shepherding our students’ service

I had the marvelous chance yesterday to participate once again in the most enjoyable service project I get to do – the annual “Finish Strong Dallas” ministry to Dallas’s White Rock Marathon. Finish Strong hosts an aid station (with water, Gatorade, music, and encouragers) at Mile 25, right smack in the middle of Downtown Dallas.

It’s an activity at which I – rather out of character – yell my head off, often lose my voice, regularly cry (or at least tear up), and always walk away sore. As I type this, my wrists hurt from clapping and I very much feel like being very, very quiet. It’s been a long day of yelling & chatting for this natural introvert.

But it’s one of my favorite things to do in large part because it seems to be a service project that really serves. It’s designed to serve the city of Dallas and the individual runners, and as best I can tell, it does that.

So each year provides an interesting chance to be reminded of what good service can look like (and what helps bring it about) – as well as, on occasion, some of the errors that individuals occasionally make when trying to serve. (Fortunately, this is a project that’s pretty hard to “mess up.”)

As we know, many, many members of the present collegiate ranks are excited – theoretically – about service, compassion ministry, social justice, and the like. But I think I agree with some other college ministers that college students might like the idea of service a bit more than they like actually serving. So if we respond to their service-mindedness by simply feeding their natural desires and methods, we risk producing “servants” whose selfishness or lack of skill greatly diminishes their impact on a hurting (and watching) world. That’s no good at all.

Service, like the other things we urge, is an area that needs our shepherding – not just our encouragement.

I’ll try to follow up today’s entry with some practical things I’ve noticed about the ways service can “go wrong” – and ways it can go very right, too. But for now, I suppose I just want to raise a very simple question:

Are we raising up servants who are really good at helping in ways that meet actual needs really well?

Any thoughts on that? What have you seen? [See the next post for specific ways service can go awry, and the post after that for ways it goes “aright”!]

This week I get to attend the Refresh Conference, a gathering originating from the College Union guys. It’s near Houston, and I look forward to Twittering and otherwise reporting from that.

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