Serving

Post 5 of 5 on Principles of Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Serving is the ability to relate to people in such a way that their dignity as human beings is affirmed and they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives.   Servanthood takes different forms, depending on the situation. That is why it can’t be legislated, formulated or scripted in any detail. It is, after all, an attitude that, when embedded within us, finds an appropriate way to express itself in every situation. If it isn’t an expression of who we are, it will come across as artificial and false.

The way most of us serve keeps us in control. We choose whom, when, where and how we will serve. We stay in charge. Jesus is calling for something else. He is calling us to be servants. When we make this choice, we give up the right to be in charge. We have relinquished our power and self-centered decision making. Instead we listen, learn, and understand the positions of those around us and emerge with decisions that reflect the wisdom of God.

So whether you let a local friend move in with you, take a foster child into your home, help someone push their car to the gas station, bring meals to a sick friend, or tutor some kids in English, do these things in a way that is culturally relevant and reflects the gospel of their savior.

Contrary to human logic but consistent with the logic of the cross, glorious freedom flourishes within the servant. When we serve, we will be misunderstood, manipulated and abused, but will not fear, for Christ walked that same path and now walks with us. We will serve imperfectly. Often we don’t see our own pride, our own need to control or our own willfulness. The old nature (and Satan) seeks to pervert our desire to follow Christ as humble, obedient servants. So we pray for one another and encourage one another.

Summary of Principles of Cross-Cultural Servanthood

Serving. You can’t serve someone you don’t understand. At best you can only be a benevolent oppressor— like forcing someone to say “I’m sorry” when that is an unnatural way to apologize.

Understanding. You can’t understand another person until you have learned from them and, eventually, with them. A learning attitude signals humility and a willingness to identify with the people.

Learning. You can’t learn from another person until you have built trust with them. People won’t share important information with someone they don’t trust, especially cross-culturally.

Trust. You can’t build trust with another person until they feel like they have been accepted by you— until they feel that you value them as human beings.

Acceptance. You can’t communicate value and esteem to others unless they feel welcomed into your presence and find themselves feeling safe— openness.

Openness. Openness with people of another culture requires that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone to initiate and sustain relationships in a context of cultural differences. While requiring some risk, it launches you on the wonderful and fruitful pilgrimage to servanthood. Openness is rooted deeply in our view of the God who welcomes sinners and accepts them as bearers of his image; thus each person possesses a sacred dignity— the kind of dignity that compels us to also welcome others into our lives.

Posts on Cross-Cultural Servanthood:

  1. Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2006.
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