Secret Service: How the Christian Church Can Have Fun “Loving Others”

 

 

 

 

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The most important thing is to get together…It’s this word “share” I keep coming back to in my concerts all the time; I think it’s more important than “love.” Love has been so misused and so misunderstood-but “share” is a much more simple and direct word. And right now it’s very easy to point out to anybody that the resources of the world are not being shared.

                                                                   — Pete Seeger

 

I once had dinner with a group of junior high boys from our church. We had a good meal and after the meal, I announced a surprise: I had volunteered them to wash the restaurant’s washrooms. Why?, they asked. “Wouldn’t it be neat if Christians were known as great tippers and left the washrooms cleaner than they found them?” They nodded…slowly. We then, together, washed the washrooms.

Afterwards, I gave them a challenge: wash a washroom in the next month. Ask for permission first, and if asked why, don’t give them a reason. “If you do, I’ll buy you the next dinner.” One of the young men looked confused. “But where do I go? Who needs me to clean up their washrooms?” he asked. Then it hit him: most everywhere he went had a washroom. His life, his world was surrounded by dirty washrooms!

Go and clean washrooms…and don’t tell them why? Madness, right? Or is it another way for people to experience the Kingdom of God? The virtue needed is sacrificial serving, where the church’s greatest sacrifice is attached strings when we share with our community.

True No Strings Service

In Conspiracy of Kindness Steve Sjorgen argues, “I believe the message of the Gospel must be spoken and shown to the watching world.”[1] It is through “servant evangelism”: “Demonstrating the kindness of God by offering to some act of humble service with no strings attached.”[2] His view of evangelism is found when the church or individual Christians serve others without expecting anything in return and from this kindness, God’s character and mission is revealed. Certainly, when asked, a reason for the Gospel is given: but helping is its own success, according to this model. This is in direct contrast to 21st century forms of evangelism: door-to-door evangelism, handing out tracks, crusades in a large auditorium, and Christian movies. All of these former modes relied exclusively on the content of the Gospel and not the experience of Christ.

“I fear,” Sjogren writes. “Our cultural values of instant response and the bottom line have produced a distinctly American form of evangelism.”[3] When we use methods that reduce God to mere data, then this is the God we show to our neighborhoods. And yet, if we do acts of kindness without strings attached, this is closer to the kind of God we follow. “God’s heart has always been inclusive. He has always provided a place for outsiders to hear about His mercy.”[4]

With this construct in mind, Sjogren’s book lists hundreds of ways a church can serve a community secretly, without being noticed, and for the main reason that “God likes helping people.”   Ideas like gutter cleaning for shut-ins, shopping for the elderly, cleaning the public washroom of the restaurant where you just enjoyed your Sunday meal, giving away popsicles in the park, shoveling the neighborhood’s driveways while people are at work, building bird feeders for stroke patient therapy wards, truly free Christmas gift wrap at malls, etc., etc..

Pastor Dean Yurkewich in Grande Prairie built up his church with a small group by handing out cards that simply read: “Need help? Call us.” The idea was simple: how can Christians be with people who would never enter into a church but were in pain. When the phone number was called, those on the cell phone did their best to see what that individual needed. A bed? To be picked up from a police station? A bus ticket? Prayer?

At first, the task was overwhelming but soon, when they started to tackling some of these jobs, they created a network of people willing help. Plus, they had prayer on their side and miracles occurred simply because they were willing to be used by God to serve others. From this network, people saw this group’s heart and began to want to see the motivation behind their service. Pastor Dean would be the first to say that his intention behind the service was never to obligate people to come to his church service: but he also couldn’t hold back those who were helped and had helped by discovering the engine behind the cards.

Their movement is much like Matt Garvin’s model for the Kingdom Cell: a small group of followers of Jesus seeking to change their immediate, local world.

Whenever God’s Kingdom has been noticeably present, it has resulted in much more than people discovering a personal relationship with Christ, although that has always been fundamental. It has also transformed relationships, education, politics and economics. The Kingdom of God is about every area of life.[5]

We serve not to gain a bigger church or to get the world to like us more…this is service with strings attached. Simply we serve because it’s most like our God, the Father.

We serve and we do so in secret for it is the right thing to do. Or as it reads in Matthew 6:1-3: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of other people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the street, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret.”

 

A Towel, Not a Sword

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give the best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

                                                            — Mother Teresa

 

Years ago, I was a cabin leader for a group of junior high boys. It was the beginning of the week and we were doing a game to get to know each other. The boys were asked to make a choice by walking to either side of the room. Each side would have something that was supposed to be closest to them (for example, go to the right if you’re more like Batman, to the left if you’re more like Superman; right – a knife, left – a spoon; right – a cobra, left – a bear, etc.).

The entire cabin, in mass, would go to one side or the other: no one dared to stand out and be different. Finally, the question: “Go to the right if you’re like an eagle, go to the left if you’re like a shark.” The whole cabin went to the right because they all felt they were eagles. “Why?” I asked the first kid. With the utmost sincerity, he replied, “Well, a eagle stands alone. Rules over the wood. An eagle is a leader.” I asked a second boy and he answered, “An eagle is a leader; it only obeys the wind. An eagle is strong and courageous, like me.” I then asked the one introvert in the group. With his eyes down, he mumbled his answer, “Well, I’m most like an eagle because it is strong, courageous, and a leader…well, at least that’s what everyone else says.”

