How can I help? My journey of reshaping Kingdom service
I wonder what pops into your mind when I say “service or serve” in the context of the church?
Service in the past, for me, has been both beautiful and pure in some seasons and brutal and unhealthy in others. It’s the unhealthy service that I’m seeking to re-shape into more Christlike Kingdom service.
There were some unhealthy external expectations that collided with some healthy, and some not so healthy, internal motivations that shaped a concept of service in my life that was counter-Kingdom.
Here are just a few of the external expectations or values that were instilled:
Everyone is called to leadership.
Keep turning up.
A charismatic people-person is preferred.
Serve in multiple ways each week.
Numbers are a key focus because all growth is healthy.
Consistently push past your own limits.
Fake it until you make it.
You can rest when you are dead (yes, this was said to me in all seriousness).
Here are some of the healthy/unhealthy internal motivations for me at the time:
Please people, because then I’ll be valued and will find belonging.
Contribute my gifts and skills.
Find safety and protection.
Obey God by fulfilling my purpose.
This quiet, shy girl who had a deep passion for the Word of God and teaching His truth believed that to belong in God’s community I needed to please God, please people, and find validation and approval.
Overtime I learnt how to shape and squeeze my life, my personality, and strengths, into the mold of these external expectations. I became the girl who filled every gap and was present at every event. I loved that people could rely on me. My ‘service’ and consistency were noted as faithful commitment and more doors opened for ministry. I was told by a former mentor that I could only say ‘no’ once, and if I was to say no a second time then I would no longer be offered any further ministry opportunities. So, I said yes, over and over again, for fear of not being able to obey God in my calling. Whether I felt ready or prepared my answer had to be yes…because I was after all serving the Lord and His people. Or was I?
I kept following the path that seemed to have no rest stops or exit lanes. I continued to ignore every red flag of exhaustion and weariness, writing it off as all just part of serving in God’s Kingdom. I ignored the fact that I spent more time at church than with my family, and even when I was at home, I wasn’t really present. I was preparing for the next event, the next class, the next preach, the next team that needed to be built, the next strategy to keep the Kingdom moving forward.
It looked like I was walking in my calling, called at about the age of 10 to teach and preach the Word of God. And I was, from the outside I had it all together and I was living in the reality of everything that I had prayed for. I was teaching and leading in a Bible College, preaching in my local church, running bible studies, and discipling some truly amazing human beings. But on the inside, I was crumbling, consumed with anxiety that had me running for the bathroom before any class or public speaking event. The pressure to get it all right, all the time, was crushing. Running bible studies while weighed down with guilt that the bible had become work and no longer felt like the life-giving water my tired heart desperately needed. Teaching classes on spiritual formation and personal discipleship while all my attention was forced towards numbers and growth. Knowing my time needed to go towards strategizing on how to get higher student enrolments, when all I wanted to do was spend my time caring deeply for those already present, was an unbearable tension.
Being in a position of leadership meant not being able to share the internal struggles within my own church community. So, while I promoted belonging, welcome home, and family, I stood on the edge of a community that I desperately wanted to be a part of.
When I was suddenly made redundant from my fulltime ministry position it hit like a life shattering breath of fresh air. All at once my life seemed to fall apart, yet I sensed it was the beginning of a coming together.
The coming together of my value apart from offering my undivided attention and devotion to things of lesser importance.
The coming together of a slower, more intentional pace of life.
The coming together of a love not dependent on how many gaps I fill or ministry roles I take on.
The coming together of a community that accepts each other’s deep wounds and shares the balm of grace-filled presence, no matter how long healing takes or how messy it might get.
The coming together of my passion and creativity without needing to fit a mold of perfection.
The coming together of forgiveness and wholeness, where the process is not linear, neat, or nearly as fast as some would like.
The coming together of a life lived openly and honestly before my Father who never fails to take me by the hand and lead me to the water of life.
The coming together of a life of service shaped by the love, kindness, truth, and presence of Jesus in the church, and in each person.
“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?””
Romans 15:1-2 (MSG)
It takes strength to reclaim ‘service’ as a sacred invitation to be lovingly present with people.
It takes strength to choose:
Proximity to people, over proximity to platform.
Honesty and truth, over brand protection.
Messiness and real emotion, over masks and fakery.
Grace and compassion, over shame and judgement.
Being the church, over playing church.
Integrity, over self-preservation.
Character formation, over behaviour modification.
Ordinary and mundane, over the big and spectacular.
What does Kingdom service look like?
Kingdom service puts the needs of individuals above the growth of the crowd (1 John 3:16).
Kingdom service puts the health of individuals above the need to fill all gaps (Matt. 11:28).
Kingdom service is the slow process of discipling individuals, even when it might be easier to push them through a course and call that discipleship (Matt. 28:16-20).
Kingdom service is rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep, even when it’s uncomfortable (Romans 12:15).
Kingdom service is giving focus to spiritual formation above a religious to-do list (2 Cor. 3:18).
Kingdom service is about unity in the essentials and respect in the non-essentials (Romans 14:13-19; Gal. 3:28).
Kingdom service humbly lifts other people up and doesn’t use people as steppingstones (1 Cor. 10:24).
Kingdom service, above all else, is reflecting the character of God, who is love, in all its facets, to all people, in all circumstances (1 John 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:4-8).
This journey of reshaping has required different things at different times, you don’t reshape an intrenched learning overnight, nor do you heal from wounds in isolation. It’s taken intentional prayerful critical thinking, study of scripture, spiritual discernment, the wisdom of friends, and the guidance of a professional counsellor. It’s required time with people, and time alone with God. It’s required an honesty that has been painful at times, and it’s always required the healing presence of God’s grace and truth.
The reshaping of Kingdom service is a slow work, but it is healing deep wounds and birthing hope in desolate places. As we as individuals heal and serve one another in the Kingdom way I pray that healing will be felt in the spaces that once divided a body that was never created for separation.
So, “How can I help serve you with the love of Christ”” is now my guiding question and what I seek to be my only motivation.
Elise Heerde is a wife, mother, author, and Bible teacher from Melbourne who loves Jesus and passionately shares about the grace, hope and love that He offers to all. She deeply desires to see the broken made whole, the captives set free and the lost brought home.