Who Do We Serve? : Old First E-pistle 10.21.2010

Who Do We Serve? : Old First E-pistle 10.21.2010

Wellspring’s meeting last Monday night highlighted a question basic for all considerations about church and ministry:  who DO we serve?

Assessing the summer camp program, we were discussing the relative merits of having summer camp at Old First or off-site. As with most questions that matter, it is a complicated one, with a lot of different angles (and some sharp edges).

Some work camps (other churches’ youth groups spending a week at Old First working in the city that often help out with the summer camp) appreciated their experience more when summer camp operated in Kensington. For Kensington parents, closer to home is more convenient, possibly resulting in more regular attendance.

Old First, however, may have interests favoring using our own space at 4th & Race– mixing campers from different neighborhoods; introducing people to our church. Finally, there might be benefits in inviting campers out of their immediate neighborhoods… or, conversely, keeping them close to home? How do we calculate and reconcile these competing interests?

For me, the definitive question is how we serve the children best. Even that question may not lend itself to an obvious or unambiguous answer–  what with all the ancillary interests of others. But at least it is focused, the “right” question. Factoring in all the other considerations, we give the kids precedence.

The food and clothing cupboard presents similar tricky situations: the needs of outside volunteers, of Old First itself, and the recipients of the food and clothing sometimes collide, or even contradict. Again, I believe, we do best by keeping the ministry focused primarily on its primary clients.

Another example: outside volunteer groups want to prepare and share a meal with the men of our shelter on certain days, but residents grow weary when they have “guests in their home” too many evenings in a row. Of course, the shelter is also a ministry to volunteers who come to Old First to prepare meals, but it seems reasonable to remember our shelter residents are our first concern, the primary ministry.

Three Wellspring examples… because we just had a meeting? Or maybe because in their ministries the different “interest groups” are easier to delineate. They provide a taste of the juggling that Reena and Zeb, our Wellspring Coordinators, do as part of their ministry among us; please keep them in your prayers!

But in everything the church does there are different and competing interests that need to be weighed and muddled through. ‘Who do we serve’ is a vital question.

Covenant ministry has posed this question too. Our first answer, of course, is “God.” But getting down to brass tacks, we usually need more detail– specific people who serving in a certain situation are our service to God. Often we are faced with juggling various competing needs.

But covenant ministry has suggested different answers too. Too often, church gets limited to serving the loudest constituency. I’m not just talking about the most obstreperous person or one who is most easily upset in the congregation (but that often can be the dynamic too!).

Instead, church gets focused on serving the people who are already members. But our effort to reach further, to go the second mile for people we have been “under-serving,” undermines a clear preference for insiders.

In a discussion about this recently, one of you said wisely, “I have to get over myself, and thinking that church exists for me. Rather, it exists for mission and for the needs of those we (who have been gathered) are called to serve. That’s about saving parking spaces out front for visitors and putting up with stuff in worship I may not like.”

Learning to be a mission church– when most of our neighbors have no sense what faith or church participation could add to their lives– we need to give their needs some precedence.

In mission to others, we find ourselves undertaking ministries that may not speak to us personally! In so doing, we grow spiritually toward service that well beyond these four walls and today’s definition of our faith community.

Faithfully yours,

Michael