During a recent visit to the Ches Penney Centre of Hope here in St. John’s, N.L., I was surprised to see a well-known politician quietly working away in the kitchen. There were no reporters or cameras, and no one was making a fuss over the individual’s presence. This leader had simply come with an offer to help and was serving wherever the greatest need was that day.
Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle (one of The Salvation Army’s most prominent voices on the doctrine of holiness) entered the Army’s training school with a university education, teaching experience at a theological school and pastoral experience in a metropolitan church already “under his belt.” Yet, despite his accomplishments, on his second day of training he was sent to a dark little cellar and assigned the unenviable task of blacking half a cartload of dirty boots. While tempted to be disgruntled by such an assignment, Brengle instead recalled the wonderful example of his Lord and turned that dark cellar into an anteroom of heaven, and there felt the presence of God.
Both examples remind me of one of my favourite images of Jesus, as recorded in John 13:4-17. Just prior to his arrest and eventual death, Jesus spent time with his disciples, eating and communicating what was about to unfold in his life. Yet, in an act of humility and compassion, he took off his robe, filled a basin with water and washed the feet of his disciples.
The Messiah, performing a task typically reserved for a slave.
As I think about the politician, the holiness teacher and the Saviour, I am concerned that their humility and willingness to do even the most mundane tasks is an attitude that is slowly fading from many of our ministry units.
I am old enough to remember times when a cemetery fence replacement, the repainting of a house or even the launching of a newly constructed sea vessel would be quickly accomplished by a group of 20-30 volunteers in response to a single Sunday morning call for help from a pulpit.
I have personally felt supported and cared for when a congregation member took a snow shovel out of my hands on a Sunday morning and invited me to go and prepare for the worship service while they cleared the remaining snow.
Sadly, these experiences seem to be less common lately. It is much harder now to get a group of volunteers to take on service projects or lead church programs. Even routine tasks around our Salvation Army buildings often get left for the corps officer, executive director or other paid staff.
This should never be the reality for those who truly acknowledge all that God has done for us. It ought to be a natural and loving response to want to serve the One who saved us from our sins. Romans 12:1-13 tells us that we should make our whole selves available to God in self-sacrificial service and, in humble co-operation with other fellow Christians (each using their own talents and spiritual gifts), be united in our efforts to see the work of the church continue and flourish.
So why this shift in mindset? What is preventing us from physically helping others or quietly fulfilling some ministry vacancy? Some will blame busy schedules, others will put personal leisure and preference ahead of service and many will use the excuse, “Well, nobody asked me to help!”
But I think the biggest challenge is that people have stepped away from the idea that their service is a way to honour Jesus. Even the most routine of tasks can be a form of worship to God.
There is no limit to the things that need to be done at your local corps or ministry unit. Sunday schools need teachers, music groups need leaders, the grass needs cutting, the plants need arranging, the faucet needs tightening and the carpet needs vacuuming. More importantly, there are people who need encouragement, fellow congregants who could use some assistance and busy leaders who need your help.
Why not humbly offer yourself to assist in any one of these ministries or tasks? You may not get any public recognition, but do it for God, and you, too, might experience your own little anteroom of heaven.
Captain Sheldon Bungay is the corps officer at St. John’s Temple, N.L.
hoto: Ryan Klintworth/Lightstock.com
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