Emotional Service

Last Monday afternoon, I joined others from Resurrection Lutheran Church to serve a meal at East Immanuel Lutheran Church on the east side of St. Paul. The meal is hosted by CURE Ministries and they provide a meal, clothing and groceries to families and individuals in need. Volunteers from Resurrection has been assisting at the meal once a month for the past year.

As I worked alongside the other volunteers, I experienced a mixture of emotions. Since I am preaching on spiritual emotions, I took time to reflect on the mixture of  emotions I experienced during this brief time of service.

The first emotion was a sense of awkwardness. This was only my second time serving at East Immanuel and I did not know all the leaders or duties. The leaders (Mike, Scott, Terrell, Doc) worked hard to welcome, orient and direct us. Still I was outside my normal comfort zone. I am usually the leader and to be the follower is sometimes challenging for me.  Yet as I reflected on the awkward sensation, I remembered one of my favorite quotes from business guru and Christian, Ken Blanchard, “Unless you feel awkward doing something new, you are not doing something new.”

I also felt a sense of pride and joy as I recognized the many volunteers from Resurrection. As a pastor, there is joy in seeing others participate in meaningful service. I was especially proud of Terri Dokken who has taken a strong role of leadership in this partnership. As we prayed prior to serving the guests, I was thankful that God had called so many to participate.

After the prayer, Scott asked for volunteers who were able to help move some canned goods. The post office had collected food in a recent drive, but it was all located in an outside garage. Several of us, both guests and volunteers, began the task of moving the piles of canned goods upstairs. After the first feeling of confusion, I participated moving the food to an upstairs Sunday School room. The task was not particularly challenging or exciting; in time it became rather tedious, trying to sort the food into meaningful categories.

As I reflected on the tedious nature of our service, I realized that service is not always exciting or a “Feel-Good” experience. Often, service is repetitive, mind-numbing work. Sometime I wonder if pastors over-sell service as joyous and fun, when in actuality there will often be elements of toilsome labor.

I also have had some modest feelings of regret. I mentioned that there were some guests who were also helping with moving the food. I now regret that I did not make the effort or time to converse with them, to hear a bit of their story. Part of our partnership is to make such connections.

Finally as I finished up my tasks for the evening, I felt both satisfaction and fatigued. Doc commented on this when I came downstairs, “You look tired.” I was tired, but I also felt a deeper sense of satisfaction of having served in God’s kingdom.

Service involves our body, mind and spirit. People often make judgments about a service by the initial feelings they have. Taking time to reflect on those feelings can help us better understand what God is doing not only with our hands, but also with our hearts.

Lord Jesus, give me energy and passion to serve wherever you call me to go.

2 thoughts on “Emotional Service

  1. christinafree10

    Thanks for writing this, Dad! I definitely agree that the church has a tendency to “over-sell” service and make it sound more exciting than it actually is. However, I think it’s the mind-numbingly boring parts of service, like sorting cans, that make the more fun and interesting parts of service, like a meaningful conversation with a guest, all that more fun and interesting. I also think that the sense of awkwardness you felt is pretty universal on all sides. Service is an uncomfortable experience not just for those serving, but for those being served, because who ever wants to go up to complete strangers admitting they’re in need of food, clothes, etc.? It’s vulnerable and humbling. However, the important difference I try to remember as someone who serves is that I had the choice to serve. The people I’m serving probably didn’t have much of a choice, and it’s unfair of me to let my discomfort or awkwardness get in the way of what many people being served truly need, which is human connection.

  2. Pastor John Keller Post author

    Christina, thank you for that great reminder regarding the difference between my choosing to serve and the guests who have litte choice. It is always helpful to move outside of my own limited perspective and to look at it from the other side. Jesus always seemed to find the human connection in his service.


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