When Serving Doesn't Serve Me- Kristen Lascola
I have 15 amazing adults on my volunteer staff. This is one of, if not THE, best teams I have ever had the privilege of serving with, and I love this season. These people consistently go above and beyond their “job descriptions” and give their all to a group of middle-schoolers who adore them.
So in December, I took them all on a leader retreat with the intention of showing them how much I appreciate them. I booked an insanely gorgeous cabin in the mountains on a lake. I told my leaders that this retreat was basically going to be winter camp without students. I wanted to treat them to fun, food, relaxation, Christmas gifts, a heavy dose of encouragement and affirmation, and a little bit of training even snuck in there somehow (oops!). To save on cost, I decided to do most of our meals in.
So off to Costco I went, shopping for enough food to feed 15 people 6 meals. I knew it would be a lot of work, but in my mind, I envisioned us all in the kitchen, cooking meals together, laughing, making memories, and having a great time (kind of like the Kraft commercials where the families are all laughing and making pizza together).
What actually happened was more like the Pinterest fail memes in which a picture of what you think things are going to look like is starkly contrasted with your less-than-perfect finished product.
Long story short,
I begrudgingly earned the nickname “mom”, because I spent most of my time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up after everyone. It ended up being way more work than I anticipated and my Kraft commercial fantasy did not come true. Believe it or not, my group of young leaders preferred to actually take me up on my offer to relax and enjoy the weekend. So while I was trying not to burn the bacon (by the way, always buy twice as much as your think you will need because somehow there is never enough bacon) they were bingeing on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “The Office”.
Now, before you say,
“Wait a minute, why weren’t these ‘amazing’ volunteers of yours helping you”? They are amazing, and a few did offer to help with things here and there, but they were doing exactly what I had asked them to do: relax. I told them that they were the guests of honor for the weekend and that I was going to serve them. They never get to hang out with each other because they are so focused on students during our meetings and events. This was their time to just enjoy each other.
I learned an important lesson that weekend: next time, I should bring an extra person to take care of the meals. But, more importantly, I saw into my own heart and was challenged by what I saw.
I’d like to say that I was able to humbly and joyfully serve the team that serves my ministry each week, or that as I watched them relaxing and enjoying each other’s company that I thought to myself, “Good for them, they deserve it”. I’d like to say that at no point did I feel like I was going to throw the dang bacon on the floor, tantrum style, if one more 20-year-old called me, “mom” or if I had to wash one more dish.
I’d like to say that as the youth pastor, serving selflessly just comes naturally to me in every situation, but it doesn’t.
Ministry, by definition, is serving others.
I know this, I preach this and most of the time I do have joy when I serve. But what I realized that weekend is that my joy and humility in serving have certain boundaries and limits. I want to serve on my terms, in my way, and I want to be appreciated for it! In one of our weekly meetings, one of our senior pastors said, “Everyone wants to serve until they are treated like a servant”. I don’t know where that quote originally came from, but I think it perfectly sums up what I discovered lacking in my heart that weekend.
Can serving be glamorous? I think so. We love posting about our homeless outreach, we love posting a classic mission trip photo, and we love sharing publicly how “humbled” we are that we get to “serve” by speaking to a room full of people or when we baptize 100 students at camp. These experiences are real, and God uses us to do great things in those moments, but there is another, less glamorous, side to serving that we aren’t so eager to go public with.
What I saw in my own heart is that I can go home on a “serving high” from praying with and feeding homeless people that I don’t know, but making meals and cleaning up after a team (or my family for that matter) who serves my ministry each week by bringing life-change to my beloved middle-schoolers somehow drains me. Maybe I’m not as close as I thought I was to understanding what serving truly is. The truth is, I like serving, when serving serves me. I like serving when I feel respected and appreciated for serving, but the second I’m treated like a true servant, that’s when I put my camera away. There is nothing “post-worthy” about that.
This God we follow “made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). Our God washed the feet of those He loved and “didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) And when the “glamorous” serving happened, when He healed or performed miracles, He asked that it not be posted. Does your serving look like this? Mine clearly doesn’t, but I want it to look like something much closer to this.
The book of James not only reminds us that our deeds are evidence of our faith, but that we should not “grumble against one another” (James 5:9). We say that we “serve” in ministry every week, but do we? If we are to be imitators of Christ, then we have to imitate His serving style. I know that my leader retreat is not the first time when serving caused me to grumble. My serving opportunities on a weekly basis are not the social media worthy ones: cleaning up pizza crust off the youth room floor, giving that student a ride home for the 100th time without a “thank you” from the parents, waiting late after an event until a student gets picked up, or coming in on my day off to mop the youth room floor. What do our attitudes reflect about our hearts toward serving in the true sense of the word?
It’s easy to argue for our right to respect and appreciation until we take a sobering look at the way the Creator of the universe served His own creation.
About The Author: Kristen Lascola
Kristen is the middle school pastor at North Coast Church in SoCal. She’s been married to the funniest man she knows since 2011 and together they eat all the sushi they can, watch “Arrested Development”, and chase after their 3 year old daughter. She has a concerning obsession with wiener dogs and goes to wiener dog events & conventions in her free time. Her passion in ministry is creating space for students to use their gifts, helping students make connections to God and each other, and developing and launching new leaders.