The Power of the Service Experience

Krista Petty, Leadership Network

19 February 2009

 

This article is an extract of a longer article entitled "Six Catalytic Service Approaches". The full article can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking here. This article is used by kind permission of the author.
 
No one would doubt that a short-term mission experience has the ability to changes lives. Can a local community service experience be just as powerful? Lynne McCauley says that it can. She's experienced great moments of life change on both the mission field and during local community service. Lynne never imagined that her life experiences would lead her to becoming a follower of Christ, much less a staff member at Northview Christian Life Church in Carmel, IN ( www.nvcl.org ). Three years ago, she was unchurched, uninterested, and agnostic. “I was invited by friends to attend a church outreach event that was basically a free block party for the neighborhood.” Finding it awkward to say no, the McCauley family tagged along. “Wouldn't you know it—we had a decent time and then they invited us to a worship service. Again, how do you politely say no?” she laughs. They went to a service…then another…then another.
 
Soon after, she plunged headlong into a relationship with God, but much of her life still revolved around herself. Preparing to turn 40, Lynne announced to her family and friends, “'I'm going back to Italy for my birthday' and it was going to be all about me!” she says. Interestingly, details about a mission trip to Brazil started to appear in the church bulletin around the same time. One morning in prayer, Lynne realized that if she truly wanted her 40th year to be meaningful, it needed to be about service to others, not service to herself.
 
Lynne's “all about me” birthday trip changed to an “all about God” trip to Brazil. In Brazil, Lynne says, “God broke my heart over the people of Brazil.” She found herself grieving over what grieves God. “I was a wreck—the wheels completely came off my wagon.” One of the first questions she asked her husband when she got off the plane was, “'Can we sell our house and move to Brazil and start a mission training center?' I struggled to reconcile the poverty I had seen there with the affluence in our community. I struggled with our lifestyle and materialism.”
 
Feeling restless and dissatisfied, she found direction from a statement in the Beth Moore Bible Study, Believing God . The popular Bible teacher writes, “Our promised land here on earth is where our theology merges with our reality.” With that, Lynne went looking for her promised land.
 
Her search led her to a local mission opportunity, since she could not go on the foreign mission field. Was it a compromise? Not at all. She began attending a local inner-city outreach program on the weekends. Lynne shares about her lifechanging community service experience:
 
“I sat down to have breakfast with two homeless men and talk about life on the streets. As we were talking, one of the men began to have a seizure. I was a critical care nurse for 11 years so I was familiar with the scenario and helped lay him on the ground and to talk to him during the episode. As I knelt beside him on the floor and talked, he kept his vision locked on me, and I on him. The paramedics arrived and began to minister to him in a cold and impersonal way. All the while he kept locked on me. As they bundled him on the gurney and prepared to roll him out to the ambulance, he pulled down his oxygen mask, looked me directly in the eye and whispered 'Thank you'. I looked at this man— dirty, unkempt, vomit in his beard and smelling of alcohol and urine—and I thought to myself 'I am looking into the face of Christ.' I knew right then that I was right where God wanted me and I have been involved there ever since.”
 
Lynne is currently serving as the director of externally focused initiatives at her church. Through the power of her experiences, Lynne confidently says, “I have never been happier in my life. I didn't set out to work in ministry, but in my search to find more meaning in my life, I discovered my promised land.” She now devotes her life to making sure that others have the opportunity to have a life-changing missional experience in the heart of Indiana like she did.
 
She is a living example of what Phil Kenneson, professor of theology and philosophy at Milligan College, writes about in Cultivating a Generous Heart : “The notion that we might not simply take Jesus to the poor, but just as importantly, meet Jesus in the poor, might run counter to our normal ways of thinking… But it's quite possible that in reaching out to the poor and oppressed of our neighborhoods and the world, we too will be converted. Converted from our own prejudiced opinions of those who are different from us. Converted from our own constricted views of God's work in the world. Converted from our own narrow understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
 
There are thousands of men and women inside the walls of the church, like Lynne McCauley, who are simply waiting for a “second conversion experience” to inspire their lives. Could serving become that experience? How many people can you engage through your church this year to not only bless the city, but have what John Seybert of Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, CA ( www.peninsulacovenant.com ) calls a “blessing experience?” Those blessing experiences can be traced from the earliest days of the church onward, as outsiders marvel at God's work and want to join the spiritual and social dynamic that is happening.
 
Acts 2 records a time period where the early church grew at an exponential rate because God was at work through the spiritual and social dynamics of the early church. Spiritually, God worked in a mighty way and the impact did not go unnoticed. “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). Socially, the believers responded in action by serving one another. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:44-46)   As the early believers loved deeply and served selflessly “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)