I am a product of the “me-generation.” Having come of age in the 1980’s, everything I was exposed to was from my perspective. Pastors asked me if I had “personal relationship with Jesus,” and Ronald Reagan asked me “are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?” My parents ordered their lives around their 3 kids, advertisers made sure that I knew I could have it “my way,” and even the church bent over backwards to make sure that I knew they were youth-friendly.
For several years I coached high school boys and girls tennis. When I started coaching the team was really bad. In a very rural, economically struggling community tennis wasn’t something that many people participated in. In the hierarchy of sports, in this particular high school tennis was at the bottom of the list.
Having to start somewhere in teaching of the basics, we decided to teach them to serve. The serve in tennis is the most important stroke one can learn; it starts the point and often dictates the direction the point will go. If you have a strong serve you are at an immediate advantage, while if you struggle in your serve you are immediately on the defensive.
Reflecting back on that time I remember the church where I ministered. They too struggled. The main-line church in a small town up against the better-funded, way cooler non-denominational church across town. Now, since we were both preaching Jesus, don’t think that I am saying one was better than the other; I simply want to paint a picture you may easily understand.
One of the things I began to notice in the early years of ministry was that the more I focused on serving the more growth, both numerical and spiritually, I began to see. Instead of programming that was just entertainment based, serving became an added and important component. For example, a lock in wouldn’t just be a bunch of games and movies, but rather we would do the 30-Hour famine; during retreats instead of having parents come along and the only ones to do meal prep, students would help with prep and clean-up; and students were encouraged to volunteer in other areas in the life of the church, from VBS to visiting home-bound older adults. The more I focused on the serve, the more my tennis teams began to win. When looking at match statistics, matches were often won or lost based on how well the team was serving. When looking at student ministry attendance, the more we served the more kids would show up.
I have often wondered if in Matthew 25 when Jesus says that in serving the least of these we are directly serving him, if this is more than just a call to take care of the needs of others. After all, in the passage both the “sheep” and the “goats” talk about “seeing Jesus.” It is as though “seeing Jesus” is actually the entire point of serving those in need.
That is how it works in my own life. When I get caught up in the “me-things” of life I find myself drifting far from God. However, the more I serve the more I see Christ. And the more I see Christ the more I realize that what I want fails greatly in comparison to that which God wants for my life and the more I realize in God the more I realize the world is failing me.
That is how I knew something was wrong when my love for mission trips began to fade. It was through mission trips in high school that I began to really understand the complexities of truly following Christ, and the demands God wanted on my life. In my 30 years of student ministry I have been on over 100 mission trips. A couple of years ago I started to get bored and tired of missions. It was as though I had been there and done that; I was not ascending to a spiritual high, but rather trudging up a small hill and rejoicing when the trip was over and I could sleep in my own bed and take a nice long, hot shower.
In reflecting back on this change, I realized that I had moved back to focusing on things from my perspective; missions became more about me, and less about responding to a call from God. I even noticed this in my ministry life and in my personal life; everything was becoming about me.
I have been working on getting my focus to be outward, instead of inward. I am working to refocus my vision on serving, and remembering that it is not all about me. As I have started doing this I am rediscovering a joy in my life in Christ and in leading others. I have been re-working my serve.
So I ask….
How is your serve?
What do you need to do to practice and improve your serve so that your overall “game” improves?