five service aspects to shepherd students toward

Yesterday, I gave some specifics for shepherding students in the area of Service – specifically by noting some things we want to help them avoid.

Today, a cheerier note: Qualities of service we want to build in our students. Again, hopefully it’s a helpful little template or checklist, something for you to build your own service-shepherding strategies around!

1. Purposeful service

We should help students see that their service should be organized and practiced around the real needs, the outcomes that we actually want to achieve. In the marathon-encouragement world, that means encouraging and supporting in the ways the runners need most. What we say when we cheer, what drinks or snacks we offer, where we stand – all of this is organized around what most helps the runners.

Likewise, our students need to learn that there’s no such thing as a “good service project” that doesn’t accomplish what’s actually needed. If they learn to start with needs and work backwards to determine the methods to use, they’ll be servants indeed.

2. Foolish-looking service

When we start talking about good service, we’d better prepare our students for the fact that the best service won’t always have a direct relationship with dignity. In the case of cheering on the marathon, I fully recognize that sometimes those around me don’t understand the… vigor with which I encourage the runners. I’m yelling loudly (enough to get through headphones) and personally, calling individuals’ names and often pointing or otherwise gesturing wildly. But this is what’s needed (and happily this year, my methods seem to “rub off” on many of the strangers around me). Despite looking foolish (frightening?) on occasion, I’m cheering for the runners, so I’ll offer whatever seems to help them most.

Our students’ service will sometimes look strange to those around them… even, on occasion, to the very people they’re serving (at least for a little bit). They need to be okay with that.

3. Unnatural service

But… the truth is, that kind of “vigor” isn’t natural for me. At a basketball game, I would only rarely yell like that; at the marathon, it’s 5 hours straight of that kind of extroversion. I’m not particularly great with strangers, but during the marathon I get fairly personal with strangers in Mile 25 of their really crazy mid-morning adventure. All because that’s what’s needed; they don’t need my natural introversion at that moment.

Are we training our students not only to set aside their dignity (when needed) to serve effectively, but even to set aside their personalities (when needed) to serve effectively?

4. Delegated service

Occasionally I try to get in on passing out water or Gatorade, but generally I just focus on cheering the runners. Why? While passing out Gatorade to these flagging marathoners is actually pretty thrilling, my best role is the cheering one. Plenty of other volunteers are passing out drinks. Some are filling the cups to be passed out. In the past, some volunteers have cooked breakfast for the rest of us. And still others need to focus on overseeing our large task, keeping everything running smoothly. Many service projects will be best handled through delegation – but, lo and behold, that means not every student will get to do everything… or everything they want.

5. Focused and personal service

A big rule of thumb for cheering the marathon is to focus on individuals. While some level of general rah-rah cheering is exciting, the runners are most encouraged when you call their first name (shown on their placard) or otherwise identify them (“You’ve got this, Wildcat!,” “C’mon, Bank of America!”).

The same principle holds for lots of other service opportunities, too: If our service doesn’t impact actual people (whether as individuals or in groups), then who’s it really helping? Students (and we) can focus too much on vague goals – “changing the world,” “helping our campus”; service often becomes more real when it gets more focused and more personal.

When it comes down to it, we’ve got to help our students be “servee-centric” at every step of their service endeavors. While focusing on actual people’s actual needs seems like common sense, it’s not necessarily common practice when our students serve. In the marathon, servee-centeredness is why filling cups only halfway matters, why yelling loud enough to be heard through headphones matters, and why knowing the impact we’re aiming for matters.

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