The Need to Serve

Eric Bryant

Are you an ENTJ or an ENFP?

Maybe you have overheard conversations like this. It sounds like a foreign language, but it can be incredibly life changing.

I've had the opportunity to coach others using assessments dealing with personality and strengths. The key has always been to help people apply what they've discovered. There is real power in discovering your identity. However, while these assessments can help in the process, I believe the most critical piece to self-discovery is still serving.

We truly discover who we are when we lose ourselves in serving – when we start applying our uniqueness in serving those around us.

The early church did not have assessments quite like we do. Instead, I believe they discovered their gifts by meeting the needs of others. Those with whom they served and those they served would see their giftedness and point it out.

Paul describes the role of spiritual leaders, those considered apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in Ephesians 4. Paul challenged the Ephesian leaders to "prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).

Serving leads to maturity.

Knowing about the Bible does not change us. Applying the Bible by serving others does. When we fail to create the opportunities for people to serve, we hijack their opportunity to grow. When it comes to investing in others, recruiting others, and empowering others, here is the most important principle I have discovered:

People need to serve more than we need their help.

As a young leader, I often felt reluctant or even afraid to bother those I was recruiting. My attempts at recruiting others went something like this: “I hate to bother you, but would you possibly consider praying about the possibility of one day helping in our nursery?” The results of my efforts were less than impressive.

When I recruited others apologetically I seemed to be indicating that what I was asking them to do was not something they should even consider. They could sense that I felt guilty for asking them to do something I wasn’t willing to do. I seemed to be approaching the potential recruits as if I was asking them to do me a favor like I desperately needed them to rescue me. Those who turned down my invitation seemed to smell my selfish motivation or my desperation.

Other times, rather than recruiting others, I would just do the task myself. As the trained-by-seminary and called-by-God pastor, I thought that I was the most qualified and the most effective person for that job. Unfortunately, I was undermining my own efforts to help people grow by eliminating the fastest and most effective path towards that growth – serving.

In the New Testament, Paul went to great lengths to write about the importance of serving as a body and using our spiritual gifts. If pastors and church leaders are the only ones who should be serving, then why would Paul write these letters to all of the followers of Christ in particular cities? I had been operating as if Paul had only intended his letters for those who were in leadership and that spiritual gifts were only given to clergy.

Paul often reminded those reading his letters that all followers of Christ were called and even gifted to serve. Furthermore, when Paul specifically addressed church leaders, he reminded them of the importance of recruiting others to serve with them. Paul challenged Titus to raise up elders from among the Cretans, a group that was considered by one of their own prophets to be “liars, evil brutes, [and] lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Rather than ask Titus to do all of the work necessary to reach Cretans and disciple Cretans, Paul knew that the very process for reaching and discipling Cretans included creating places for these “lying, evil, and lazy” people to serve. In fact, some of them should so grow in their relationship with God that they would become qualified to serve as elders and “entrusted with God’s work” (Titus 1:7). Quite a contrast! Titus’ goal was to create a community in which evil people became overseers.

Remembering that my greatest moments of personal growth had taken place in the context of serving others, I changed my approach. I began to realize as a church leader my job was to raise up leaders who would replace me.

Asking people to serve knowing they needed to serve gave me greater confidence and even urgency in my conversations with people. I approached others with an opportunity to become the person God created them to be. In my own life, I had discovered that Jesus spoke with great wisdom when he reminded his followers that when we lose our lives in serving others, we find our lives (Matthew 10:39). As a church leader, I became more committed to helping others experience this miraculous and mystical experience.

After all, Jesus knew who He was, where He was from, and where was going. It was in that context that He constantly served the people around him, even washing the feet of His apostles.

The truth is that serving helps us know who God created us to be, and when we know who we are, we can truly serve people.

Dr. Eric Michael Bryant leads a cohort earning a Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Effectiveness through Bethel Seminary, and is the author of  Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World, which equips people to engage with others no matter what their differences.

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