When we talk about serving, it’s almost always about “more” serving — its quantity. As volunteers retire, leaders need to replace them with more volunteers. When new ministry opportunities arise, leaders need more volunteers to make them happen.
People in the pews generally think about serving in “more” terms also. Can I add something more to my plate? Do I have time for this additional task? When people decline an invitation to serve, most often the reason is quantity: “I don’t have enough time.”
What if we considered the quality of our serving – the “better”? What if we focused on serving that was healthier, stronger, more effective, more impactful, and more in line with our faith?
I began wrestling with that question personally when my years as a caregiver ended in late 2019. I had more time and there were many choices, so I began wondering what would be “better” serving for me and why. When the covid pandemic began a few months later, and much of our usual church volunteer activity suddenly ceased, I realized that while we’d worked to equip people to serve well in the church, we’d never considered what serving well looked like in everyday life.
Qualities of “Better” Serving
I came up with these five qualities. Add a comment on whether they line up with what you see, or want to see, in your own serving, or in the serving of those you lead.
- Wholistic – Do I see specific serving within the full picture of serving Jesus in all my roles, as daughter, spouse, parent, employee, neighbor? Does my view of serving include the unplanned and spontaneous, as well as scheduled? “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17
- Intentional – When making a decision about serving, am I thoughtful and intentional, or reflexive and impulsive? Am I deciding based on the expectations of others; what I want people to think of me? Do I consider whether it’s a good fit for my personality and abilities? And how it might affect other ways I serve? Am I comfortable saying ‘no’ when that’s the right response? “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
- Joyful – Am I serving freely and with joy, or dutifully, grudgingly? Not all serving makes me happy; there’s no denying that parts of caregiving were difficult and unpleasant. But through that experience I learned I could clung to a deep core of joy that came from God’s grace and his promises, no matter my emotions or circumstances. “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Psalm 100:2 ESV
- Impactful – If we’re serving to help others, and not just to make ourselves feel good, we need to be conscious of impact. Are we making a difference; a positive difference? This especially is important when helping people in need, so that we don’t unintentionally create unhealthy dependence in the recipients of our aid. Looking at impact also leads us to look at relationships; building relationships with people is much more impactful than donating physical things. “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” John 15:16
- Faith-full – How closely do I tie my faith to my serving? Is Jesus an integral part of my motivation, my decisions and my actions as I serve? Am I prepared to notice and respond to opportunities to bring good news, as well as good deeds, to those I serve? There’s no limit to the benefits increased faith and trust brings to our serving! “Pray continually.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
What happens when we increase these qualities in our serving?
- It simplifies things and gives us more confidence.
- It decreases guilt and anxiety, and increases a sense of peace and freedom.
- Life is more adventuresome and more fun!
- The result of my serving is likely more good for more people.
- As I increase the quality of my serving, I’m more able and more likely to help others increase the quality of their own serving.
- All in all, our kingdom impact is multiplied.
Any disadvantages to “better” serving?
Perhaps. It’s not necessarily easier. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30).” But He also said disciples “must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Better serving is more relational, and working with people is messy. Plus, you may actually end up serving more – because you want to!
What’s the next step?
Further articles in this series will look at concrete steps we can take to increase each of the above five qualities in our serving. But now let’s consider why we leaders might hesitate to emphasize “better” serving above, or even alongside, “more” serving.
- “More” is such a pressing need that we feel we can’t risk anything that might result in “less.”
- We’re overburdened with our own tasks and feel incapable of seeing our own “better,” let alone anyone else’s.
- No one’s taught us how. No one’s even talked about it.
- It doesn’t promise instant results. (Very few worthwhile things do.)
Why “better” serving matters
Serving is an open door for the Gospel. It’s the sweet spot between God’s calling of individuals, his calling of the church and the needs and desires of our communities. Our communities, our friends, our neighbors all welcome people who serve!
Serving is transformative. It changes us. It also changes those we serve. It builds trust between people, and that opens doors to spiritual conversations. As we grow the quality of our serving, we become more authentic and closer to Jesus, more able and willing to step into those conversations when Jesus opens a door.
And I’d bet that when we focus on “better” serving, the “more” will take care of itself.