How to Serve A School by Steve Bowen

I don’t know about you folks, but some of the best outreach opportunities come when i least expect them.  Most of them come from me just speaking less and listening more.  One example was our outreach to Fairborn elementary School in Ohio.

Adopt A School
Adopt A School

We had begun the long process of adopting Fairborn Elementary School. This past year has been a proving ground for us.

Rick Rusaw once answered when asked, How are you making such an impact within the school system you are in?

“We raked a lot of leaves.

It is such a simple approach.  Schools have thousands of felt needs.  all you have to do is look around for one you know you can meet.  then you do it.  You gain favor with an organization when you serve them, no strings attached.  While you are doing that, spend time with the people you are serving and try something different:  Let your actions spread the gospel rather than your mouth.  While you are being silent and working, listen to the people you are serving and you will find out how you can best serve them.

It is a simple kingdom principal: begin with what you have from where you are.

We already knew Fairborn Elementary was one of the lowest income schools in our area. The principals are a good kind of crazy, and really attempt to maintain an upbeat, creative fun environment for the 1700 kids and the teachers. They have a clothing shop at the school for the kids. When they see kids walking around in flip-flops, or with no coat they know the kid probably needs a pair of shoes and some warm clothing. Discreetly, they take the kids to the shop and they are able to pick out the the clothing and their own pair of shoes.  We knew we could help them with this.

We began to reach to the school by partnering with the Hope Foundation, a not for profit mobile food pantry. Each first Saturday of the month we deliver food to the school for the low income parents and kids. The principals spread the word and the people show up. They like what we do.

Backpacks Delivered
Backpacks Delivered

This spring we received a gift of $400 for shoes for the school and another couple added $300 to the gift. This enabled us to purchase 70 pairs of various sized shoes for the kids. My friend Cindy went on a shopping spree. She had a blast purchasing the shoes she thought her kids would like. When I brought the shoes to the school the principals helped me bring the shoes in from my car.

I chatted with them as we walked and they began to share their thoughts and needs.

We decided to ask what were the greatest needs of the school. We found out the custodians were over worked and needed help. We offered to do a Big Spring Clean. Leading up to the date they gathered a punch list. Mainly landscaping, signs and painting. On the day, we pulled weeds, painted, put up new signs and cleaned. The place looked great.

While we were doing this for the staff and kids, we discovered another huge need.  They have some serious problems with traffic flow as they handle 1,700 kids arriving each morning either by bus or car.  We looked over at the parking lot and found that we could fix this very easily–well with a little sweat equity and planning.  Having had similar woes as our church grew exponentially over the last few years, we had a pretty good handle on dealing with parking and traffic woes.  Pretty soon our best people were put on the case.  It took quite a few man hours, but before long we had painted traffic lanes and bus slots on the parking lot and presented

Now we are heading into a new school year. We will be continuing to care for the kids and the teachers by purchasing backpacks. Our people will take the packs home and fill with needed supplies. Our goal is to continue to serve our way into the heart of the school. Good deeds create good will that opens hearts to the good news.

Lots of Goodies!
Lots of Goodies

I went to the school to take pictures for the Big Spring Clean! I was snapping pictures in the playground during the recess period, a kid runs up to me and asks, “Hey mister, will you tie my shoes?” I replied, “Sure.” As I bent down to tie the smiling kids shoes I noticed, new shoes, no socks.(was wearing flip-flops now had shoes) I asked, “Hey did you get your new shoes from the school?” Grinning from ear to ear, he replied excitedly, “yep!” I finished tying is shoes, He said, “Thanks mister!,” and ran off to play. In that moment I felt the Son shine in my heart.

You know, small touches aren’t often long term need meeting events, but for that kid, and for that family it was a small thing, done with great love.

Who knows it may have even changed his world.


Steve Bowen
Steve Bowen

Steve Bowen is the Evangelism Pastor for The Dayton Vineyard:

“A Pretty Good Church”

Which is located in Beavercreek, Ohio. This column is an excerpt of Steve’s blog:

“Eyes Outward”
Ever attempted to run and play in flip-flops?

How Do You Spell Effective: S-I-M-P-L-E by Doug Roe

A few years ago, I was standing on a street corner giving away cans of soda. Traffic backed up as people stopped to get their free soda. While most people were pleasantly surprised, one man stood out as particularly unhappy. He pulled to the corner, the windows of his big dark blue Buick rolled up, with an annoyed look on his face.

“Diet or regular?” I asked. He took a diet soda – though he was not appeased.

Several weeks later I was washing cars at a business near the same intersection when who should appear? The same annoyed man in the big Buick!

Annoyed Man!
You are causing a traffic jam!

My job that day was to be the “wheelman” – that is, to wash tires and whitewalls. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the grim from the annoyed man’s tires, when I looked up to see him towering over me like a vulture. He had the same annoyed look on his face. I figured that I needed to say something before he did.

