Loving Messy People: Serving in Love

Somehow, somewhere along the way, personal ministry became primarily a “talking” ministry. When we think about ministering to others, we usually picture two people sitting in an office or over coffee talking about life, issues, Scripture, God, and the gospel. And, while gospel care must involve listening and talking, it must also involve more.

In his first letter, Peter describes the ministries of service and of speaking as two sides of the same coin: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies— in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4: 10–11a).

You may see this passage as saying that some people are called exclusively to “speaking” ministries while others are called exclusively to “service” ministries, but that can’t be Peter’s intent here. First of all, it would fly in the face of all the service-oriented one-anothers in the list above; and, second, it would fly in the face of the service-oriented one-another (show hospitality) applied to all Christians in the immediately previous verse (1 Peter 4:9).

When we don’t prioritize serving one another in our gospel care, we subtly communicate that Christians shouldn’t need help. They shouldn’t need to be served. We communicate that all that is needed is information from the pages of Scripture and that we have better things to do with our time than watch someone’s kids, help fix a leak, or give someone a ride.

But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Nobody is too good for the meanest service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly.”

Jesus himself set an example of the tangible, service-oriented ways we ought to love one another by humbly washing his disciples’ feet. The time had come for him to demonstrate his power and Kingship through his death and resurrection, but instead of talking to his disciples about the importance of humility and tangible acts of service, Jesus showed them.

Yet, even in light of such a powerful example, many of us have somehow gotten away from seeing acts of service as an integral part of personal ministry. We may have agendas, appointments, plans, resources, or curriculums, but they all tend to neglect the nonverbal parts of living life together. And we wonder why so many of our disciples know the right things to say but aren’t actually living them out! Even if unintentionally, we’ve modeled for them a ministry (and a lifestyle) of nothing but words.

If we truly love those we are ministering to, we need to rectify this neglect.

Excerpted from Loving Messy People: The Messy Art of Helping One Another Become More Like Jesus by Scott Mehl. Now available for pre-order.

Shepherd Press