Friday, April 1, 2011

Faith Friday: Serving God, Serving Others

As I've mentioned before, Bryan and I started looking for a church at the beginning of the year.  We started visiting a local UMC that literally is one stop sign down from our home.  We like that it was so close, and agreed with the major points in their statement of faith on their website.  We continued visiting because of the welcoming and laid back atmosphere, the lack of theological mandates and the acceptance of multiple points of view.  This past Sunday, we attended a Church 101 class, the focus of which was to introduce us to the history of the Methodist denomination in general and of this United Methodist Church in particular.  After the meeting, Bryan and I decided to place our membership--meaning we now have an official church home!

I don't know much about joining churches of other denominations, but to join a UMC you simply pledge to uphold the church by your "prayers, presence, gifts and service."  This was the first time that I made the pledge as an adult and the first time Bryan made that pledge to a UMC.

On the way home, Bryan and I were discussing our newly-made commitment to the church.  "Prayers and presence" aren't a problem at all, and "gifts" only requires that we look at our budget to figure out how much we can commit to giving right now.  "Service" however is the one aspect we're trying to figure out.  It's as much of an individual decision as anything, as we're each trying to figure out what roles we might want/be able to fill in the church community.  I love that, at this church, there seems to be an equal emphasis placed on all spiritual gifts and acts of service, and that they don't seem to hold any as better than the others.

And all this thinking got me to thinking.
So many times, Christians put a priority emphasis on serving God by sharing His Gospel.  At the church I attended in high school, it seemed like verbally witnessing to someone was the ultimate act of service--and that all of the other areas of service were simply stepping stones towards that goal.  In other words, the purpose of serving others is to create a relationship through which you can verbally share the Gospel.

And that bothers me.

The two-fold Great Commandment of the New Testament says to "love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."  If we love God so completely, than we love what He loves--his children, also known as mankind.  Because God loves our neighbors as much as He loves us, so must we.  I'm totally on board with all  of that.  Not that it's always easy, but I'm on board.

There's another statement known as the Golden Rule--"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  That makes complete sense in light of the Great Commandment.  If we love God, then we love our neighbors as much as ourselves, which means we should treat them how we would want ourselves to be treated.  Again, this can be very challenging, but, so far, I'm still on board.

It's when all of this is made to mean that we should serve people with the end goal of sharing the Gospel that you lose me.  If I needed help, would I want someone to step in and "serve" me?  Absolutely.  Be it by praying for me, be it by putting a new roof on my house, be it serving me food, be it teaching my child something I can't, be it any of the innumerable things that one human being can do for another, if I were in a desperate situation, I would hope that someone would step in with an assist.

However, would I want the reason for that to be so that they could talk about their point of view on faith and God and religion?  Absolutely not.  I would want it to be because they wanted to help--not so that I would feel obliged to listen to them later.  So, if I'm loving others as I love myself, and treating them as I would like to be treated, why in the world would I serve them for this reason?

It seems to me that serving people with the goal of sharing the Gospel verbally means that our hearts aren't quite in the right place.  We should serve people out of love--love both for them, and for the God who loves them so dearly.  We should serve them, no stings attached, because that is how we ourselves would want to be served.  After all, that's what was so radical about the practice of Christianity as the religion emerged.  Not the words that were said, not the way the apostles witnessed, but the way that Christians loved each other and loved the world--no strings attached--because of the freedom that came from God/Christ loving them.

I always have and always will love the quote from St. Francis of Asisi:  "Share the Gospel.  Use words if necessary."  If someone asks why I serve, then I can explain.  If they don't ask and I don't say, that doesn't mean the Gospel hasn't been shared--just that it hasn't been shared out lout.  Some might protest this statement, saying "How can non-Christians be saved if they don't hear the truth?"  Well, for starters, I've already covered that I don't think non-Christians necessarily need saving.  Beyond that, by shoving Christianity down someone's throat without them asking or feeling some sort of spiritual lack in their lives, you're just as likely to turn them off completely as you are to "bring them to Christ".  Especially if they already have their own faith.

Let me end by saying that I am fully aware that there are many spiritual gifts, one of which being the gift of verbally sharing the gospel.  There are those--including many preachers and missionaries--that have this gift.  I'm not by any means saying that they should deny their spiritual gift.  My point is simply that 1) that's not the only spiritual gift and 2) serving others should be done out of love for them, not out of some design to create an opportunity to verbally share the Gospel.


  1. You did it again!! Put my belief into words! I love you! You amaze me with your ability to put complicated topics into simple words....for all to understand (even your mom and DAD!!)

  2. Congratulations on finding a spiritual home that works for the two of you. I tend to share my faith and love by my actions -- which is exactly what you're talking about here. It all starts and ends with Do Unto Others. Have a wonderful weekend!!!


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