to be concerned about "results." But I told him that my theology would not allow me to scrap all of our church's service ministries to the poor.

I am certainly concerned about results, including baptisms. We need to not just be content to hand out food and clothing. We need to also try to find ways to pray for those who have these physical needs, love them, and share the gospel with them. The Bible counts baptisms. It also, however, counts the 5000 and 4000 whom Jesus fed, and 10 lepers that he healed. Matthew 25 says that at our judment, we will be judged by whether or not we fed the hungry, clothed poor, and visited people in jail. These acts of service are themselves a type of result. As Reggie McNeal writes, we need to count these types of missional markers too.

It seems that Jesus healed people both strategically - it confirmed his message- and because he had genuine compassion upon them. And he sought to share the gospel with those whom he served, without making it conditional. It would seem that this is what we should seek to do as well. To serve with only baptism in mind is mere scheming, and to serve without seeking to share the good news is to fail to show compassion for people' spiritual condition. To fall on either side of this is to fail to fully model Jesus.

What do you think should be our motivation for blessing/serving others?