Friday, November 13, 2009

How should serving feel?

I’ve been working in some sort of volunteer management for the past 10 years. For most of these years my mantra has been about the need for leaders to invest in and equip those who serve on their teams, and that failing to do so is really nothing more than using people.

I still feel this way, but I’ve lately become troubled by another leader perspective which I’ve noticed, something on the other end of the spectrum; working hard to see that volunteers “feel really good” as a result of their experience. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people will feel great after serving, and should. When someone they’ve been ministering to finally decides to follow Jesus; when team efforts result in a goal reached. These things feel great, but there are other feelings that a volunteer should be experiencing.
When we try to insure that volunteers have a “feel good” experience, I fear that we are getting into the Holy Spirit’s territory. Sometimes serving in a kingdom calling will feel awful, will produce anguish and pain and tears. And I’d go even further. If the person serving never experiences such feelings, I’d question whether they are fully engaged with God in kingdom business. Consider these “feelings” expressed by the apostle Paul (emphasis added):

His agony over what was happening in Corinthian church: I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

His painful longing to be with the Thessalonians: But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

What emotion should surface in someone when a volunteer comes face to face with injustice?  How should someone emotionally process the realities of cyclical poverty or generational crime?  How should it feel when someone who has been genuinely loved and cared for discards the caring efforts and violates trust? I propose that real kingdom engagement will regularly produce emotions like anger, frustration, desperation, despair, disappointment, sorrow.

When Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 got difficult, when He laid out what it was going to “feel” like to follow him, many turned back and didn’t follow any longer (vs. 66). But knowing full well how it was going to “feel” to engage with Him in kingdom ministry, yet Jesus’ prayer for us was that we might have “the full measure of my joy within them.” (Jn. 17:13). He experienced incomprehensible joy, which He offers to us, but only as we fully engage. We can’t have one without the other.

We make a serious mistake if we create ministry experiences that intentionally keep people at an arms distance, if we don’t help them engage fully, relationally and yes, painfully. Protecting people from the anguish of service robs them of the full measure of Jesus joy.


  1. re•la•tion•ship (ri-ley-shuhn-ship) n. =

    1. The condition or fact of being connected or associated.
    2. Connection by kinship, blood or marriage.
    3. A particular type of connection existing between people related to or having dealings with each other.

    God actually gave me this word.... Just one word... right before leaving for Swaziland this last summer that I think sums up what God is about on this Earth - "Relationships". It is not always pleasant; however God's Joy is Always wrapped up in it somewhere. So often, I can personally be in shambles with everything “going down”, but there is an undeniable Joy that comes from God when I’m doing what He’s asked of me. I'll admit that while I was in Swaziland I struggled with this word he handed me. I shrugged it off saying "Yeah, yeah, God - I know 'relationships' *Duh!* Of course, I know that!" But, I set the word aside like it wasn't of importantance. I had my OWN awesome agenda that certainly God Must approve of. I mean, He sent me here (Swaziland) to work and be a witness, right?....... So during my visit I, needless to say, became quickly frustrated because I felt I wasn't "doing" enough at times or I just didn't "feel okay" about how things were progressing. Ummm...Yeah, I wasn't OK alright,'cause I was not listening! That's when God slapped this word across my face one more time, and "yes", it hurt!... I finally gave in - I should have done it sooner. That proverbial blow reminded me of a fellow ministry brother who once very simply said, "'Flexibility' - God's 'F' word". Well, I admittedly don't bend as I should sometimes.... Guess it's time to work out. My friend's frank but honest statement of observance made me chuckle and smile at the difficult situation we found ourselves in at the time, because it was so true!; Funny, Joyful, and Sometimes Painfully True. But, when we give everything over and trust our own relationship with our Father, the "F" word = "Fabulous". Just like those moments of circumstance my friend and I found ourselves in, Swaziland demonstrated it's own flexibility with our Supreme Maestro conducting His twists, turns and upside downs. Only when "I" stopped and "God" started was the "relationship" chorus able to move with His Sweet Melody. Only then did I see that He had his own sheet music all along; whilst I was busy constructing a harmony that was off key. *Oops* I had to "Let go and let God" as the saying goes, and that was not a comfortable feeling at all for me.

