In full disclosure, the topic of serving together is one we’ve addressed with much clarity or expectation for Community Groups. Aside from mentioning in the Community starter study for new groups, we really don’t talk about it much beyond periodic appeals for help with church initiatives. So, if you weren’t sure exactly what the expectation was for your group and serving together, then you were right! There really hasn’t been one because we’ve never talked about. But we want to change that by clarifying the expectation, but also making it much easier for your group to engage in regular service together—and that’s why we’re dedicating a whole Re:Group (October 2017) to this topic.
In my experience, our groups don’t suffer from a deficiency of desire or willingness to serve. Rather, the single largest hindrance is not being able to easily identify available serving projects that would fit your group. If you would agree with that from your own experience, I think you’re going to appreciate a whole new way of serving we are introducing at PV.
So, let’s start with four straight-forward steps toward serving together that every group leader should take:
1. Establish a Biblical Vision for Service
Don’t miss this! It’s easy assume that because your group is eager and willing to serve, so you don’t need to spend time on this very first step. But it’s important because the motivations for serving may be far-ranging, and if your group service isn’t rooted in a biblical vision for service, I guarantee you’re going to encounter problems when service gets difficult and messy. So, make sure you talk about this—take an entire group meeting to talk about the Why of service before you ever approach the How and What of serving. Then, in the future, do a brief refresher before every opportunity you have to serve together. It’s simple, but don’t miss it.
Here’s a simple framework you can use in establishing a biblical vision for service:
- Because we’ve been changed
Our service is ultimately rooted in the Gospel and the way that we have been served.
We had a need—that which we could not provide for ourselves—and Jesus gave of Himself to meet that need. Matt 20:28: “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There is a Gospel motivation and example that we follow. While we serve out of obedience to Christ, it’s important to note that He serves us before we ever serve Him or anyone else (John 13:12-16; Mark 10:45).
But notice that Jesus service wasn’t just in the ultimate/salvation sense…but very practical and tangible, too. Matt 9:35-36: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
One of the clearest indications that a person has believed the gospel of Jesus is that his selfish desire to be served begins to be overcome by a Christlike desire to serve.
Our service is to be driven by a sense of gratitude for God’s love and activity in our lives and by a desire to glorify Him in all we do. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.”
- So we will be changed…
Service has the ability to be transformational for the one doing the serving.
“The development of a servant’s heart, which was created by grace, must be cultivated by Spirit-filled discipline lest our growth in grace become stunted.” – Don Whitney
Do you think about serving others as a spiritual discipline?
Service is an essential spiritual discipline in our own growing maturity. It’s a discipline, in part, because in giving service to others, we ourselves experience lack. We lose something through the giving. When we serve and give sacrificially, we are demonstrating trust that we will have “enough” time, talent, or treasure to be of service and still have our own needs met. Most of all, serving is an act of trust in our Heavenly Father that acknowledges that He will provide as we give ourselves away. And so in doing, we are changed.
- To impact the world around us…
Service implies there is a lack somewhere, a need to be filled. If there weren’t real needs, there wouldn’t be a need to serve! So, in a way, all service acknowledges that we live in a broken world, permeated with “not enough”—not enough food, time, money, love, attention. We live in a world of lack, surrounded by unmet needs.
Serving should be the natural outgrowth of community. Jesus’ purpose for praying for community in John 13 was so that the world around would see and believe that He had been sent by the Father. So, one of the ultimate purposes of community is that we get out and tangibly show the body of Christ to the world. One of the best ways to do that is through serving regularly.
We impact the world, yes, by the service rendered, but even more so by the way we reflect the Father to the world.
- To build community…
Serving should be an out-growth of community, but it’s also a catalyst toward community. As you serve with the people in your group you get to know them better and get to have a shared experience that will define and shape the kind of community you have together. There are conversations you’re going to have as you repair a fence, or prepare a meal, or paint a wall, that you’re just not going to have sitting around a table or a living room in your group meeting! You have a different experience of people’s personality and giftings as you get out of your normal setting.
