I recently read Chet Bush’s “Called to the Fire: A Witness for God in Mississippi”, a biography of Dr. Charles Johnson – a Nazarene minister in 1960’s Mississippi. It was a fascinating story of ministry that inspired awe at Johnson’s courage and faith as well as anger at the treatment he and his fellow African Americans received at the hands of typical “God-fearing” citizens of Meridian Mississippi. Though my reactions are varied and the lessons learned are many, the primary take away for me was his passion to minister to the whole man.
Early on in his ministry, Johnson determined that he would serve his community and his vision quickly spread to his congregation. Soon, their church was reaching a segment of the community that was largely neglected by other churches. This came about almost exclusively due to the fact that Johnson was committed to serving others rather than to growing “his church”. This commitment led to bold political activism in the form of boycotts and black voter registration as well as social involvement as he organized education projects and served the poorest of people in their homes. With all of this, he never neglected his spiritual responsibility and was a faithful evangelist.
Some might say my reading this book was mere chance as I had no real reason to read it. However, I know it was of the Lord because it fell right in line with a topic that the Lord has been dealing with me about for some time now: ministering out of a desire to simply serve others rather than to achieve an intended goal. In many solid, Bible-believing churches we say we believe in service and selflessness, but we seem to mostly spend our time, money and resources on people and activities that are likely to produce a result that we desire. We want to help people that are most likely to come to our church and start tithing, we want witness to people who are most likely to respond and we want to support missions in areas that are most likely to produce results. I’m not saying that it is wrong to assess risk/reward, but these decisions often reflect an attitude of service that is still largely self-centered.
Christ-followers, on the other hand, are called to lives of true service devoid of selfishness. Jesus instructed His disciples to be “servants of all (Mark 9:35)” and Paul instructs the church that we should “through love serve one another (Gal 5:13). This kind of service is totally focused on the needs of others. As Christ’s church, we must serve the community God has put us in simply because serving is what we do. We do not serve to see our church get larger and we do not serve only those that might be able to contribute to society in return. No, we must serve because we care about others more than we care about ourselves. We must serve even when it is inconvenient, costly, difficult and thankless. We must serve even when there is no fruit, appreciation or reciprocation. In short, we must serve simply to serve, even if there is no apparent benefit. As Dr. Johnson’s life and ministry prove, God honors this type of selfless service. I challenge you to embrace a life of selfless service to others.