January 4, 2020

Serving: Gift or Discipline?

By Mary Odell

When I was asked to write about the role of service in the life of a Christian, I accepted without hesitation. As I actually sit down to write the article, however, it occurs to me that there is the tiniest bit of irony that I would be the one writing on this topic. Sure, I am a writer, and I do serve in church. So there’s that. However, there is also something that I feel like you need to know: Anytime I have taken one of those tests to show what one’s spirituals gifts are, the gift of “service” doesn’t even make the list. Seriously. It’s not that service is a “lesser” gift of mine. According to the tests, I don’t even have it. Clearly, I am the perfect person to write about service, right?  

Well, maybe I am.  

You see, in the life of a Christian, there are two ways of experiencing service: as a spiritual gift and as a spiritual discipline. Not all believers experience service as a spiritual gift. A spiritual gift is bestowed by the Holy Spirit at conversion. Spiritual gifts are given to believers by God to draw others to Christ. Although placed within a believer, spiritual gifts are actually intended for the benefit of the church through the vessel of a believer. In other words, your spiritual gifts are not God’s gift to you, but to the world.

In contrast, every believer can—and I would argue should—experience service as a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is a practice that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, one works at developing in order to grow spiritually and become more Christlike. Spiritual disciplines move believers “further up and further in” to our relationship with Christ and His people. Although our service is directed outward to enrich others, the real benefits of a spiritual discipline belong to the believer who practices it. The discipline of service is not God’s gift to the world, but to you. (Some assembly required.)

Therefore, if you, like me, are an “ungifted” servant, your lack of aptitude does not exempt you from serving. Instead, it is a divine opportunity to grow closer to Christ and your church family by disciplining yourself to engage. I have experienced this firsthand.  When we first came to Grace Oviedo a few years ago, we had a hard time feeling “at home.” The people were warm and welcoming, but we still felt more like guests than family. I felt a bit like an orphan placed in the home of kind strangers. Awkward. Alien. A bit disconnected despite the best efforts of my hosts. It wasn’t until I started serving that Grace began to feel like home. Practicing the discipline of service has connected me to my church family, stretched me, humbled me, and allowed me to have a part in what God is doing.

A good way to get started for those of us whose first instinct is to spectate rather than participate is to join in the work of the church by offering our talents. Although I’m not a natural servant, I do enjoy teenagers and have experience teaching, so that’s where I started: helping  lead a high school Bible study. Participating in an area where I had a level of confidence and comfort was a great entry into serving the Grace family. If you are wondering where to plug in, take an inventory of your skills and talents. Then offer them up. Don’t wait to be asked.

Another way to develop the discipline of service is to live out my friend Hope’s mantra: See a need; meet a need. At a campus like ours, which meets at a school and requires set-up and tear-down every single week, those needs are easy to find. You may not know this, but there is an entire team who arrives before dawn, moves heavy things, and fights with curtains so that the rest of us can have a more aesthetic and less distracting worship experience and the kids can have cleaner, safer classrooms. Its hidden service to be sure, but vital to the church. (And if you are curious about the people who have the spiritual gift of service, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is where you will find them.)  Anyway, if you look around, you will easily find needs that you can meet. 

Regardless of whether you are gifted to serve or “just practicing,” Scripture is clear that every believer is called to serve. Jesus modeled for His disciples a mind-boggling Servant Kingship, donning a towel instead of a robe and picking up a basin to wash feet instead of a scepter to rule (John 13:4-6). Gifted or not, if we wish to follow Him, we will serve.

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