help and help are not the same thing

I’ve talked in several posts now about what I learned from my time at Virginia Tech. But one of these lessons is particularly applicable to ministry here in New England, too. Both of these locations – Virginia Tech (particularly in the days following last semester’s tragedy) and Boston (clearly a fave spot for mission trips) – have recently been Christian ministry recipients on a large scale.

All the ministers I’ve talked to, I’m sure, would express much gratitude for the outpouring of ministry from fellow believers. Whether in a flurry of encouragement and support following unspeakable calamity (in the case of Va. Tech), or through annual waves of servanthood impacting the city of Boston, much of this service has certainly been loving “in deed and in truth.” There’s a lot of gratefulness for what Christian brothers and sisters have done in these situations.

At the same time, in my discussions with these ministers, a balancing wisdom has arisen through their experiences. As I, an outsider, listen closely, I am learning that not all efforts have been truly helpful. Not everything we Christians offer “in Jesus’ name” truly profits people (Christians and/or unbelievers) on the receiving end.

In other words, help and help are not the same thing. Help (the verb we do) and help (the noun we receive) aren’t mutually inclusive. We all know that help (the noun) can be received from unlikely, unwitting sources who aren’t actually intending to do so. But the scary thing is that help (the verb) can also be attempted with no actual “helpfulness” being attained on the receiving end. Ouch!

In Boston, it’s a bit of an inside joke to mention the large amount of service that has come from elsewhere in the past few years; while plenty of “mission trips” or “service teams” have truly helped, several have been a little bit of a hassle, too. At Virginia Tech, likewise, there are occasional smiles-and-groans when reminiscing about some of the outside service received during that time. These ministers aren’t “looking a gift-horse in the mouth.” They’re just rightly recognizing that intention doesn’t always equal production – even in the realm of service. We can learn from their realizations.

This is particularly applicable for college ministry, I figure, as mission trips, service projects, and basic availability abound during the collegiate years. Maybe the wisdom of some amazing ministers here in the East can bring about even greater fruit, as it aids us in channeling students’ energies into truly effective service!

So that’s something for us to chew on. In light of what I’ve been learning over the past month, I’ll post some specifics tomorrow to help (I hope it’s helpful help) as we think about how we minister to others. [To read that follow-up post, click here.]

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  1. Pingback: serving well, after weather storms & other storms « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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