19 April, 2024

One-Day Project or Sacrificial Service?

by | 1 October, 2012 | 5 comments

By Jennifer Johnson

“The church has left the building!”

“Don”t miss our great day of service!”

“This Sunday we”re not going to church, we”re going to BE the church!”

These churches mean well. They want to show God”s love to their communities in practical ways while making it easier for church members to practice serving others. And some, like the annual ServeFest coordinated by Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Maryland, have grown into very effective partnerships with dozens of other area churches in a common cause. (Check it out at www.servefestmd.org.)

But I often wonder about the recipients of these daylong serving blitzes. Sure, they appreciate the renovated park, the repaired front porch, the washed windows and weeded flower beds. But what about the next weekend, when the litter returns and the graffiti is repainted? What about the many needs not met by the church that day, long-term and complicated things like basic medical care, food that doesn”t come from a can or a box, or mentoring for a neighborhood of young boys without fathers? Did anyone ask what the to-be-helped really needed before organizing a grounds crew?

These one-day serving events bug me when they really are events””isolated, feel-good experiences scheduled once or twice a year””instead of the natural next step in existing relationships. I love Journey Christian Church”s enthusiasm for this HUGE project (seriously, you need to check out Arron Chamber”s blog to get the whole story), but my favorite part is the four years of projects that preceded it.

Journey didn”t receive the opportunity to repaint this school because the church decided it felt like serving in a big, noteworthy way. This big responsibility came only after years of smaller acts of service””feeding 50 to 75 families each week, supplying
the school with paper, providing breakfast during testing, and showing up for sports events and dances. Participants may have felt “warm fuzzies” during these experiences, but the point was serving faithfully, without much glory, in ways the school most needed help.

I”m not saying the church should never have service days, but a few hours of yard work followed by a cookout is a scout project, not sacrificial service. If we really want to convince the community of our love and God”s, it”s time to show up more often, listen better, and commit more. That is being the church.


  1. Phil Kilby

    Regarding Jennifer Johnson’s column in the October 2012 issue of Christian Standard, I must take issue with the overall impression with which she leaves the reader.

    Yes, I am a member of Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, MD. I am not on staff, I am not an organizer of ServeFest, but I am just a member who leads a couple of small groups and serves where I can.

    I’ve heard the general plaint raised by Ms. Johnson in several settings — most notably in reference to the common practice of “adopting” a needy family at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. The question is well-raised: What about the rest of the year?

    My problem lies with calling out a sister church and inferring that one of its ministry efforts is somehow short-sighted or inadequate. To describe an event such as ServeFest or renovating a park or repairing a front porch (I note that painting a school didn’t make Ms. Johnson’s list of “one-off” projects) is one thing. To point fingers at a church calls into question the motivation behind your columnist’s article.

    Perhaps Ms. Johnson isn’t aware of Mountain’s continued presence in the community — from monthly organized efforts to serve in and clean up neighborhoods. Perhaps she isn’t aware of Mountain’s involvement in transitional housing for the homeless and lifestyle transitions for women recently released from incarceration. Perhaps she isn’t aware of Mountain’s regular encouragement from the pulpit for Christians to engage their community and minister to others.

    For Ms. Johnson to imply that Mountain ignores “the recipients of these daylong serving blitzes” for the other 364 days of the year (which is exactly what she does imply) indicates either a lack of objectivity, a not-so-latent hostility, or an unwillingness to investigate the entire story. Is this the sort of divisiveness the church needs? Does the world need to watch us taking potshots at each other? I think not.

    The saddest part is that Ms. Johnson has recourse to a point of contact that could give her the full picture of Mountain’s ministries. She, of all people should know the relationship of one of her co-contributing editors to the church she chose to use as her example of shallow servanthood.

    All she had to do was ask.

    Phil Kilby

  2. Jennifer Johnson

    My dad always says “communication is an elusive goal.” I really appreciate your feedback because it lets me know I did not meet the goal of clear communication with this piece. When I mentioned Mountain’s ServeFest program, I actually intended it as an affirmation of a church doing these kind of things right–I would never have called out a specific church by name unless I intended the “call out” to be positive. I also covered the ServeFest a few years ago in a Buzz column, and I’m a fan.

    So I apologize that it seems I left that up to question with the way I wrote the essay. ServeFest is a great program, and I know thru my conversations with Ben over the years that it’s just a small part of local and global efforts at Mountain. I intended to point it out as the exception rather than the rule, and I’m sorry that wasn’t clearer.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and giving me an opportunity to clarify.

  3. Jim Tune

    Jennifer Taylor’s affirmation of Mountain’s work in the community, and ServeFest seemed crystal-clear to me. Perhaps the reader jumped too quickly to conclusions.

  4. PastorMason

    A church should already have a “Community Service Mechanism” that is operating on a regular basis in the church. We have over 20 small groups at our church and I challenge each of them to adopt a community project once every 3 months. This means almost every week our church is out in the community serving.

    Add to that system a “One-Day Project” and the single event will pull-in 1st time participants. Once they catch the ‘service-bug’ and want to do more, we already have a natural stream to point them towards.

    It shouldn’t be one or the other, it should be both.

  5. Pam Sarno

    I agree that when the same group of mature Christians repeatedly get their “feel good” high from an annual serving event they have missed the point of sacrificial service. But, even a “scout project” can be significant for a tenderfoot Christian. Sometimes we forget how those who are new to the ideas of service and sacrifice feel about themselves and their ability to be significant contributors to the kingdom. A one day event can be an “I can do that” opportunity to participate. It’s not so much about the recipients of the serving blitz as it is about introducing new Christians to the idea of serving. I know because there is a smoothly sanded stair rail in a little church in Missouri where as a young Christian I first learned that every act of service is significant.

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