I recall the day vividly. A short-term team had come to visit and the first task on their list was to clean the green space in the center of the neighborhood. The space was filled with garbage, litter and overgrown weeds. No one had cared for it in months, maybe years. The team, having landed only a matter of hours before, graciously put on their work gloves and dug in. They worked for hours and at the end of the day the green space was cleaned and mowed. It looked great and the group and community smiled.
It was a bright sunny day, if I remember correctly. The neighborhood councilman and elder at the local church followed by a team of 30 church volunteers (young and old) gathered broken tools, plastic garbage bags and brooms and tackled the ditch alongside the village road. The ditch was the local garbage dump. Bottles, litter, trash and bags of feces were piled in the ditch ankle high. The smell and sight were appalling and the church after a lesson on the biblical truth of caring for creation and stewardship decided to clean the ditch, an eyesore of their community. Several hours of labor later the ditch was clean and the group was left with smiles on their faces.
Deuteronomy 5:33 says:
“Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.”
In both examples Christians were “walking in obedience.” They were following the call of caring and stewarding creation. They were serving selflessly and in the end good results were seen; a clean space and a healthier atmosphere. However, the tale of these two memories reminds me of the task Christians have sometimes overlooked: multipliable obedience.
Everyone of us has probably heard a good heart wrenching message on obedience; a sermon that has probably challenged and convicted us to do more for others and the kingdom of God. With that said, personal obedience is not a message that is new to any of us. Most Christians know that obedience is critical and that loving God and loving others is the very essence of Christianity. It’s necessary and daily God gives us opportunities to care, love and serve others!
However, how often do we incorporate the empowering of others to obey into our ministry? How often do we allow others the space to obey within our work? How often do we promote multipliable obedience?
Teaching obedience as a ministry principle
As a pastor of missions I am often confronted with many ministry opportunities that are built around programs that do for others things they can do for themselves. Cross-culturally I find many wealthier churches and organizations developing and running programs for the “poor” community, even though they typically live outside the community. While they serve faithfully, a critical component is missing, they are not teaching those they are working with to themselves walk in obedience to God in all areas of life.
For example, rather than teaching the poor to give, they are doing their giving for them. They plan, they provide and they evaluate according to the material product produced. But have they really made disciples as Jesus commands in Matthew 28? Have they really “taught” others to obey all that I have commanded? (Matthew 28:20)
Or take this for example: Rather than teaching the poor to love through service, they are doing their serving for them. How often do we see outside teams, teachers, workers etc. coming in and cleaning, building and caring for the marginalized in the community while the locals sit and watch. While our heart to serve is courageous and admirable our goal should be to teach others to join with us and see the value in a servants heart. Not only in their personal lives but in the life of their church and community.
No one is too poor to obey God in serving others
While certainly there are situations of relief and desperation that call for immediate need with no strings attached the reality is that even the poor have loads to give. (Time, skills, ideas, talents and networks) By going in and doing for them the things they can and should be doing themselves we are actually stripping them of the opportunity to grow and serve as God called. They are not too poor, they simply need to catch a vision for obedience beyond what they may have seen done to them.
One of the blessings of working with the ministries of Reconciled World is seeing those we work with being encouraged to be a part of the solution. They are encouraged through the process of teaching and empowering to be the leaders of change. It’s not always perfect, but it’s a vision of wholistic discipleship in word and deed that drives the way we partner with our ministries and churches.
We have seen over and over again churches identify a need in their community, make a plan to tackle it and faithfully follow through using local resources, ideas and time. On some occasions outside help would have been quicker and possibly produced greater visual results in a shorter period of time but the long-term product would have been insignificant compared to the fruit of transformation that came through their personally choosing obedience. By taking ownership of the situation they were making a commitment to obedience that was multipliable.
Results that last
We all want results that last. It is never good to do something with lots of effort only to realize it is actually enabling or hurting more than it is helping. Like taking one step forward and two steps back… However, great joy and satisfaction comes when we do things we know will be multiplied by our mentee’s for years to come. Longevity is good and discipleship in obedience is great!
Six months later I returned to both of the places (the green space and the ditch) mentioned in the memories above. Which space do you think was still clean? If you guessed the ditch you were right! The church and neighborhood was so proud of their work that they set up an annual cleaning event so it would never be dirty again. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is clean even to this day, some almost five years later. Multipliable obedience in action! (The picture that accompanies this blog entry is that group in action!)
If you are working in a ministry that helps and serves others how can you view your obedient service from a multipliable perspective? Are you doing for others things they can do for themselves? What might you be able to do to “teach them to obey all he has commanded?” Praise God that we have not only the opportunity to serve others but also to teach others to serve. It’s the gift that keeps giving!