It’s Not About Us

There is a new webinar that has been added to the catalog of webinars that are a part of the “Practice Discipleship Project” done

Serving in 2009

cooperatively by the Network and the ELCA Youth Gathering.

I’m really excited about the webinar.  It is titled “Compassionate Justice and Service Learning.”

I’d like to give you the description, and then tell you the ‘backstory’ behind it:

This webinar will explore the concept of compassionate justice as part of “Practicing Justice,” one of the ELCA Youth Gathering’s central themes. The language of compassion, justice, and accompaniment will be introduced, along with a biblical overview of justice and what it means to serve in Christ’s name. In addition, leaders will learn a practical, four-step service learning model that can be used in preparing their groups for service and mission experiences, including how to adequately prepare a group, guide meaningful reflection, and share stories and experiences with others.  We will end this session with an important conversation about what comes next – the Gathering is not a destination event, it is a preparation for ministry in your own neighborhood and the world around us! 

The webinar will be led by Dr. Dave Ellingson and Mark Jackson, both of Trinity Lutheran College, and Peggy Hahn of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.

So here’s the deal:  As a church, Christ calls us to serve.  We all know this.  Often, however (and I have been guilty of this…I think all of us have at some point) those with whom we serve become objects of service instead of subjects.

Don’t get me wrong…I love short-term mission trips.  I love taking the young people in our congregation into different geographic and cultural settings, embedding ourselves in a community for 10 or 12 days, and getting deep into a service project.  There is, however, a risk involved in this:  without intention, the focus of what we’re doing can shift and we can start to serve not because of the needs of those in the community in which we work, but because of our need to serve…our need to feel good about ourselves…our need to swing a hammer/build a house/feed a homeless person/feel good about our faith…

To be really honest, sometimes these experiences can even reinforce a class system that we all talk about wanting to break down.  We can approach service like an us/them, with “us” being the benevolent ones.

When we approach service this way, even unintentionally, real relationships of integrity do not form.  The relationships are unequal.

I heard many, many great stories of powerful, relational service and accompaniment in New Orleans after the 2009 event.  I also heard a few stories of folks who were upset because their kids were assigned to service that was more about listening or learning than it was about building/cleaning/working/etc…  “So our kids didn’t get to serve!” they cried.

Sure, that’s true…if you have a narrow vision of service.  But the service Christ calls us to is one that draws us into relationships of integrity.  It calls us to listen first and to act later.  It calls us to do whatever needs to be done, whether that’s swinging a hammer or sitting on a porch listening to a story.

It’s shouldn’t be about our need to serve.  It shouldn’t be about us.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  John 12: 23-25.

I think we need to be willing to take the expectations and hopes of what we think service is going to be this summer, and let it fall and die, and open ourselves up to how God’s Holy Spirit might just work in the lives of both the people we encounter in New Orleans, and into the lives of the young people that we will shepherd there.  We all need to remember, it’s not about us.  It’s about this new community that the Holy Spirit is going to create this summer of us and them…together.

Our challenge is going to be teaching this understanding of service and service learning to the young people we bring, so that they can come with open minds and open hearts.  That is what the webinar will tend to.  I strongly recommend that you watch and participate in it.  It’s going to be really good, and really helpful!

If they are open to the work of the Spirit, I believe it will produce many, many good seeds.


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