The first thing that popped into my head was this:  “If Jesus were here, what would you ask of him?”

The question seemed to disarm him, and for a moment he forgot that my act of kindness had annoyed him. He offered money for the car wash, but I refused. I continued my offer to pray for him. He asked me to pray for his family, so I prayed a quick prayer and he was on his way.

A few weeks later, low and behold, I was shocked to see “Mr. Buick” and his family seated on the front row at our Easter Sunday service. At the end of the service, he and his wife came forward and asked me to pray with them. We prayed, and he accepted Jesus as his Savior.

In more than 20 years of serving others, I have learned a few things that have helped me enjoy the ride.

Servant Evangelism cannot be delegated!

People will follow what they see their leaders doing. Leader must be involved in serving others as a completely natural lifestyle – an overflow of their living, vital relationship with Jesus. If you are the lead pastor you don’t have to be the one developing the ideas and doing all of the legwork, but you do have to be the lead server.

Start small with out-of-the-box ideas.

Often when we start a new project we think of starting something that is creative and dazzling. The power of serving is not in the size or “uniqueness” of the project. Projects that capture the inspired, creative attention of your people don’t need to be “sexy” or have a lot pop and sizzle.  Simplicity if often the best approach to take.  If you get nothing else in this article get this:  The essence of the power of serving is in showing up in unexpected places. It is a simple act of compassion shown in a place where it is completely unexpected. Keep it simple, and the creative things will follow.

Listen to your community.

Every community is different.  And those unique needs that can and will be met by the unlimited resources of the kingdom of God flowing in and around us.  The key? To find a need and then meet that need. The best ideas for reaching the people in your city are to listen to the people in your city – understanding their rhythms and needs.

While shopping at a local grocery store, I overheard two single mothers discussing what groceries they had put back in order to get the oil changed in their cars.  The thought popped into my head, “I can do that! I can help them change oil in their car!”

So I went to a local mechanic to ask if he would be willing to help. “Now that is what the church should be about!” he said, blowing a puff of cigarette smoke in my face. We now change the oil in 300-400 cars a year, and we are beginning a new, broader ministry to single parents.

Servant Evangelism is like growing asparagus.

When thinking about evangelism, we often think of wheat, but I have discovered that it is more like growing asparagus. When a gardener grows asparagus it takes three years before he can yield a crop.
Asparagus Bunches

Pastors often ask, “If I do this serving thing in my church how many people will come to my church?” That is the wrong question to ask, and really reflects a “me” mentality.  Servant evangelism is about the Church being the Church and serving others. If I try to grow my local church things just get mucked up. But if I serve other people, seek to expand the kingdom of God, and do the deeds that Jesus did I find that God brings the people. In the end it is not about the size of our congregation or budget, but about the number of people we have loved along the way.

Gene, the annoyed man in the Buick, has been part of the church for more than 10 years now. He and his wife lead a small group. This once annoyed driver now helps me give soda away to other annoyed drivers.

“You know that day I stepped out of the car while you were washing the tires?” he asked one day.

“Yes,” I said, very clearly remembering it.

“I was going to chew you out for having caused such a traffic jam the day you gave out the sodas,” he said.

“What stopped you?” I asked.

“The fact that you wanted to pray for me,” he said. “I still have the can of diet soda you gave me sitting on the mantel of my fireplace. I kept it because it was the starting point that brought me to Christ.”

People may not flood into your church because you gave them a soda, but their lives will be changed because you were willing to share God’s love with them.

The Friends and Family Plan

Our friends and families know us best. They can be brutally honest. They know the real us–strengths and weaknesses. This was even true for Jesus. Just take a look at the first miracle he ever performed:

Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”

Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.

She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

“Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did.

When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”

This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11 (The Message)

Sometimes our biggest leaps in growth as we endeavor to become more outward focus will occur when we stop, look and listen to how those closest to us perceive us. Recently my father was in town and he took my brother and I out for a steak dinner at an expensive restaurant. Over an after-dinner drink and cigar, my father and brother, agnostic on their best days and pagans on their worst, expressed something that broke my heart:

“You know, I thought this church thing would be just a fad with you. I am glad you stuck with it, it has made you a better person in the long run. What I still don’t get about you and all this God stuff, is why you seem to love strangers more than your own flesh and blood.”

Wow. I was dumbfounded. How do you respond to such a brutal observation? They were right and I knew it as both of them proceeded to tell me how it made them and the rest of the family feel when I seemed more concerned with serving and loving others rather than my own family. It was a type of intervention that could only be done by men smoking cigars. It was heart-wrenching, but quite true. I had slipped out into the dangerous rapids of the OUTFLOW lifestyle and did not realize it. I was grasping onto flotsam and jetsam of this world, any that passed by, rather than taking hold of things of value.

