doing the service thing

Yesterday, I had the neat chance to volunteer once again at the Mile 25 Aid Station of the White Rock Marathon, the yearly race drawing tens of thousands of runners. I’ve done this four out of the last five years (one of those years I was unavailable because of a little yearlong road trip…). And each time, it gives me a new chance to think about what true service really looks like.

Because our students are so primed for service, “social justice,” and similar themes, service efforts have become a big part of college ministry across the nation. But though that’s true, it’s one of the areas I feel like we need to become much stronger – not in doing service, but in shepherding service.

My fear is that we’re raising up Christian students who will be no more effective or intentional in service than their non-Christian counterparts. If the people in our college ministries aren’t true servants any more than the gals in that sorority or the members of the student government, then what’s so “Christian” about what we’re doing?

Can non-Christians serve? Absolutely. But we should be able to point to Christians as people who better understand the how and the why of service, who are more motivated to serve, and are willing to serve even those the world is unwilling to touch.

But if you’re honest, can you say that about your college students?

It’s our job as college ministers to get our students there – to produce true servants at the end of those four years, not simply get them to serve a little bit more.

Encouraging marathoners, half-marathoners, and other runners is less world-impactful than many forms of service, of course. But it’s a form I really enjoy, and I’ve also enjoyed learning from the experience for these four years. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to use that as a springboard to chat about how we “do the Service theme” in our college ministries. I’ve done this before, but I’ll be updating and refreshing the old stuff.

I hope it’s encouraging as we head into 2011 – that we may create servants, not simply opportunities for people to serve.

Here’s the first of those posts.


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  1. Larka

    I am glad you are going to give some thought about this. I have been thinking about this too, so many people are doing things to help others. How is the vision different? Do students know what we know about seeing people and loving people because of God’s value for them? Do they have a new desire to really seek out opportunities and be intentional because of how God has changed their heart and how it brings great joy? You feel like you are part of something God is doing. He has showed you a need in the life of someone he cares about and he is moving you specifically to move toward them.
    Otherwise we end up doing a lot of things, giving our time and feeling good about doing our duty or making our resume requirements. I just got back from a service trip with students and I know it was good for developing community for all of us but you have me thinking what could I have said? How could I have clued them in to the vision beforehand? I take for granted that they may not be going into it thinking the way I am. They might just think OK that was fun, that was good of us.

  2. Thanks for these thoughts Benson! This is an issue we have been trying to address at NKU. One way we are addressing it is by setting up mission trips that provide opportunities for believers as well as those that are not yet believers to participate. For instance, this spring break…our team will be composed of about 10-15 (not quite half the group) students that are not likely believers. This creates a situation where the ministry is occurring on two levels (At least :) ). We have NKU BCM students ministering to other students on the trip and the whole group is ministering to others through acts of service throughout the trip. We intentionally plan significant times for debriefing each day and create environments where students are encouraged to dialogue and get to know each other. We plan to have student share stories of their lives re: family, significant relationships, faith, school, etc. We will also have students of different faiths share about their beliefs. As the week comes to an end, we will discuss how to learn from each other and how to evaluate what you believe to be sure what you are believing is true.

    The teaching for our believing students tends to come before and during the trip as we intentionally discuss the reasoning for including folks that are not yet believers on our trips. For us, that reasoning is that we are to reach our campus for Christ. This means fostering relationships with others and looking for ways to connect with them in an authentic manner. In this case the connection is acts of service. Once the connection is made, students have common ground on which a relationship can be built. When they serve together and we encourage them to discuss topics of faith, it seems to work really well.

    Maybe some of that makes sense?? I know there are tons of ways to do what you are saying. Your point of shepherding service is a good one. Experiences like these provide opportunities for us to help our students practice shepherding each other…which should lead to them shepherding others in life.

    How are other folks addressing this issue?

  3. Pingback: how can we shepherd our students’ service and social justice? « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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