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Serving Directly vs. Indirectly

This last Wednesday night, we started discussing the book Irresistible Revolution and the subject of service came up.  Specifically we began talking about our interactions (or lack thereof) with the poor and homeless.  Everyone in our group agreed that it is a command of God for us to take care of the needy, which definitely includes the poor and homeless.  We had different opinions of what that service or “taking care of” actually looked like.

One position was that we have a responsibility to directly and physically be serving the poor in close proximity at least to a small degree.  The other position was that the desired service and “taking care of” might be accomplished better or more effectively through monetary support of organizations or others who are already established and working to accomplish the same goals.  Both perspectives acknowledge the benefit or direct support and indirect support, but the question came up of where does the balance fall.

The issue of our heart being willing to serve directly is important, because we all agreed on that.  The question became: is it acceptable to simply give money if our heart is right and we are willing to serve directly if/when it comes up?  Are we commanded to pursue opportunities where we are in direct service?

This is a conversation that briefly came up during our social justice series and it was an interesting discussion, so I am curious what anyone else’s thoughts are on the subject.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. John says:

    Prior Comments:

    BEN: 05-29-2009:

    I’ve kind of gone back and forth on this. I don’t think it makes sense to start a new ministry just because we are feeling a sense of guilt for having some free time. But I do think that we should probably be doing more than just passively sitting by, waiting for God (or others) to tell us what to do. If you are being attentive to possible areas where you could serve then you will probably notice more times where you should. The balance is probably somewhere in pursuing service but within wisdom and cheerfulness.

    MORGAN: 05-30-2009:

    I am definitely on the side of the debate where we need to be doing direct service for the poor, the weak, the oppressed etc. I totally acknowledge that each person will have varying degrees of how often or involved one can be, but I am convinced that we (people in general) have a tough time with serving directly because it is time consuming, uncomfortable, and even dangerous at times. Serving directly transforms us in a way that giving money does not even though our giving is also extremely important.

    JILL: 06-01-2009

    We talked about this a little in the other group as well. I do think we are called to actively serve others, but through our entire lifestyle. Just like we’ve been discussing in our prayer series with the goal of living a prayerful life, when we’re truly striving to imitate Christ it’ll show through genuine care for all people around us and within our realm of influence.This question also makes me think of the topic of burdens, and how different the burdens are from God than those that we heap onto ourselves and each other. God has uniquely gifted each of us and put people in our lives for us to serve. I agree with Ben that there’s a balance between pursuit of service and being discerning about which things to do. I’ve seen people err on the side of doing too little and too much (becoming burnt out and just as ineffectual as those doing little or nothing, because their heart’s not in it).In general, I feel like we might need to expand our definition of service to include all of our interactions–no matter how seemingly insignificant–with those God has placed around us.

    BEN: 06-02-2009

    “Serving directly transforms us in a way that giving money does not.” This is a really interesting point. I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “He had compassion on them”. Even though God’s all-knowing, it seems like this phrase comes up when Jesus is in close proximity to the person his heart breaks for. For me, when I give money, I realize that it’s out of a sense of obedience (or guilt), but many times not out of compassion. Giving money gives me a nice buffer to keep my heart from breaking while making me feel good about myself – something that shouldn’t be.

    JOHN: 06-07-2009

    The word “compassion” comes from two Latin words which together mean “to suffer together.” No matter how much more efficient it would be to indirectly support expert organizations that specialize in giving aid, there is no way to act “compassionately” without getting directly involved. Anyone who has lived with and suffered among the poor is also undoubtedly changed, becoming a much more loving and passionate advocate for the plight of others. Even more importantly, we place ourselves in a place where our hearts can be transformed from the inside by God, moving us ever closer to becoming more like Christ.

    But direct service should not be a reason to avoid indirect support, especially when that indirect support involves generous giving. Giving is not only a commandment and and expectation of all of the Lord’s stewards, but it also gives us a heart for those whom the Lord loves. When Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he was certainly commending us to do the things that would lead us to store up treasure in heaven. But an equally important truth contained in this verse is the fact that our hearts do follow our treasure. When we commit our treasure to accomplish the Master’s purposes, He is not only pleased, but our hearts grow even more passionate for those to whom our treasure has been committed.

    Ben is right to be cautious about always starting our own ministry, rather than contributing to those that are already working. But contributing should involve both direct involvement and indirect support. Doing both will only lead to further compassion for those whom the Lord loves, and a greater desire to give and serve.

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