Our church is currently a “mobile church,” which means we set up and tear down our space each week. It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of people, both young and old. Nevertheless, it is also a lot fun. We have found that students tend to have an eagerness about them to serve; whether it be setting up pipe and drape or stacking chairs, they want to be a part of the fun and excitement. The majority of our students serve in some fashion each week and it is both humbling and encouraging for our church.
I have found that students serving to fill the needs of our church has become a key entry point for my ministry to them. Serving is much more than just getting a task done, it is a participation in the Kingdom of Jesus. As students serve, the Spirit of God is at work both in them and through them. As ministers of the Gospel, our role is to connect our serving students to the mission of God.
Connecting Motivation to Kingdom Mission
Serving begins by remembering the greatest servant the world has ever known, Jesus. Jesus is both a king and a servant. This Servant-King inaugurated an upside-down Kingdom with His life, death, and resurrection. In his life he served others by feeding them, healing them, and even washing their feet. In washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus does not just offer a good moral lesson about serving others, rather he uses foot washing to give both them and us a glimpse of his eternal kingdom.
“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me’” (John 13:6–8, ESV).
Jesus is the greatest servant not because he merely cleanses the feet of his disciples, but because he washes away all sins. Like Peter, we too want to earn our salvation through doing so much more than what is required. Far too often, our students easily fall into believing that serving can be a way to keep a record of good deeds – in essence, washing themselves in their own righteousness – in hopes that God would be pleased with them and find them worthy. The Gospel simply put says that because Jesus washes and cleanses us, God is pleased and finds us worthy. Therefore, the motivation for our students to serve should not be founded in guilt, shame, or moralism; rather, joy, humility, and gratitude for what the Servant-King has already accomplished.
Connecting Serving and Sanctification to the Servant-King
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The Kingdom that the Servant-King Jesus rules and reigns is an upside-down Kingdom where the first is last and the King is a servant. The cross and resurrection are an invitation to Christians and the church to be kingdom participants by serving as we look to the joy set before us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).
As ministers, we lead and love our serving students by constantly reminding them that participating in the Kingdom through service is an invitation that will shape them into the image of Christ. There will be frustrations, there will be fatigue, and there will be challenges as they serve. But amid all the stresses, our Servant-King Jesus is at work both in them and through them. Hebrews tells us that Jesus was carried to the cross by the joy that was set before Him. Because of the cross and his invitation to us to join him in his kingdom mission, joy should be the marker and motivator of our teens’ sanctifying service.
As students serve it is important that they consider the future Glory that is theirs, by thinking about how the Spirit is using service to bring about the Kingdom in them and others. However, if we as ministers see students not finding joy in serving, that is also okay. In fact, that is an invitation for us to sit down with students to hear why joy may not be marking their service, and to help identify other opportunities of service that would be a better fit. Whatever the case may be, serving is participating in the Kingdom of God as the Spirit works both in and through our students. Students will flourish as Christians when we continue to remind them that in serving, they are joining the Kingdom mission of our Servant-King Jesus for their good and his glory.