By Diane Owen
Diane Owen is congregational development specialist for the Minnesota Conference.
Bishop Robert Schnase, author of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, says growing churches engage in risk-taking mission and service.
He states: “Mission and servicerefers to the projects, efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever become part of the community of faith. Risk-taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond service to people we already know, exposing us to people, situations, and needs that we would never ordinarily encounter apart from our deliberate intention to serve Christ.”
Take a mental inventory of the various mission and service opportunities provided by your church. For example: We collect monthly for the local food shelf. We participate in the gently used coat drive every winter. We have a mitten tree in the narthex each December. We take groups to Feed My Starving Children to pack meals. Our Easter offering goes to the missionary in Sierra Leone. Our annual turkey dinner proceeds are used to purchase backpacks for children returning to school in the fall.
All of these are examples of transactional service—service that involves no direct interaction with the recipient. While this type of service is important and needed, what it’s missing is relationships. Transformational service involves serving while also building relationships with each other and with God. Transformational service is what makes us unique from charities and other service organizations that also seek to do good in their communities and the world.
We sometimes forget that the true gift is one of ourselves, that somewhere between transactional and transformational service, we learn to share ourselves, God, and God’s work in our lives so that others can have the same life-changing experience. This is not a process that happens overnight but one that we build upon slowly.
Below is a spectrum of service ranging from transactional to transformational, with examples of strong efforts at each stop along the way. Which areas of this spectrum does your church currently engage in? And how can you engage in new areas?
· No interaction. You take a group to Feed My Starving Children to pack meals. Begin with a prayer. Educate the group about the recipients of the meals. Discuss where hunger exists in your local community. Stop during the meal packing to pray over the meals. Debrief upon return and talk about how group members can continue to make a difference with hunger.
· Single interaction. Your church decides to hand out water bottles (for free) during your community’s local parade. On each water bottle is a label identifying your church and worship times. Pray as a team before going out to distribute the water bottles. Introduce yourself while giving out the water bottles and share your church affiliation. Offer to bless recipients, pray for them, and invite them to church. Debrief with the group after the experience.
· Regular interactions. A team from your church (or even an individual) serves meals monthly. Serve at the same time each month to try to get to know some of the same individuals. Offer to sit with them, engage them in conversation, and pray over their meal and with them as they become more comfortable. Pray before, during, and after providing the service—and do a debrief at the end.
· Listening to their story. We often think that we must do the talking about our life and faith experience. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is the gentle questioning and listening that builds trust and relationship. Offer to pray for the recipient. Seek out service and mission (for example, a prison ministry where tutoring is offered) where regular interaction occurs so that you can build relationships with the same group of people over time.
· Sharing your story. There will be a time when regular interaction will provide you with the opportunity to share your story of growth and faith. It is in this rich sharing that transformation begins to occur. Service, care, conversation, and prayer build relationships of trust. For example, working with a women’s shelter provides opportunities for service and relationship-building by listening and telling your story.
· Transformation. Through your consistent service and prayer and by listening to their stories and telling your story, those you serve begin to discover new life in God’s love. And you are also transformed! You are now a part of not only mission and service, but guiding an individual to a transformational life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Mission and service satisfy tangible needs in our communities. But they also pave the way for satisfying a greater need—the need for God’s unconditional love. Examine your mission and service activities carefully. Are they transactional only? What is the impact—in terms of both addressing needs and transforming the lives of those involved? Are relationships being built? How will your service make a difference that only you, a follower of Christ, can make?
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church