What’s the relationship between service and the verbal proclamation of the gospel? Are words enough? Are loving actions enough by themselves? Most Christians generally agree on one thing—the people we hope to evangelize are the ones we seek to serve. But some churches are now challenging this conventional thinking.
In Simply Strategic Volunteers: Empowering People for Ministry (Group, 2005), pastors Tony Morgan and Tim Stevens explain, “Churches that are effective in bringing people to Christ are doing so through relationship building.” Serving alongside non-Christians to meet a common need, they suggest, offers a congregation the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with its neighbors and allows non-believers to participate in Christian community before making a personal commitment to Christ themselves.
“When you serve at the homeless shelter,” they write, “what better way to show others the love of Christ than by asking them to serve alongside you?”
Viewing cooperative service as an evangelism opportunity provides the church with a larger audience for the gospel. Not only will those being served be touched by the love of Christ, but so will those serving with you.
This summer, consider broadening your church’s vision to include non-Christians who are eager to contribute to their communities but don’t have a venue through which to do so.
The key is identifying community needs that both Christians and non-Christians can rally around. One way is to organize a group from the church to volunteer for a day with an established civil outreach program, such as a homeless shelter, food pantry, or a youth and family services organization. Ask each of the church volunteers to invite one non-Christian friend to serve with them. Organizing under the auspices of a non-religious organization may make some unbelievers more comfortable.
If you plan to organize a service project through the church, look for needs in the neighborhood or near the church building if possible. Non-Christians, particularly younger ones, will be most inclined to join a cause they already recognize as relevant—and all the more if the work affects the community in which they live.
For example, the church may plan to host a back-to-school clinic in late summer, where underprivileged children receive school supplies, vaccinations, and other necessities. Throughout the summer, request donations from neighbors. When clinic time rolls around, invite the community to help by passing out school supplies, filling out paperwork, or serving as translators. In this way, we can testify to Christ in our behavior (1 Thess. 4:11–12) and encourage the unchurched community to do good works (Heb. 10:24).
Consider doing a service project in cooperation with a congregation of a different ethnic demographic. Such cooperation will strengthen relationships between the churches. In an age of international terror and border fences, the unity exemplified by interracial cooperation will present a living image of profound unity in Christ.
This is an aspect of the gospel message that may be best communicated to those outside the faith through cooperative work efforts rather than just verbal proclamation.
As you plan your summer service projects, pray that the Holy Spirit will prepare the hearts of those serving alongside you, and be prepared to give an account for the hope you have in Christ Jesus.
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
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Spring 2008, Vol. XXIX, No. 2, Page 67