Category Archives: Service

God’s magnificently varied grace

Yesterday I was in Snyder, Texas, for a Church Inside Out seminar with the Eastside Church of Christ there. Someone asked an interesting question. I was discussing the varied nature of potential ministries in the church, mentioning everything from a cookie ministry to after-school tutoring to free yard care for the elderly.

That’s when someone asked if I knew of an available resource that contains suggestions for possible ministry activities.

I don’t. I’m not aware of anything like that.

Do you know where to find that kind of information? If not, have you heard of unique ministries that people have developed? I’d love to have more to share with others.

“Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each of you, as faithful dispensers of the magnificently varied grace of God.” (1 Peter 4:10)

Service and servants, ministry and ministers

I’ve been involved in church leadership to some degree for most of my adult life. So any criticisms I might have toward the church grow out of self-analysis and awareness of my own failures. This is especially true with this post.

One problem I see in the church has to do with helping our members find their place to serve within the body. I was reminded of this when reading what one sister wrote:

I used to lament over not loving to bake casseroles and decorate for baby showers. If I could do those things I would have been more useful in most church settings I have experienced.

This isn’t meant to be a post about gender roles, even though that’s what this sister was writing about. Feel free to discuss that in the comments, but it’s not what I’m getting at.

Her words made me recognize what a poor job we’ve done in helping people see that most of what the church does happens outside of our assembly time. It’s not just women who are frustrated. I think one reason that so many men drop out of church is that they think if they aren’t gifted to serve in a public way, they aren’t useful in the body. For many of them, even baking and hosting aren’t options. If they aren’t talented speakers or skilled song leaders, they feel that they have little or nothing to offer the church.

Much of this boils down to what I call our “edifice complex,” the obsession we have with our Sunday morning assembly. We miss the fact that we are defined by what we do outside of the church building, not inside it. Worshiping God together is crucial; I’m not asking us to take away the importance of our Sunday gatherings. Instead, I’m asking us to sanctify the rest of the week, to see that our acts of ministry outside of the Sunday assembly are as important as what we do when we’re together.

Men and women must learn to value their gifts as administrators. We need them to rejoice at their ability to recognize physical needs and meet them. When we limit ministry to preaching and leading worship, we exclude large percentages of the body, even if we allow women to participate more fully than in the past.

Until we achieve a healthy view of ministry which includes all Christians, we will always have large numbers of men and women who feel frustrated and disengaged. As long as we fail to value the wide variety of gifts within the body, we will struggle to connect with many church members.

Let’s equip the saints for works of service. Let’s spur one another on to love and good works. Let’s learn to serve and minister according to the multifaceted grace of God.

Inside Out Blog Tour by Holly Barrett

blog tourThe next article in our summer blog tour is “Service Inside Out” by Holly Barrett

For the last three years I’ve lived in a tiny town in a county of 15,000 people. There are churches on every corner which means the majority are all very small. This is vastly different from my experience as a city girl, where there are still churches on many corners but there is a plethora of mega churches to choose from.
Here’s what I’ve learned in a place where I’ve had to stop, look, listen, and re-evaluate what I think about “doing church.”

  • I’ve long chosen programs over people. As a city girl, I’ve been a big church gal. The more programs the better. The more activity the better. The full calendar serving as the barometer of my commitment to the Father.
  • I’ve bought into the lie that if we build programs within our walls, the lost will flock to them. It’s just not true. We’re building a lot of programs that only serve those who already know Jesus. And we go home at the end of the night feeling good about ourselves.
  • I’ve believed that we can reach out to others without getting too uncomfortable ourselves. I don’t think I even know what to say about that.

I think I’ve been too caught up in the wrong definition of service, putting the emphasis on serving people who already know Jesus. Yes, Christians also have problems and needs and we have a responsibility to care for those within the church. Discipleship is important for those who have newly found salvation and freedom in Christ. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with craving the company of other believers. The writer of Romans reminds us,

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

The truth is that in the church, we already have the answer to our issues. Jesus. Outside the church is where the greatest need lives…the need to be loved and served and to know Jesus.
Living in this area has turned my calendar upside down. As churches here are small, we don’t have a lot of committees and programs and stuff to do. At least not at the church building. These days I go to group worship on Sunday mornings and receive great encouragement from the Word, the worship, and God’s people. That gives me a whole lot of other hours in the week to show love and share Jesus outside the church building.
This shake-up in my church-going life has had an effect that I didn’t see coming. Oddly enough, lots of my own issues have been solved by serving other people. Taking the focus off myself makes my problems seem not so big or bad or scary anymore.
So yes, we are to love our church family and enjoy spending time with them. We are to disciple and encourage one another. But we have to stop fooling ourselves about our efforts to serve the hurting in our communities around us. Until we take the service inside out, we aren’t going to reach those who are desperately in need of Jesus.
Romans 12 goes on to say,

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:13-16

I still enjoy a good church service, especially one filled with many people lifting their voices and their hands to the Lord. And I won’t live on this mountain forever, so someday I may end up back in a big church. Maybe even a big church that has lots of programs for folks on the inside. But for me, it won’t look like it used to. Jesus has shown me that serving from the inside out…serving from a heart that loves Him and loves His people, especially those who are lost…is what is most pleasing to Him.
There can’t be a better reason for taking our service inside out than that.

