Over the years, I’ve heard countless believers who have served “on mission” make statements like this: “I went into this experience planning to give to others, but I received so much more from this experienced than I could ever have given.” In my ministry, this has pertained to students serving meals at a homeless shelter or at a day camp on an international mission trip, adults doing various local work projects, medical professionals involved in a medical mission experience, and even people serving in weekly church ministry roles.
A foundational presupposition for many of us is that Bible teaching, reaching the lost, and serving in various ministry roles are keys to a healthy Sunday School or Small Group Ministry. In It Begins With Prayer, Dwayne McCrary highlights some advantages to countering a consumerism mentality when encouraging people to be involved and serving in a group ministry. The idea is to avoid inviting people to be a part of the group in order to be loved and ministered to and instead invite them to be a part of a group where they can serve and make a difference for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
So, what is the connection between serving and prayer? There are at least two important connections. One involves motives and the other involves wisdom and discernment to discover the most effective ways to serve the Lord and use one’s spiritual gifts.
In terms of motives for serving, McCrary clarifies how motive can be determined by asking if the only reason we are serving is in order to get something in return which he says will “reveal our motives and who we really love . . . . ourselves .” It is in the context of prayer that we can seek God’s will and ask Him to reveal the motives of our heart so we can assure we are serving in a Christlike manner. A memorable quote from McCrary is, “When we invest in others with the intent of helping them become all God wants them to be, then we become all God wants us to be.” Prayerfulness about motives for serving is vital.
Another consideration is that many believers busy themselves with too many things, often even “good” things, at the expense of God’s best for us in terms of using our unique giftedness for ministry service. In fervent and faithful prayer, God can grant wisdom and discernment to help us make decisions about opportunities for serving in various capacities. To haphazardly make choices about serving in regular roles in a church or missions context can essentially lead to ineffectiveness, burnout, and frustration. Who would not want to be serving in a way that places us in the center of the Lord’s will? Assuming no one would want this, it’s easy to see how prayer, as a key spiritual discipline for a believer, is a vital aspect of determining the scope of ministry service. Leaders in our Sunday School and Small Group ministries can strengthen the health of the group by modeling and advocating for prayer as a key part of serving others.
Written by Bobby Howard, Church Strengthening – Generations: Adult, South Carolina Baptist Convention