I’m not sure when the term ‘servant evangelism’ first came into play. In the early days of the Vineyard movement, Steve Sjogren was the first voice I heard talking about focusing an entire church community around the idea of serving outsiders through practical, applicable acts of kindness. My Vineyard church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has been actively involved with servant evangelism for much of our thirteen years of our existence. In 1998, when we started our church, it was common for our small church planting team to be involved in SE events nearly every weekend.
We did free car washes, free water bottle giveaways, free neighborhood leaf-raking, free carnations to moms on Mother’s Day, free snow shoveling, etc. etc. It was common back then that when a new person started coming to our church, we knew they were staying when we saw them at our next giveaway! And while I can’t deny that we did these servant evangelism events in our earliest days because we were trying to plant a new church, over time I believe some of us actually caught the SE bug and decided it was a good thing to do even when it wasn’t all about building a new church. In truth, as I see it, servant evangelism should never be about planting or building a church, but about simply loving people we don’t know. And as Steve Sjogren has so often taught us over the years, words just can’t express how thrilling it is to give something away with no strings attached.
But isn’t it interesting that over time, we Christians can take something that is at its’ core something new and fresh and make it into a routine, or worse yet, a church project? And so it becomes with many churches as we grow and get into facilities of our own. As I look back, I see how my church went from having a ‘freely-received-freely-given’ attitude about servant evangelism to a programming mode that can make SE all about growing our church and measuring for results. Sadly, as we grow larger, the concept of random acts of kindness tend to evolve into highly-developed, well-planned-out programs of servant evangelism. And somehow, someway, the true joy of doing SE for the right reasons is nearly lost.
Today, as I write these words, I’m praying about what it might take in our well-established church to once again return to the carefree, light-hearted spontaneous SE giveaways we once enjoyed when we were smaller. I’m guessing there might be other pastors out there who share that same dream. In recent weeks, I’ve been blogging about what type of changes might need to happen in my thirteen-year-old church in order to get back to the joys of doing simple Kingdom outreach ministry just because Jesus loves it that way. Join me at my blog and chime in on some of your ideas as well. Together with God’s help, I believe we might just see a fresh wave of SE, for His Name’s sake!