CIOTo promote the Summer Blog Tour, we’re also giving away one set of Church Inside Out, both book and workbook. Just leave a comment below then enter over HERE.

06 - Holly Barrett - pic 01Holly Barrett has spent over 20 years in volunteer and staff ministry. She currently works as Director of Communications for The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of NC, where it is her privilege to tell the stories of children who are finding hope and healing. Holly is the co-author, with her mother Rachel Solomon, of Gray Hair Talking: Lesson I’m Learning as My Hair is Turning. They plan to release a Bible study later this year and another devotional book in 2017. Holly is also a podcaster having started the podcast, Living a Redeemed Life in 2015. Episodes are available on iTunes or at Holly has two adult children, plus a son-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Connect with Holly on her blog at or on Twitter and Facebook.


Message StonesI have a dream. I’m looking forward to the day when churches argue and fight about things that really matter. Okay, maybe I don’t really want the arguing and fighting part. Still, I’d love to see a large portion of our membership get passionate about things that happen outside of our church walls.

I long for the day when someone writing about feeding the hungry can generate as much attention as someone arguing about what women can and can’t do in the assembly. I’d love to see members competing to get more attention for their style of evangelism, rather than their style of music. Wouldn’t it be neat to hear someone say, “We liked that church, but they didn’t seem to be focused enough on missions, so we’re going elsewhere”?

I’d like churches to be measured not by the number of people in the pews on Sunday but the number of people on their knees on Monday. I’d love for faithfulness to be seen as growing to be more like Christ, not just attending church every time the doors are open. I dream of the day when we care less about who stands up front and more about who washes feet.

Yet, just as God told Elijah of the unknown thousands who weren’t worshipping Baal, I know that God has an army of people out there that aren’t writing blogs or speaking at lectureships or promoting the doctrine du jour. Those people are too busy going about their ministries, too busy serving, too busy changing this world to get bogged down in our silly squabbles. God bless them. May their tribe be increased.

Photo by Darren Hester on

Washing feet

Richard Beck writes a blog called Experimental Theology. It’s become quite popular. Beck uses his background in psychology to approach theology from a different angle. As always, I don’t agree with everything Beck says nor endorse everything he writes, but I wanted to share a powerful story that he told on his blog.

Beck has been leading a Bible study in a prison. He tells of what happened the other day when he as teaching about Jesus washing feet in John 13:

After reading the story I returned to our prior conversation. I asked, “Can you serve people like Jesus did here in the prison?”

As before, there was general skepticism. The comment “kindness in prison is mistaken for weakness” was repeated. But I pushed a little harder this time and waited a little longer.

“How can you find moments to serve in this place?”

There was a long silence.

Then one man, Norberto (not his real name), raised his hand.

I was intrigued by what Norberto would say. He is a big, intimidating man. He could snap me like a twig. You can tell he commands a lot of respect from the other men.

I called on him and, given his intimidating presence, figured he’d stay with the “you can’t do that kind of stuff in here” consensus.

He began, speaking softly.

“Well,” he started with his heavy Hispanic accent, “I don’t know if this is what you are looking for but I help my celly [i.e., cell mate].”

“How?” I ask.

“Well, my celly isn’t too bright. Something is wrong with his head. He was in an accident so he’s not too smart.” Guys who know Norberto’s cellmate nod in agreement and elaborate. Apparently he’s borderline mentally retarded and needs a lot of help taking care of himself and navigating prison life.

Norberto continues. “Well, when my celly first got put in with me I noticed that he never took off his shoes. He always left them on. So one day I finally asked him, ‘Why don’t you ever take off your shoes?’ He wouldn’t tell me. Finally I got him to tell me. He was embarrassed. He didn’t know how to take care of his feet. So his toenails were all overgrown, smelly and ugly looking. So I asked him to take off his shoes and socks. And his nails were awful. But he didn’t know how to cut them.

So I sat him down and had him put his feet in water. Then I took his foot in my lap and cut his toenails for him. I don’t know what people would have thought if they walked by, his foot in my lap. And I would never have thought I’d be doing something like that.”

There was now a deep silence in the room. The image before us was so unexpected. Here was this huge, intimidating man taking the time, almost like a mother, to gently wash the feet and trim the nails of his mentally retarded cell mate.

Breaking the silence Norberto looked up at me and asked, “Is that an example of what you were talking about?”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, that is an example of what I was talking about.”

You can read the rest of the post titled “John 13: A Story from the Prison Study.”