The idea of serving people in order to communicate God’s grace is hardly novel. “Bringing the whole gospel to the whole person” marks both contemporary missional churches and longstanding mission organizations. Yet, if we limit ourselves to serving people in order to demonstrate God’s love for them, we may be ignoring an even more loving, relational, authentic and dynamic approach–serving together with people who believe differently.
Together is the key word. The dynamic changes when people do something together; the rules change when you are in relationship. Consider John’s story:
When I was in grade school, I played multiple sports against a lot of the same kids. One boy from a rival school I regularly competed against was named Jimmy. Jimmy was good and was one of my most difficult opponents. I couldn’t stand to play against him. But he and I ended up at the same high school, playing two sports together, and soon I loved having him on my team. Jimmy was passionate, scrappy, and competitive. Because we were together on the same team, I learned a lot more about Jimmy and liked him for who he was, not just for his athletic abilities. Jimmy and I became great high school friends. The rules changed when I got to know him through our shared experience.
John and his “competitor” became friends–a new bond was created when they became teammates.
Bonds and connections form when you pursue a common cause with someone, and the same can hold true when you serve side by side with people who seem the least interested in your faith. The same person who doesn’t want to discuss anything about God and the Bible, may jump at the chance to come with you to serve at a food pantry, assist in disaster relief, or join a community recycling project. Today, there is a massive cultural cry to care for the “least of these” and to seek justice on many levels. The chance to serve side by side with someone who may not believe what you do, but who also cares deeply about the same thing you do, is an incredible opportunity.
Serving together puts people into a relational environment where they can see the gospel in action, and this provides something worthwhile to talk about.
Catching a glimpse of Jesus
When we serve alongside one another, our new, shared experiences:
- foster new relational dimensions
- increase common ground
- activate mutual curiosity
- open up the potential for meaningful conversations about God
During or after a shared service experience, some “debriefing” could naturally and organically open up into a conversation about life, beliefs, and God. The medium of service gives you opportunities to:
- ask questions about the experience
- share your perspective and hear theirs
- talk about God’s work in your own life
- interpret and communicate the experience from your worldview
Spending the time to serve together with others is worthwhile–even if you may have little else in common–because through your actions or your conversations, the nonbeliever may just catch a glimpse of Jesus.
We’ve said it before. God knew what was coming even before creating a single atom or a piece of dirt or one star, so he made a plan. This plan, centered in Jesus Christ, is to make us whole again, to redeem the entire creation, to restore shalom. God made the world with this focus and people have always been central to it. God blesses people, comes to people, and reaches out to people in order to build a people of believers who will join him in carrying out his Father’s mission and participate with him in his work of restoration.
And how beautiful it is that the believer can use this work as a compelling invitation for the spiritual seeker. As Gabe Lyons puts it,
Today’s spiritual outsiders aren’t likely to be reached through persuasive argument but instead through first experiencing an authentic Christian: someone who is willing to roll up his or her sleeves and restore alongside them.