I make my living by inviting people to the city to serve. So, is service always a good or helpful thing? For some service is that annual event you participate in to feel better about yourself. For years I have visited with people as they search for a place to serve – Thanksgiving is a classic example of this. I have even witnessed parents using this pilgrimage as a teachable moment, “you should be grateful for what you have and where you live,” as if the homeless are an example of what happens to people who are not grateful enough.
There are other more mature versions of the one day pilgrimage – the annual church mission trip or spending a year in voluntary service. I need to be careful here; I realize that service is a holy calling and privilege. I do wonder if for all the right reasons service has been corrupted, at least the North American version of service.
It seems to me that for many people service is something we do to other people (read “the less fortunate”). The problem with this is that service ends up being divorced from relationship. When service doesn’t include relationship then the people we serve lunch to become “the homeless.” Labels have a way of dehumanizing the other. This is a dangerous path to go down. When we label someone it becomes less problematic to treat them as something less than human.
Service- healthy, God honoring service- is always a two way street. It is about giving and receiving. It is about knowing the other and the other knowing you. It is about friendship. The Kingdom of God shines brightly when unexpected relationships develop.