It’s important that you help your group see serving as not merely about accomplishing tasks, but as opportunities for personal growth and the growth of community together.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
- Make it regular
A good starting point is to plan to serve together outside their group at least once a quarter. The point is to have a clear goal that is sustainable, but requires that you stay on it.
- Put it on the calendar
I can’t stress this enough—getting it on the calendar, well in advance, is probably one of the most important things in the must-do-everything, over-committed culture we live in! I know one group how plans out a year in advance days for serving together. Those are somewhat flexible still, but it communicates the priority of doing it and keeps it out in front of everyone.
- Don’t wait for everyone
The larger the group, obviously the more difficult it is for everyone to participate. If your expectation is that everyone has to be involved for it to “count,” you’re not gonna get much done! Obviously, the more that can participate the better, usually, but you don’t have to wait for everyone.
– Make it accessible for everyone
– Split up tasks according to ability/availability
– Make sure it’s not just one person/couple doing all of it, though!
– Involve the kids where it makes sense
- Don’t overthink it
Our Western minds are naturally wired to focus on effectiveness, efficiency, and having the largest impact possible. Those are not always bad things, but they can be barriers to actually getting anything done.
The ultimate goal is not to have the largest impact, but to be faithful in serving and allowing God to work through that experience.
3. Identify a Group Service Champion
Your call is to shepherd this group, not to do EVERYTHING!
Inviting a Group Service Champion will:
– Take some of the stress/demand off the group leader(s) to coordinate the serving. In many cases, they will do a better job with it!
– It gives that person additional buy-in to the group as a whole, and an additional feeling that they are contributing by using their gifts.
– It communicates to the overall group that you are serious about serving as a group and also gives the group a point person to talk with about potential service projects they are interested in.
- Leverage your apprentice leader.
This is opportunity for someone to get their feet wet in not just organizing a project, but in leading the other group members to see a vision and work together to accomplish it! Maybe you have not yet identified an apprentice leader; if so, use this Service Champion role as a testing ground for someone you may be considering as an apprentice. How they do with this role will tell you a lot about their potential as an apprentice leader.
- Be clear about your expectations.
Don’t just say, “will you be in charge of coordinating service projects for our group?”
Clarify the expectation and specifically what you’re wanting them to do. Give them the direction and expectations they need to own it!
- Give plenty of support.
May sure you don’t just dump this responsibility of group service solely on that one person. Once you have someone in that role, it’s not just “their problem” now!
– Check in regularly
– Give them a platform
– Offer plenty of feedback
4. Find Your Serving Sweet-spot
Be creative about service opportunities. What are you passionate about? What makes you angry or cry or bang your fist on the table? Areas of shared passion and conviction will be far more compelling as you move forward in service, and will help make it more than a one-time thing. Part of the exciting part of serving together is growing in an appreciation for the unique contribution your group can have in God’s Kingdom mission.
How do you find your serving sweet-spot? Use the following questions as filters for determining and leveraging your unique place of service.
Your Serving Sweet-spot is in the overlap of 5 Key Considerations:
- Kingdom Passion
Group members will be most engaged when an area of service aligns with a cause or need they are passionate about. We’ve identified 8 Kingdom Causes that PV will focus on, which provide a great starting point for your discussion: Food security, Health, Education, Housing, Family / Economic security, Disaster response, Human Trafficking, Foster Care / Adoption.
- Spiritual Giftedness
When functioning within areas of giftedness, not only are we more effective, but the spiritual impact on the one serving is usually greater.
- Mutual Experiences
It’s not by accident that God has brought you together as a group for this season.
- General Life-stage
The types of opportunities you have as a group will change depending on the stage of life of most group members.
- Spiritual Maturity
Make sure what is required of a particular service opportunity aligns with the spiritual