And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slaveof all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
For ACLAME, 2018 has been a year of fleshing out our identity as a missionary initiative. In the Leadership Team meeting in December of 2017, we recommitted ourselves to the mission statement of connecting and encouraging LAC missionaries as they disciple, teach, mentor, and train others for ministry. We also enumerated the values that describe the way in which we carry it out. In the January article “Added Value,” we listed those values as advocacy, diversity, relationship and service.Along the way, we’ve sought to describe those values; in May, Miguel Morales discussed advocacy in both a blog post and an accompanying webinar.In July we heard from Allen Martin, who described for us the value of relationship in theory and practice.Next month, we look forward to hearing from Debbie Anderson on diversity, while this month, I’ll be discussing some aspects of the value of service.
In the aforementioned “Added value” article we gave a short description of service: [ACLAME] appreciate[s] our role as one of support of the LAC missionary and the national church. Our role is not to mandate and direct, but to facilitate and resource.While it may be easy to accept that statement at face value and simply move on, as those who routinely deal with the effects of the flesh in others and its desire to assert its presence in our own lives, we must admit that the quality described above does not come naturally. Service is not a natural position.
My life is a case in point. A child of the 80s, I grew up in a household with strict divisions of labor. Tasks were assigned by sex, age, and/or experience. For example, unless it had to do with the grill, my dad was uninvolved with meals. In the same way, I never remember seeing my mom out in the driveway when it came time to change the oil in our car. And when it came to the menial tasks like setting the table, or doing the dishes, or cleaning up after the dog, that was the domain of the children. When we would ask our dad to buy a dishwasher he would usually laugh and say, “Why do I need another dishwasher? I already have three!” Of course, he was referring to us, his three sons. Needless to say, we didn’t find his joke very amusing.
I relate my childhood experience to explain its effect: all of the above created in me an expectation of a time when I too would be above certain tasks, when I would be able to dedicate myself to the important things, the manly things, and leave the tasks that I considered beneath me to others, namely my own children! This division of labor can look much like what Michael Mills described in his ACLAME article, “The Perfect Gift: Pig’s Head to Foot Washing.” In speaking about graduating students he states: “There is a constant complaint of many national leaders. After completing their educational goals, some students only want leadership positions with the best financial possibilities….The world teaches that as you advance in education, your financial benefits should increase. This worldly concept is at odds with the teaching of Jesus.”
To this we may cluck our tongues and shake our heads, saying, “this should never be,” all the while displaying the similar attitudes among our peers. In the same way that, as a child, I had anticipated the day when certain tasks would be beneath me, with the passage of time, we as missionaries may look for increased privilege, deference, and respect, while leaving the “youngsters” to handle the lesser duties, or worse yet, to fend for themselves. ACLAME, however, exists to promote exactly the opposite attitude. It is both a place where our most respected educators share their wisdom freely and a seat at the table where even the most inexperienced among us can hear and be heard. Within the ACLAME community, we can practice the servant leadership of Jesus, doing the necessary task of washing one another’s feet.
Perhaps more clarity can come from the definition of service and how, as an organization, we are working to achieve it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines service as the action of helping or doing work for someone.There is much to glean from this compact description:
- Service is accomplished in relationship: it is the action of helping or doing work for It is impossible to serve independently.
- Service implies servanthood: it is the action of helping or doing work forsomeone; in service we place the needs of others above those of our own.
- Service provides a benefit: it is the action of helpingor doing workfor someone; as servants we must profit those whom we serve.
Of course, those of us who have crossed barriers of languages and cultures, generations and worldviews, all the while battling with our own egotistical tendencies, understand that this definition is much more easily said than done, and its implications are much more easily described than applied. Duane Elmer encapsulates the struggle in this story from the book Cross Cultural Servanthood:
A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.
A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb of a tree, reached down, and snatched the fish from the threatening waters.
Immediately, scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments, the fish showed excitement but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.
The monkey wanted to help, but his arrogance in assuming that what was good for monkeys was good for fish proves that even with the best of intentions, our efforts to serve are often misguided and misinterpreted and, at times, downright dangerous.
With a view to truly serve, ACLAME provides a structure and a space to bring about an understanding of both the people in need of serviceas well as their particular needs. This, in turn, fosters the collaboration necessary to discover solutions that are both relevant and appreciated. This structure extends from our representative Leadership Team to our country-based Support Missionaries, all of which are involved in the ministry of multiplication (discipling, teaching, mentoring, and training others for ministry), offering diversity of experience and perspective as they advocate for ministerial training. The spaces include our monthly blog, our regular webinars, and our biennial summits, which promote the participation of missionaries, from the young and idealistic to the wise and experienced, and the interaction between them that is required to achieve true, beneficial service.
Still, ACLAME as an organization is only a means through which we as missionaries may serve one another. Service cannot be truly appreciated unless it is carried out practically. Therefore, let me suggest a model by which we all might engage in this meaningful discipline.
- Pause: in the frenetic pace of ministry, this may be the most difficult yet most essential step. In it, we take a moment and think about our colleagues, missionaries and national co-laborers alike. How well do we know them? How acquainted are we with their lives, their vision and ministry or their particular challenges? What may be some opportunities to get to know them better, to better understand their situation? What may be some of the needs that they’ve expressed?
- Pray: our thoughts should then lead us to prayer on their behalf. Let’s dedicate time to pray one for another. Let’s ask for God’s blessing on our lives, families and ministry. Let’s ask as well for direction in our relationships and opportunities to be of service to one another.
- Participate: this is the pay-off of the previous steps. Through reflection and prayer, we are equipped to take meaningful action. It may be as simple as a phone call or a cup of coffee to foster a better relationship. It could take the form of a helping hand in an aspect of ministry, or it may look like shared resources, be them knowledge, contacts, or finances to further one of their goals.
ACLAME offers our members a number of ways to participate meaningfully in the LAC community. Commenting on our website about the topics presented, submitting resources or ideas to the ACLAME community through our Facebook group, writing an article for the Bulletin, or attending one of our online or live events are just some of the immediate ways that anyone can be a part. As you feel led, I invite you to take advantage of one or all of these means for service.
All of this being said, as the chairperson of ACLAME, I understand that the quality of our service as an organization cannot be self-evaluated. That must be left to the people we aim to serve: you, the missionaries of LAC, our members as well as our collaborators. So, as I wrap up this article to return to the dishes, I leave you with this question: how’s our serve?
Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)