By Lynn H. Pryor
What does a mature disciple of Christ look like? Over the past decade Lifeway Research has delved into this with thousands of pastors and church leaders. Culling through the data, we discovered that strong discipleship ministries and practices could be put in eight categories. We call these eight categories the signposts along the discipleship pathway. One sign of growing disciples is that they serve God and others.
The latest findings show few Protestant churchgoers say they strongly agree they are personally taking actions that indicate a life of service to God and others.
Serving others is a good thing. Even those with no connection to the Christian faith will tell you that. Even if they don’t know it’s a biblical principle, people will teach their children it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Multiple studies even validate this:
- Those who volunteer are 42% more likely to be happy.
- Those who give to charity are 43% more likely to be happy.
- Those who put the needs of others before their own experienced a “warm glow.”
The varied studies share something in common: The focus is on feeling good about ourselves. We serve in order to be happy.
Is that why Jesus served? Jesus certainly didn’t need a boost to His self-esteem. He served because He loves. He had compassion on the people and sought to meet their needs (Matthew 9:36). He told His disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The goal of a maturing disciple is to become more like Jesus. Jesus loves others, and we are to love others. Jesus served others, and we are to serve others.
Our service to Christ and others is carried out in three ways:
Use your spiritual gift. The Holy Spirit has gifted every believer with at least one spiritual gift. We don’t all have the same gifts, but corporately, all the gifts are present in the church. Those gifts are for serving the needs of the church. “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others” (1 Pet. 4:10).
Many people are eager to take a spiritual gifts inventory so they can know where to serve. Frankly, that’s not necessary. Just step in and serve. As we get involved, we find our hearts drawn to certain forms of service more than others. That’s an indication of where your giftedness lies. Embrace that.
Share your finances and resources. Maturing disciples understand they are only managers of their finances and physical resources. God owns it all. We don’t hoard money and possessions, but we are to willing share what we can to serve and meet the needs of others.
Seize the moment. We can’t meet every need, but when an opportunity is right in front of us to serve someone else, we take it. Much of our service is structured and planned—giving regularly and working weekly in a specific ministry—but there is a spontaneous side to serving as well.
We have unplanned “intersections” with people every day, and maturing disciples are sensitive to the Spirit’s nudge to step in and help.
Ways the Church Can Cultivate a Congregation that Serves
1. Publicize ministry opportunities.
For many church members, serving means singing, preaching, or teaching. Those are valid ways to serve, but they aren’t the only ways.
Don’t make a specific announcement such as: “We need two people to help with the youth group.” If you do, you might end up with volunteers who aren’t a good fit.
Instead, offer a ministry fair. Give each ministry outlet in the church a table and display area. Let church members mill around and learn of ministries they may not be familiar with. People who can’t sing, teach, or preach will discover other service opportunities.
Consequently, as individuals express interest in an area, you can counsel, encourage, and train them as needed to serve in that area.
2. Model service.
The best training for service doesn’t come from a manual; it comes from observing.
As a church leader, you can’t be deeply involved in every ministry around the church, and the church family already sees you as a servant. But you can strengthen the service of others by letting them walk along side you as you serve in the ways you’re gifted.
For example, if you’re gifted in administration, encourage others with the same gifting. Let them see how your administrative work is both service to others and to Christ.
3. Encourage mentoring.
Ask others serving in different ministry areas to find someone they see as a good candidate for the same area of service. Challenge them to serve as mentors, helping others see their own potential. They can train them and bolster their skills.
An obvious example is for every Bible study leader to adopt another person and show them the ropes of leading a group. The leader not only gains someone to help with the group, but when the church needs to launch a new group, a servant is trained and ready to step in.
Serving others can be hard. It can often be inconvenient. And maturing disciples serve whether they experience a nice warm feeling or not. They serve because they’re drawn to serve out of love—love for Christ and love for those He has placed in their path.
And better than any nice warm feeling will be to one day hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21).
We’d love to hear from you. What are some ways your church is helping believers serve?