It has long been a secret torment to me that I have had smashing success at evangelism with people I don’t know, meanwhile just about my entire family resist all forms of God and despise anything religious. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. I would never lay a guilt trip on anyone about their ownership over their family’s salvation. In fact, I guess I am just thinking aloud here as I write this. I mean, if you are a regular reader of Serve! magazine, chances are you are an expert at servant evangelism. That raises a question though. How good are you at serving those closest to you? This month we are going to pause and consider this. There will not be any articles from me in this issue. Instead I am calling on wiser voices to address a serious need. How do you serve your friends and family–the people that know you best?

Here is what I do know. The bible passage above can be very helpful in this. Look at the interaction between Jesus and his mom. Maybe I am reading more into than is actually there, but I see two things in the subtext of the passage:

  • 1) Jesus seemed a bit perturbed at his mother being pushy and telling how and when do ministry.
  • 2) His mom did indeed know best. It was a very powerful miracle and seemed to solidify his disciples from a ragtag band of loose cannons into a cohesive team

So what can we learn from our families and the experience of serving them? Read the rest of this issue to learn from some of the best voices on the topic!

Doing Nothing is Hard by Joe Boyd

I think Holidays are exceptionally hard to handle for driven people. Mandatory world-wide down time is frustrating to people addicted to action and interaction. (It’s the kind of thing that could make the world’s greatest golfer freak out at two in the morning.) I put myself in the category of those addicted to action. Unplugging from the internet for about 36 hours over Thanksgiving was kind of hard for me. I had a few emails come in from some very driven, very successful people in my life on Thanksgiving night. Didn’t surprise me at all. When I was primarily a professional actor I would always send a “year in review” update to all of my professional contacts the day after Thanksgiving. It gave me something to do. Hollywood more or less shuts down between Thanksgiving and New Years. It was always maddening to go from auditioning one or two times per day to about once per week. It was depressing.

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
-Winnie the Pooh

These days my professional life is more or less defined, but I have felt those manic urges that always flood my mind after a day or two of “rest” – the compulsion to start writing a new book or to edit an old screenplay or to sign up for some obscure art appreciation class at the community college. I’ve heard that the ancients didn’t have a word for boredom. I don’t know if that is true or not…but it seems the more people have to do the more capacity we have for become bored.

Remote Race Car!
Remote Race Car!

My summer vacation this year was more working fun than resting downtime. Since then I haven’t stopped. I don’t feel physically exhausted. I’ve had days to rest and relax. I just feel like I am on one of those remote control race car tracks that goes in circles at high speeds and never ends. Here’s a helpful hint that I have learned – the harder you run, the harder it is to stop. The first few days of trying to “rest” tend to be very frustrating. It’s hard to detox from doing. At a similar time in my life years ago, I went on a spiritual retreat – 3 days of silence and solitude in a beautiful monastery in San Jose. I slept 20 of the first 24 hours. That should tell you something.

Debbie and I are heading to Cancun next week for five days to celebrate 15 years of wedded bliss. It is not our normal sort of vacation – we tend to like cities, musicals, movies and urban action. Our tenth year anniversary trip was to San Francisco. That’s more us, really. But I think this is what we need – a self-imposed lock down in an all-you-can-eat-and-drink tropical resort sounds about right for 15 years of marriage. I have a hunch the first day of doing nothing may be harder than I expect…but I fully intend to get used to doing nothing before coming back to face winter number three in the Great Midwest.

Joe Boyd
Joe Boyd

Joe Boyd is a husband, father, storyteller, teacher, improviser, writer, actor, producer, pastor, and a rebel pilgrim blindly following a jewish rabbi named Yeshua.  To connect further with Joe, visit is wild and wacky, but very insightful site today:

THE REBEL PILGRIM

He is the author of the new book: BETWEEN TWO KINGDOMS, which will be hot of the press April 2010.

Quit Dumbing Down The Gospel by Donald Miller

My friend Greg and I have been talking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus. Greg would not consider himself as somebody who takes Jesus seriously, but he admits to having questions. I didn’t have a formula for him to understand how a Christian conversion works, but I told him that many years ago, when I was a child, I had heard about Jesus and found the idea of Him compelling, then much later, while reading the Gospels, came to believe I wanted to follow Him. This changed things in my life, I said, because it involved giving up everything and choosing to go into a relationship with Him.

Greg told me he had seen a pamphlet with four or five ideas on it, ideas such as man was a sinner, sin separated man from God, and Christ died to absolve the separation. He asked me if this was what I believed, and I told him, essentially, that it was. “Those would be the facts of the story,” I said, “but that isn’t the story.”

“Those are the ideas, but it isn’t the narrative,” Greg stated rhetorically.

“Yes,” I told him.

