Not too long ago I read an article in which the author described the difference between serving, helping, or fixing. The context was not spiritual in nature, but the application that I took away from it definitely was.
In our several decades of ministry, we have heard repeatedly, “What can I be in charge of for _(event)_?” Just fill in the blank for whatever event that there can be in a church. While I’m sure the individuals were sincere in their question, we have since learned that the interpretation of that question by the individual often meant something entirely different from what we had in mind.
You see, the phrase “in charge of” implies that you will be the one to whom others answer. You will dictate the agenda, the details, the organizing. If you are the one organizing the entire event then that phrase is appropriate to use. The person “in charge” is the one who will be held accountable. This person will be the one who will have to answer if things do not go well. This person will be the one who will receive the accolades when things do go well.
But, not everyone can be “in charge” — especially when organizing a Vacation Bible School, Sunday school, Junior Church, a banquet, a conference, etc. Even a bee hive knows there is one queen but many workers. In the church, confusion should not reign. 1 Corinthians 14:33, For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
So, we have tried to throw out the phrase “in charge of” when asking someone to assist in the ministry. One church we know uses the phrase “responsible opportunity to serve.” I think that is the best way to approach asking others to assist. Why? Let’s look at the differences between the words fixing, helping, and serving.
When we think of the word “fixing,” we think of repairing something that is broken. Instead of focusing on the whole, we only see a part. Instead of accepting the person, result, or thing, we make a judgment. We can only perceive that something is wrong which therefore needs our assistance to make right. Fixing creates a distance in relationship; the one being “fixed” will not feel able to attain our level. “If you would only do it this way…” Our attitude is not one of holiness, but of holier than thou.
The most popular word that we hear is “help.” “How can I help?” This implies that the person to whom the request is made is unable to achieve the goal without me. When we have the attitude of helping, we imply that there is inequality in the relationship. We use our own strength, talent, or capability to assist someone with lesser strength, talent, or capability. We act only in those areas where we are strong; we do not consider areas where we might need to stretch and grow. We do not volunteer to help if we perceive someone else with greater talents and abilities than us; we do not want to be shown up. We also show that we are unwilling to learn something new. We “help” to improve our ego; we “help” to improve others opinions about us.
Helping also suggests that “you owe me one.” The individual that we help incurs a debt. We attach strings to our actions, our money, and our time. “I don’t think we should spend the church’s money that way.” “I’ve already been to church three times this week plus an extra choir practice.” We see our help as an entitlement to have a say. When we help, we have a sense of satisfaction in what “we have done.” Our help becomes self-centered rather than Christ-centered.
The word “serving,” however, is much different. It is unnatural. A servant heart attitude is knowing we are being used for something that is greater than we are. A servant does not expect anything in return. Servants forget about their strengths and weaknesses; servants give their all, their whole self. A servant comes alongside another willing to do what is necessary to get the job done. A servant does not feel the need to be “in charge;” they are content to be the hands, the feet, and the body to accomplish the goal.
We can fix and help without serving. We can serve without fixing or helping. The three can appear very similar to those around us. The difference is internal; it is about the heart. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we are serving. Fixing and helping is about us, the ego. Serving is about the soul, our relationship with Christ, and others. And, thus, not only makes serving internal, but also eternal.
How do we know when we have gone from serving to fixing or helping? Fixing and helping is draining. We consume ourselves; after a time, we have nothing more to give. We burn out; we may even think about quitting. We see life as broken and individuals as weak. Serving, on the other hand, sustains us. We see life as whole. We use our experiences, suffering, grief, joys, and accomplishments to serve the needs of others. We are able to serve willingly because we have something to share. In giving of ourselves with no thought of receiving anything in return, we are filled with a renewed and unexplainable strength from the Lord. It is supernatural.
As I thought about these three words, I was reminded I needed to make sure that I am serving… not fixing and helping. Do I limit my service because I don’t want to step out of my comfort zone? Do I limit my service because someone else is more talented than I am? Is my tiredness in ministry because I am serving from the point of view of self? Am I doing so much in order to build self in the eyes of others? Do I willingly volunteer when I see a need or when the need is presented? Am I looking for a place to serve or a place to help and fix? These are hard questions but necessary for anyone… whether in full-time ministry, a lay worker, or a church member. Which word describes you today?
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