6 Ways Serving Can Be More than a Good Personal Experience

Dr. Brian Howell, an anthropology professor at Wheaton College and author of the book Short-term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience, says that the single greatest benefit of the service experience (a.k.a. short term mission) is reaped by those who are serving, not by the person or organization being served. In an interview with Christianity Today, Howell said this:

“There’s poverty out there, and we should do something about it because we’re Christians. We’ve traditionally thought of missions as evangelism, but now we’re thinking about missions more as serving, caring, and giving. We’re going to do something. But what we find when we take these trips is that you actually receive more than you give; you will be changed more than you will change anyone else…[Serving others] is a narrative of self-transformation, a narrative of personal growth…”

Good outcomes hands-water-poor-poverty
Indeed, “I grew so much!” or, “I really learned a lot!” might be the most common things said after serving in, say, a soup kitchen.

And certainly these are good outcomes! You’d want that spiritually seeking person who is serving alongside you to feel this way and to experience the redeeming nature of the Gospel in action.

But if what Howell says is true, that service mostly benefits those who are serving–increasing faith, broadening perspectives and nurturing sensitivities—is the service itself a waste of time? Do those being served benefit at all? Certainly the heart and desire of those who are serving is that they would!

Can there be another outcome? It would seem that personal growth from serving and real benefit for those who are being served are not mutually exclusive.

Good service
Fortunately, they don’t have to be. Not only will the service experience benefit those who are serving, but it can also benefit those who are being served. How? If those who are serving, serve well. There is a difference between good service and not-so-good service!

Serving Well—6 Ways
Here are 6 ways you can make your group’s service, good service:

  • Give those you’re serving a stake in their own care.
  • Never do for someone what they can do for themselves!
  • Relinquish control – you’re stepping in to someone else’s territory—and they know it better than you do.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help.
  • Subordinate self-interest to the needs of those being served.
  • Think with rather than for and equality not ill-perceived superiority

We’d love to hear the ways you’ve grown through serving together and serving well! Tell us here!