May 5, 2013

By Phil Maynard

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:26-28)

One of the most common issues I encounter when working with churches (either new church plants or congregations in transformation) is that a very small percentage of people (10-20%) do 80-90% of the work.  This percentage becomes even smaller when we look beyond the walls of the church to serving others.

In the research done through Willow Creek Community Church and reported in Move: What 1,000 Congregations Revealed about Spiritual Growth it is clear that service is a “causequence” of spiritual growth.  It is both the result of people moving toward maturity as disciples and a catalyst for continued growth.  In fact, the Reveal study indicated that among the quarter million church goers surveyed, serving others was more conducive to spiritual growth than even involvement in small groups and passionate worship services!

One of the fastest growing churches in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Georgianna UMC on Merritt Island, is built around this very idea.  The entire ministry of the congregation is built around “12 Tribes” of service,  Not only are they growing but they are making a significant difference in the surrounding community and around the world.

If you want to grow disciples, grow servants!

You cannot grow spiritually without growing in the service to others.

As a general rule, the flow of a disciple’s involvement in service begins in the church.  As people begin to get connected with a congregation they are willing to get involved in supporting the ministries of the church with provides the two-fold win of having volunteers to assist and the beginning of relationships to strengthen the connection to the congregation.

The next step in building disciples with a servant’s heart is to engage them in service through the congregation.  As the church engages in ministries beyond its walls, the disciples have the opportunity to experience and confidence in serving others.  It is recommended that these experiences always be coupled with an opportunity to debrief – to discuss the experience, learnings, level of comfort, ways in which faith was shared – always tied to the witness of scripture.  People need to be taught and coached regarding how to speak about their faith and how to serve others in ways to reflect Jesus’ own style of serving.

Finally, disciples should be encouraged, as they continue to grow and mature, to find their unique place in service to the world.  Too often it seems that people become dependent upon the activities of the church to be the vehicle of serving others and miss the call to identify and respond to needs they encounter through their daily lives.

Helping people develop a heart for serving:


First, teach that being a disciple includes being a servant.

Build this into worship messages, the small group model, accountable relationships, Bible studies, testimonies in worship.  It is surprising to me how frequently I encounter people who do not identify service as part of what a disciple does.  I even had a gentleman ask me (following a teaching on discipleship) “When did the rules change?  I’ve been in church all my life and never had anybody tell me that I had to serve others”.


Second, help people discover their SHAPE (Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience) for service.

This, of course, is built on Rick Warren’s (pastor at Saddleback Community Church).  There are many excellent resources for teaching and helping people discern their SHAPE.  Another excellent tool is PLACE (finding your PLACE in ministry).  Some congregations have even built their new member class around the themes of SHAPE to launch their disciples into service (see VanDyke UMC, Tampa, FL).


Third, provide on-ramps for service.

On-ramps are easy ways of beginning to serve in the church, in the community, and around the world.  These might include things like church work days, community service projects, or short term mission trips.  Ideally, on-ramps should also provide an opportunity to reflect with others about the significance of what they are doing and about what the Holy Spirit is teaching them through service.

It should be noted that for our young adults and youth service is often the on-ramp to being engaged in worship or small group activities.  They are much more open to serving others and want to make a difference in the world.

Another way to support the development of service on-ramps is to set the expectation that every small group in the church engage in a monthly or quarterly service project.  The type of project can be decided by the group.  For example, one of the small groups in the last church I served as pastor went to the Ronald McDonald House once a month and served ice cream to the kids.  It wasn’t a big commitment, high risk project but it launched that group of men into big-time service in the church, community, and around the world.


Fourth, celebrate those who serve.

The reality is that what gets attention tends to grow.  If you want more people to serve, celebrate those who are serving.  Honor their contribution by telling the story of their impact.  Have testimonies in worship.  Have an annual servant recognition dinner.  Celebrate those who are making a difference and offer ways that others can get involved with them.