Perhaps from junior high onwards, we’ve yearned to be eagles.   We view this as the Telos of our lives, the goal and the pot of gold for our careers. Perhaps we never wanted to be, but we live in a world demanding that greatness is found in superiority, strength, being on top, and conquering everything around us. If the victors write the history books, then we feel we must be on every page each history book. Tony Baron in his book The Cross and the Towel offers that church leaders could aspire to the world’s idea of leadership – symbolized by the strength and conquering wield of the sword – and end up neglecting the very message of the Gospel. “This spiritual neglect,” Baron asserts. “Has resulted in churches that are preoccupied with such worldly concerns as talent, celebrity, and territory instead on Jesus’ message of service to one another.”[6]

If we dream of being an eagle with a sword – the great power, in control, and winning every argument – then what happens when we preach the Gospel about the Servant King? What happens when the church seeks to have a professional, grand image; its leaders mini-celebrities; its worship about conquering the world and other people; a board that seeks to get the latest and greatest and will not think twice about who they run over to “get it done;” and then, on Sunday, gathers around to preach from Isaiah 53:2b and 3b: “He (the promised Messiah) had no form or splendor that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him…He was despised , and we didn’t value Him.”

Can you sense the incongruity? “Jesus chose a different way to influence others,” Baron states;

In another ironic twist, Jesus used the cross as a symbol of victory and the towel as a sacrament of otherness. The cross and the towel demonstrated a love for others, and both metaphors can help us now to understand how we can change the world. The cross and the towel were the final symbols of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but the pattern for this sacrificial love was seen in him from the very beginning.[7]

The cross is Christ sacrificially giving Himself over as the final solution to mankind’s problems; the towel was used wash visitor’s feet, a job all servants did based upon their station. No celebrities, no press, and no power gained by these two metaphors. And yet, this is how Christ changed the world.

The metaphor for the servant as the leader is throughout the Bible: Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Joseph (Genesis 39:17-19, 41:12), Moses (Exodus 4:10, Deuteronomy 34:5), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:6, 11; 2:5), David (1 Samuel 17:32, 34, 36; 2 Samuel 7:5), Daniel (1:12), Christ (Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 20:28; Philippians 2:7), Paul (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:19; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1), and Peter (2 Peter 1:1).   Seeking to serve our local communities can become our greatest mode of witnessing to the Kingdom of God because it’s so like Jesus. The moment we seek to gain power or to attach strings to our service is the moment we stop behaving like Jesus and the incongruity between our message/mode continues.

Every year, our church has rented our town’s ice rink to provide a free, safe New Year’s Eve celebration for the families in our town. It’s been going on for years. No service, no program: our church just goes out to skate with the town. The last few years, a local tribal band office has offered to pay for hotel rooms for any family that comes to our party.

One year, another church from a neighboring town asked us how to pull off something similar in their town. I told them it was super easy for us: the rink workers have volunteered their hours, the town charges us a minimal rental fees, the newspaper advertises it for free, and it only takes about a dozen hands to run the event. “But,” the pastor asked. “How many really come back to your church on Sunday for service? Are you just spinning your wheels serving the community who won’t come to your church?”

“It’s not the point. We seek to look like Jesus and it seems that He likes it when families ice skate together on New Year’s Eve. If we look like Him, we’re successful.” And then I added on a side note that our numbers drop considerably the Sunday after because they’re too pooped to come to church.

A year later, the pastor ran into me and told me he stole our idea (as we had stolen it from another church). “Yeah,” he said. “Didn’t do a lick for our attendance, but it sure was fun. Our town got on board and let us use our rink for free! Everyone came! It was a great night!”
I couldn’t wipe the smile off his face, even if I tried. He was catching the new life of following God into the neighborhood.

Is Post-Christendom Really a Bad Place For a Setting?

What? All across the continent, the North American church is lamenting the state of their immediate world. Atheism seems to be on the increase, Christianity is on the decrease. Why did God put the church into such a bad setting? Would it willing to be consider that a Post-Christen environment is the best possible place for the church to be servants?

When the church ruled Europe from 1000-1400, what were the skills needed to be the church? Effective administration, efficiency, the ability to make cold and hard decisions, military strategy, diplomacy, financial scrutiny, intimidation, detachment, coercion, and the ability to win friends and enemies. If one looked to the Bible to help them with any of these skills, they’d be hard pressed to find any of them in the Beatitudes. No, the Gospel taught in terms of gentleness, humility, patience, and mercy; all of these things are done best from the grass roots and not by the upper management. All of Jesus’ leadership training to His disciples was to change culture not through policy or administration, but through influence stemming from one’s character – found at the grass roots.

But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life – a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

The church has been allocated onto the fringes of society: along with most everything else. This should not be lamented, but embraced: God has led the church in North America to a place where genuine service, cloaked in secrecy which emulates Christ’s character, can take place.

Could the Pope of the 11th century behave as a servant? It would be much harder than a 21st century pastor whose neighborhood no longer wants to come to his/her church programs. Within a post-Christian setting, it won’t be celebrities or teachers or leaders that shall change the world, but God using a small group of people to incarnate His message by serving their world. In other words, the church becoming the church! Now, like the feeling of being surrounded by dirty washrooms, we are not at a loss for needs or opportunities to serve!

[1] Sjogren, Steve. Conspiracy of Kindness. (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1993), 11.

[2] Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, 17-18.

[3] Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, 123.

[4] Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, 201.

[5] Garvin, 6 Radical Decisions, 14-15.

[6] Baron, Tony. The Cross and the Towel. (Tucson: Servant Leadership Institute, 2011), 41.

[7] Baron, The Cross and the Towel, 61-62.

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