I grew up in the church, but not so much with a mindset to serve others for the simple purpose of meeting them where they’re at and providing basic needs – whether that be physical, emotional or spiritual. While opportunities to reach out and serve were made available to adults and they were encouraged to participate, it wasn’t a part of the overall culture of the church where I grew up, and therefore, didn’t trickle down to me. Consequently, I lacked understanding of the true value in living a life after Jesus’ example and how to serve and show unconditional love to others without a subtle barrier of judgment and hesitation to act. As I aged, my life became gradually more and more centered around my wants, needs, materials, meeting societal pressures and getting wrapped up in cultural expectations. And let’s not forget all the teenage hormones compounding all that!
“In humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
At the age of 27, my husband and I started attending a church that upheld a core value of servitude. All ages were encouraged to serve and given opportunities to serve the community at least once a month – most often on Saturdays. The emphasis on serving the community was fairly new to me but I thought highly of this approach to being a “Jesus follower.” There was just one problem – time. I valued it more than anything else and I didn’t want anyone telling me what I should do with it – it was mine. Time was my idol. I had a very demanding, high stress job with a lot of responsibility and on weekends you could find me at the beach totally unplugged from life, slathered with tanning oil reading chick lit. Ah, let’s just stay here a moment. Picture yourself on a Saturday afternoon by the ocean relaxing on your softest beach towel. The sun is shining and the warm, briny breeze is blowing. The sound of the waves gently crashing on the beach pull you into a little siesta. Sounds great doesn’t it? I’m not going to lie, it was lovely. But, the church culture of serving was contagious and God started pricking my heart.
Before long, I gave up my beautiful Saturday at the beach and showed up to serve an underprivileged community and help meet their basic needs. When I got home from my first day in the community, I felt a strong desire for something more beautiful than the comfort of weekends spent on the beach with an umbrella drink in hand and my Tory Burch flip flops on. My life was great just the way it was – easy, comfortable, controlled, fun – but that day I realized something was missing … greater purpose.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I wanted to make an impact in my community.
I wanted to see people transformed as we strived to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
I wanted to give people hope.
I wanted to truly love these people and show it.
I wanted to know what I was called to do and what greater purpose was out there for me.
I wanted to serve others without a hidden agenda.
After that day in the community, I was hooked. I continued to serve every opportunity I was given and it wasn’t long before I signed up for a missions trip that would change the trajectory of my life. This missions trip led me into a deeper personal relationship with Christ, helped me uncover my gifts, pursue my passion and ultimately walk in my calling of leadership coaching. I would not be where I am at right now if I had never taken that step to serve. And to think, it all started with something so simple as giving up one Saturday at the beach.
Today, as I’m reflecting back on how serving changed me and improved my leadership skills, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s grace and direction. With a willing heart, He taught me so much about how serving others can impact me just as much as those I’m serving. Here are some lessons I have learned:
- Giving of ourselves (time, energy, resources) gives us perspective and teaches us humility. Perspective and humility are assets in leadership. When we step outside of ourselves, see others objectively and lead with a servant heart, we lead differently. Once we open our eyes to the needs around us, including the needs of our team, we will increase our influence, improve team morale and achieve positive outcomes. Each individual on our team is then seen as valuable and therefore will thrive in the environment we have created for them.
“Good leaders must first become good servants.” – Robert K. Greenleaf
Leading with humility and serving others can be a challenge. It is human nature to focus on what is convenient or comfortable for us and be guided by what we “feel” like doing. But, the greatest leaders lead through others. That means we humble ourselves, release control and surrender our agendas. We sometimes give up doing things the “right way” to create opportunities for those we lead to gain confidence, grow and learn. In general, our selfie saturated society tends to encourage a “me” centric attitude but, to truly be the leaders God has created us to be, we have to serve others first. Once we prioritize our values in alignment with His Word instead of what our culture dictates, we lift the lid on our leadership potential.
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13
- Serving others and demonstrating the love of Christ teaches us unconditional love. It can be easy to judge others’ situations from the outside and in the comforts of our own home. But, when we get out there and show love to people without an expectation of anything in return, something supernatural happens in our hearts – it softens. I chuckle as it reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies … The Grinch. Remember the scene where the Grinch finally realizes the true value in Christmas isn’t gifts at all? Well, at the same moment he has this revelation, all of the Christmas gifts that he has stolen and stashed in his sleigh start to slide down the mountain, destined for destruction. The Grinch quickly runs to save the presents and in doing so, his heart grows three sizes bigger. Similarly, when we step out of our comfort zone, sacrifice our will and serve those in need, our hearts increase in capacity to love others and let Jesus in.
“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don’t need a lot of money to be happy–in fact, the opposite.” ― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
- Sacrifice opens the door for God to walk into our hearts of clay and begin molding and shaping us into who He has called us to be. Serving was the first step in my journey towards finding my purpose and true calling. Despite what I thought, I wasn’t truly open to what God had in store for me until I developed the ability to serve others before myself. I realized that I had been showing up to serve our local community regularly but outside of that, I was sticking to MY plan and MY life goals. Many times I thought, “Thanks Jesus for being there, but I have the wheel. I’m all set here.”
It took a radical step outside of my comfort zone to cross the country on a missions trip and serve some of the worst areas of L.A. in order to get in alignment with God’s call on my life and set my will aside for something greater. It was two in the morning and I was sitting in the L.A. Dream Center doing devotionals when the Holy Spirit convicted me that I wasn’t making myself “available” to be used in the ways God saw fit. When I returned home from L.A., my first step was to go to our Outreach Director and Executive Director and let them know that I was making myself available to be used more in ministry. My gifts for leadership development started to be affirmed through that sacrifice of time and energy, and the doors of opportunity flew open from there.
- Serving in community with others forms bonds, builds relationships and provides an opportunity for the gifts God has placed in you to be utilized and affirmed. We were not meant to do life alone, but together. In building relationships with others, we learn a lot about ourselves and our capabilities. Living a life in community with others also presents an opportunity for others to call out our strengths and see gifts that we may not see in ourselves. Often times, we do not see that what comes naturally to us is a unique strength.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
I believe that as Christ followers, we are SENT to fulfill the Great Commission and to LEAD others. But first, we must learn to SERVE and LOVE others. Being a servant leader and always coming from a place of love, truly makes our leadership effective. Our journey to servanthood is unique to us as individuals, however, we may have common threads and lessons learned along the way. The benefits that come from serving others are endless and I encourage you to start your journey today. One of the greatest aspects about serving is there is no preparation necessary – you can start where you are. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t need to belong to a church. You don’t even have to be a Christian. You just have to show up and keep showing up.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38
How can you start serving your local community?
What are the greatest needs of your team?
In what ways can you better serve those you lead?