    So, I agree wholeheartedly with my friend and fellow missionary, Wendi Hammond, that this idea that we should "feel good" when serving Him is NOT where the focus should be. It's not about "us" in the first place (btw, "I" was used in above paragraph 26 times). Serving can be rewarding in very unexpected and sometimes strange ways, and yet still very hard and challenging a lot of the time... but I wouldn't give it up for the world! And, I don't mean that in a cliche sort of way... Really it would not be worth giving up God's ministry even if That-Bad-Guy-I-Don't-Like offered me enough power to permanently fix the world's sick, impoverished, and unwanted. I also realize that as I write this out in the open, Satan will wish to have his heyday with me, but I pray that God keep me steadfast in my faith and draw me close during those times of battle ahead. Those of us that accept Christ's gift of a personal
    "relationship" with Him, are able to clothe ourselves with God's armour.... so put it on my brothers and sisters and charge ahead! There are Relationships to be had!

  2. ...In continuing to ponder over this "feel good" aspect of ministry, I was internally reminded that even the great, and yet still small, Mother Teresa warred through distress, anguish and longing; seemingly during most of her time in India. But... she still wrestled on with her assistance to others in desperate need. She once wrote, “If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of 'darkness'. I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.... “ Wow. Even for Heaven she makes plans of her service to God instead of the usual focus on ones blessings and rest! .... She continues on in another of her letters, “There is so much contradiction in my soul — Such deep longing for God — so deep that it is painful — a suffering continual — and yet not wanted by God — repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal — Souls hold no attraction — Heaven means nothing — to me it looks like an empty place — the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His — so He has ever right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God. . . . ."

    You would think that she walked around unable to function after reading some of her private letters to her friend the ArchBishop, however as one writer pens of his experience with her, he noticed something remarkable. "I spent a week with Mother Teresa and her Sisters the winter of 1994. I stood beside her for about two hours as we distributed Christmas gifts to orphaned children. I sensed a sadness in her, but her light overshadowed it. Unlike a person wrapped in severe depression, wearing the expression of despair, she exuded light and hope. When she prayed, her deep love for God was visible, even contagious."
    - THAT is Ministry. Getting down and giving everything you've got for “the least of these" even amongst your pain… & not asking to be rewarded for it - Praising & Loving God amongst the depths of Earth's pit. You do all this just because you love your Father, and are being obedient to His asking. There IS a "Joy" in that ___ even if it doesn't feel good (if you've been there you will understand that statement).
    ~ ~ ~
    Again..."Relationships" were key with this blessed lady (as I pointed out my feelings on this word in the above posted comment) - Mother Teresa cultivated so many of them with those our own humanness would be afraid to come near. Not just between herself and the people she cared for, but between those in need of Christ & the Master Himself. Her life wasn't about TASKS... it was about "RELATIONSHIPS", about bringing some Dignity to those who felt worthless, and not valuable enough to be atop of the scum they literally sat/laid in. I’m aware, as well, of how many are indirectly affected by the so hugely Respected Miss Teresa and the relationships she suffered for and with; how many of us wish we had the faith and courage from God that she was given to live in the company of whatever “Relationship” God places before us.

    I’ll be honest, her quiet letters do leave me with some despair knowing that she struggled so much with her spirit, and what she considered a "loss of faith", while in Calcutta's slums. However, it shows that even she was human and God's Glory was the only thing possibly at work in her withered hands as well as the words that poured from her fraile lips - It was certainly not by her own doing or strength. Her faith was obviously stronger than she gave herself credit for... any of us might have given up & quit with what she felt and faced daily. I know that God has blessed her immensely in His Kingdom, and that gives me comfort at the very least.

    She is an example of leadership in God's ministry that should not be ignored by any of us. Mother Teresa felt the bad, some more bad, and sometimes a bit of good along the way; always keeping with her purpose; Heroic - without meaning to be.

  3. Wendi, these again are great insights. I have always said that compassion is the stew of anger, love, frustration, pain... that causes us to act on someones behalf. God bless