The Awkwardness of Service

For anyone who claims to have a Christian worldview, service is generally seen as a good thing.  It is, after all, one of the most Christ-like things anyone can do.  And yet when it comes to actually getting your hands dirty and serving someone where there is a need, let’s face it.  It can be downright awkward.

Our church just finished a series called “Free to Love.”  The series is a response to God’s grace (check out www.accweb.net/listen.html to listen to online messages).  As the final culmination of this series, the congregation “preached the sermon” using our hands and feet.  That is to say, we rearranged our normal Sunday morning to put the messages into practice.  We arranged to have several projects available ahead of time.  One group went to a local park and re-surfaced a horseshoe pit. Another group tackled a number of tasks for seniors and single moms.  Another group baked dozens of cookies to be handed out around the community in the near future.  Lastly, the group I was in arranged a free car wash in the church parking lot.

It’s interesting to watch peoples’ reactions when you advertise something as “free.”  We made two large signs that said “Free – Yes, Free Car Wash!” A couple of younger kids stood near the street and waved at cars to try and draw them in.  But for the most part, people would glance at the sign, see the kids, then quickly divert their gaze straight ahead, pretending not to notice.

I had to wonder what must be going through their minds. “Free?  No, nothing is free.  These are probably just religious people trying to draw me in to some ulterior motive -as with a vacuum salesman, once I give them my attention, I’m done for.”

Or I wonder if perhaps people get offended by the idea. Aaron Bryant made a good point several Sundays ago about how we feel really good about giving charity, but nobody instinctively wants to be charity.  Does accepting the offer imply something negative about the driver? Perhaps as I drive by the signs and the activity, I instinctively feel defensive, as if I should be above such things.

Nevertheless, we actually stayed busy.  We washed each others’ cars, and had four customers.  One was someone we knew.  The next was a woman who pulled up, but neither rolled her window down nor said a word the entire time.  The next was similar, except that at the end she thanked us, telling us how her apartment lacked a hose, so she was wondering how she would ever get her car washed.

Finally, just as we were cleaning up, our final customer pulled in.  It was a single mom with two kids.  They had been camping, and were on their way back home.  The muddy Subaru Forester pulled up and the woman asked “is this for donation?”
“It’s free” we replied.
“Get out!  Really?”
“Yeah” I responded.  I proceeded to explain what we were doing this for.  She got out of her car with the kids and stood by, chatting with us as we worked.
“I feel kind of guilty – like I should be doing something,” she commented.
I replied that it had been really interesting to watch how people reacted to the idea that this was a free service to our community.  It’s like we don’t really know how to handle it.
“In that case,” she said, “I’m just gonna love it!  I’m going to enjoy this.”

This was a great response to our offering of service.  We had a nice conversation, and they were on their way.  Several in our group commented that that car alone made the whole venture worth-while.  In the future, I think we’ll trick people into thinking they have to pay for their car wash, then surprise them when it’s free.

It’s interesting to tap into the mindset of Christ at times… not that what we did was very amazing.  But service requires some measure of vulnerability on the part of the one being served.  You have to open up a bit, and that can be awkward.  When I look through my New Testament at the encounters Jesus had, there is evidence of this all over the place.  Christ obviously felt that it was worth the effort and sacrifice to break through our awkwardness and reach into our hearts.  And He calls us to do likewise.

I wonder if this small observation is indicative of why it is often so hard to accept God’s forgiveness and grace in the first place.  We may give him our affirmative “yes,” but instinctively we feel the need to earn it, or live up to it.  Instead, we must learn to “love it,” or “live loved,” as Mark put it on Sunday morning.  Only then will we be empowered to live and to love with the love He has already shown us.

– Mike Rauwolf