When I wrote this I was sitting in our darkened auditorium watching a thousand middle and high school students worshipping their hearts out with Matt McCoy and a phenomenal band of young musicians…hands raised, bouncing at times, singing at the top of their über-stretched vocal cords. Made me want to cry. A manly cry, of course.
“In my life…be lifted high. In my world…be lifted high. In our love…be lifted high…”
It’s hard to believe, but we’re hosting our 20th Summer Of Service—SOS—this year. It all began with an idea Steve Sjogren had in 1992: thirteen mostly out-of-town students spent a couple of months doing simple outreaches. We housed them in some rental apartments the whole time. We were, of course, in over our heads. Even then.
Now it’s only five days. But five days on steroids. Today I was washing cars for free with an amazing group of young people from Traverse City, Michigan. The very last car was driven by a 20-something woman with a five-year-old boy in tow. She was genuinely stunned by the free wash. As we finished, I asked her if there was anything she would like prayer for. She was suddenly even more surprised. She told us she had some big “life decisions” to make and told us her story. Turns out she was from Poland and soon to return since her au pair gig was finished. The five-year-old was in her charge. She really didn’t want to go back and was not sure what she would do when she did. We prayed. Her eyes filled up. We believed God heard us. And she thanked us again and drove off.
Once more, the wall between the Church and those outside came crashing down for a moment. The Kingdom of God slipped through a thin place and caught us all by surprise. And in a moment of servitude.
Last Saturday I spent three hours doing an outward-focused church leadership training workshop at Tryed Stone-New Beginning Church for my friend Jerry Culbreth. I’m always interested to see how outward-focused principles apply to different church cultures, this one being primarily an African-American congregation. During a Q&A time, someone asked, “Do you think that developing a servant-oriented culture with an emphasis on outreach will be the next wave in the local church?” My response was simple: if it’s not seen as a church-growth mechanism, yes. But I’m always suspicious of the silver bullet theory. We have to think more holistically.
Nevertheless, several years ago in the Outward Focused Life book, I posed a simple question in the introduction:
“There’s something new sneaking into the church, and in a few decades, it will be pervasive. Here’s my Next Big Thing prediction: That churches in America will become less known for their styles, for their tribes, for their proselytizing methods, for their politics, for their clamoring over Christian “rights”, for the things they’re against…and more known for the way they serve. Servanthood will be the defining characteristic of people who are followers of Jesus. The question I regularly ask myself as a pastor in Cincinnati is this: what if the Church (the “Big ‘C’ Church”) in our city was known more for serving than by any other thing?”
I’m more convinced than ever it’s the right question, particularly in the hyper-politicized, shrill-voiced polarized culture we live in now. The believers I spoke to recently at a couple of New Wine Leadership Conferences in the U.K. were more than ready for a servanthood fix (New Wine is a network of churches that are mostly Anglican). It’s not that they were unfamiliar with the idea; it’s that the leaders want to hear reinforcement of what I believe they inherently know. As with most conferences, it’s not so much that you’re bringing completely new information, but rather, a voice of affirmation.
Tomorrow morning at SOS I will again watch a couple dozen chartered school buses pull up to the Vineyard to take a thousand students around the city to practice the art of serving. Maybe this generation will do a better job that we have at presenting the Body of Christ to a lonely and lost world. And tomorrow night we’ll gather and worship Jesus simply, beautifully and with a thoroughly-filled servant-heart…thanking Him for the opportunity to make His name famous through acts of love. I think that’s pretty wise.
The fruit of a righteous person is a tree of life, and a winner of souls is wise. (Proverbs 11:30 God’s Word Translation)
Taken poorly with a droid. I know, I know...