One of the perks of starting a church is that you can do whatever you want…within reason of course. 

In a more established church, while you have the stability and strength that comes with time, you also have more expectations. “We’ve always done it that way,” is many a pastor’s death blow to their passion and energy.

In a new or young church, it’s pretty simple. Very little has been done so it’s harder to say that we’ve done anything this way or that way. 

Before Inland Church came into existence, we knew we wanted to cling to the value of service and we knew if we didn’t place an emphasis on it from day one, it would be hard to cultivate later on. We came up with a plan to change up our regular corporate gatherings once a month and instead of doing the normal church gig (sermon, music, and the ever-inescapable announcements), we would serve together. 

These gatherings looked different every month. Sometimes we would make jars of soup ingredients to pass around town to those in need. Sometimes we would partner with a local non-profit to help them clean up their facilities. Sometimes we would walk out our front doors with brooms and trash bags and simply start cleaning. 

But maybe my favorite of these gatherings is our most recent. 

It begins the week before when we announce that we’ll be serving together the following week. No other details are given, a type A personality’s nightmare. 

Then comes the gathering. As people begin to show up, we ask them to have a seat and we’ll explain what’s going on. Surprisingly, quite a few people show up. As our latecomers trickle in, we get started. I welcome everyone and ask them a question. “As a follower of Jesus, why is service important?” The whiteboard up front and the marker in my hand clues everyone in to the fact that I actually want answers. And then they come: 

“It is an expression of compassion and love.”

“Jesus set an example of service. He came not to be served but to serve.”

“It teaches us to look outside of ourselves.”

“It’s fun and it helps people.”

After I run out of room on the whiteboard, I affirm all these answers and thank our people for teaching us, avoiding the need for me to blather on and on. After we’ve established why service is important, I finally give our type A personalities what they’ve been aching for. 

I tell our people that each of them is going to get a $20 bill and that they will go out into the city and use it to serve someone. How exactly they go about that is completely up to them. I encourage them to be creative, to partner with others to pool their resources, and to allow the Spirit to lead them. After giving them ten minutes to prayerfully imagine what they could do, we politely kick them out the doors (that’s my favorite part). 

One hour later, they come back with energy and excitement. We take a few minutes to allow everyone the opportunity to share with the church what they did with their $20 bill. The stories that are told are simply amazing!

“We bought a bunch of hygiene products and dropped them off at the local men’s shelter. I saw some of the people I used to live with when I spent some time there. They were so happy to see me and know that I’m doing well.”

“I found a man at the bus plaza and bought him a monthly bus pass. He’s a single dad.” 

“We went to Subway and bought some sandwich and cookie platters. We dropped them off at the NICU waiting room at the hospital. We remember when we spent some time there with our first child and how stressful that time was.”

And the stories went on…

What I love so much about this gathering is what it is teaching our people. Sure, the tangible good that is being done in the city is outstanding, but as a pastor, I love seeing our people in action like this. It is shaping us and forming us into a more selfless community. It is kicking against the consumeristic culture that surrounds us. It is a model of the way Christ loves our city and our world.

Maybe someday in the distant future, for some unknown reason, we’ll tell our people that we won’t be serving in this way anymore and the chorus will resound: “But we’ve always done it that way!”