Earlier that same year I had a conversation with my friend Omar, who is a student at a local college. For his humanities class, Omar was assigned to read the majority of the Bible. He asked to meet with me for coffee, and when we sat down he put a Bible on the table as well as a pamphlet containing the same five or six ideas Greg had mentioned. He opened the pamphlet, read the ideas and asked if these concepts were important to the central message of Christianity. I told Omar they were critical; that, basically, this was the gospel of Jesus, the backbone of Christian faith. Omar then opened his Bible and asked, “If these ideas are so important, why aren’t they in this book?”

“But the Scripture references are right here,” I said curiously, showing Omar that the verses were printed next to each idea.

“I see that,” he said. “But in the Bible they aren’t concise like they are in this pamphlet. They are spread out all over the book.”

“But this pamphlet is a summation of the ideas,” I clarified.

“Right,” Omar continued, “but it seems like, if these ideas are that critical, God would have taken the time to make bullet points out of them. Instead, He put some of them here and some of them there. And half the time, when Jesus is talking, He is speaking entirely in parables. It is hard to believe that whatever it is He is talking about can be summed up this simply.”

Omar’s point is well taken. And while the ideas presented in these pamphlets are certainly true, it struck me how simply we had begun to explain the ideas, not only how simply, but how nonrelationally, how propositionally. I don’t mean any of this to fault the pamphlets at all. Tracts such as the ones Omar and Greg encountered have been powerful tools in helping people understand the beauty of the message of Christ. Millions, perhaps, have come to know Jesus through these efficient presentations of the Gospel. But I did begin to wonder if there were better ways of explaining it than these pamphlets. After all, the pamphlets have been around for only the last 50 years or so (along with our formulaic presentation of the Gospel), and the church has shrunk, not grown, in Western countries in which these tools have been used. But the greater trouble with these reduced ideas is that modern evangelical culture is so accustomed to this summation that it is difficult for us to see the Gospel as anything other than a list of true statements with which a person must agree.

It makes me wonder if, because of this reduced version of the claims of Christ, we believe the Gospel is easy to understand, a simple mental exercise, not the least bit mysterious. And if you think about it, a person has a more difficult time explaining romantic love, for instance, or beauty, or the Trinity, than the gospel of Jesus. John would open his gospel by presenting the idea that God is the Word and Jesus is the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Not exactly bullet points for easy consumption. Perhaps our reduction of these ideas has caused us to miss something.

Biblically, you are hard-pressed to find theological ideas divorced from their relational context. There are, essentially, three dominant metaphors describing our relationship with God: sheep to a shepherd, child to a father, and bride to a bridegroom. The idea of Christ’s disciples being His mother and father and brothers and sisters is also presented. In fact, few places in Scripture speak to the Christian conversion experience through any method other than relational metaphor.

To a culture that believes they “go to heaven” based on whether or not they are morally pure, or whether they understand some theological ideas, or they are very spiritual, Jesus is completely unnecessary. At best, He is an afterthought, a technicality by which we become morally pure, or a subject of which we know, or a founding father of our woo-woo spirituality.

In a culture that worships science, relational propositions will always be left out of arguments attempting to surface truth. We believe, quite simply, that unless we can chart something, it doesn’t exist. And you can’t chart relationships. Furthermore, in our attempts to make relational propositions look like chartable realities, all beauty and mystery is lost. And so when times get hard, when reality knocks us on our butts, mathematical propositions are unable to comfort our failing hearts. How many people have walked away from faith because their systematic theology proved unable to answer the deep longings and questions of the soul? What we need here, truly, is faith in a Being, not a list of ideas.

And one should not think our current method of interpreting Scripture has an ancient legacy. The modern view of Scripture originated in an age of industrial revolution when corporations were becoming more important than family (the husband, for the first time, left the home and joined Corporate America, building cars instead of families), and productivity was more important than relationships. “How can God help me get what I want?” was the idea, not, “Who is God, and how can I know Him?”

Imagine a pamphlet explaining the gospel of Jesus that said something like this:

You are the bride to the Bridegroom, and the Bridegroom is Jesus Christ. You must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood to know Him, and your union with Him will make you one, and your oneness with Him will allow you to be identified with Him, His purity allowing God to interact with you, and because of this you will be with Him in eternity, sitting at His side and enjoying His companionship, which will be more fulfilling than an earthly husband or an earthly bride. All you must do to engage God is be willing to leave everything behind, be willing to walk away from your identity, and embrace joyfully the trials and tribulations, the torture and perhaps martyrdom that will come upon you for being a child of God in a broken world working out its own redemption in empty pursuits.

Though it sounds absurd, this is a much more accurate summation of the gospel of Jesus than the bullet points we like to consider when we think about Christ’s message to humanity.


Donald MillerDonald Miller says the message of God is more than a 3-step program.

This article is adapted from the newly revised Searching for God Knows What (Thomas Nelson, 2010).