"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Service (Acts of Kindness)

No Strings Attached

Changing Your World Through Acts of Kindness

Steve Miller

A Subtle, Yet Powerful Distinction

The Compass Café attracts students from all over Zilina, Slovakia, because of the laid back atmosphere, caring staff that listen to and help kids with practical issues, games and occasional concerts. Intrigued by the unique coffeehouse, the local radio station (listened to by a huge percentage of the city) interviewed one of the owners.

The DJ asked the question that was probably on much of the city's mind, "So tell me, what's your ulterior motive for doing all this nice stuff? Aren't you really just trying to lure students to your Christian belief?" Fortunately, the Compass staff had recently met to discuss that very question. He could, in all honesty, answer, "There is no ulterior motive. We simply care for people, whether or not they ever become Christians."

The payoff came when a student in the radio station told the live audience, "I'm an atheist. These Christians at the Compass Café should be my enemies. But they never force anything on me. I go there because they're simply the nicest people in our city."

I believe that the Compass staff discovered a subtle distinction that is multiplying the impact of many ministries both inside and outside of the States. These ministries prioritize doing good deeds, supplying services to people and the community with no strings attached, whether or not the services open doors to a presentation of the gospel. Ironically, by doing acts of kindness simply because they love people, not for the sake of evangelism, they are seeing more effective evangelism take place. Some of the impact I'm seeing is simply astounding.

My Road To Recovery

This distinction has been a long time coming for me. After meeting Jesus in high school, I couldn't imagine anything more important than introducing others to Him. "Therefore," I reasoned, "my ultimate object in everything I do is to bring people to Christ. I build relationships with new people to introduce them to Christ. I serve people so that I can bring them to Christ." While making sense on the surface, my approach failed to understand a biblical theology of good deeds and ultimately hindered my evangelistic effectiveness. My introduction to a radical church changed my mind.

Five years ago, my family fought a life and death battle with cancer. Between taking my wife to chemotherapy treatments and caring for my four young boys, we couldn't go to church very often. One day I returned home after a chemo treatment to find a group of people working in my yard. I thought someone had hired workers and they'd found the wrong house. It turned out that they were from NorthStar Church. They'd heard we had a need and came to meet it. Why? They knew we were already Christians. We were already members of another local church. So much for ulterior motives. They told us that they simply heard there was a need and came to meet it. Period. If we needed meals or anything else, they said to let them know. They cared.

After checking into this church, it didn't surprise me that in five short years they had grown from a church plant to over 2000 people attending every weekend, including tons of baptisms of previously unchurched people. They don't "go out witnessing." No pressing invitations, no door to door campaigns. Instead, they go out doing good. Many recipients of that grace eventually ask questions and come to church in droves.

The Theological Foundation

Sure, I used to sprinkle acts of kindness into my program, like a visit to the nursing home around Christmas between the hayride and the Christmas conference. But it was just "another event," not a driving force in our program. Looking at the Bible through fresh eyes, I now see the huge priority of being about good deeds.

  • Good works are priority! They are so central that I was saved to do them (Ephesians 2:10). Thus, good deeds should always accompany salvation (Gal. 5:29). Helping the needy was so central that when Peter and John gave their blessing on the Apostle Paul’s ministry, they only asked him to remember the poor, which he was "eager" (could also be translated "zealous") to do (Galatians 2:9,10). Whenever I help the needy in practical ways (e.g., visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, giving lodging to a stranger) I’m actually serving Jesus (Matthew 25:31ff).
  • Good works pay well. By doing good we overcome the false slander about Christians (I Peter 2:12). Many people resist Christianity because they see us as narrow-minded, bigoted, mean, homophobic hypocrites. Free pizza followed by a gospel presentation won’t help that image. Volunteering at the AIDS clinic will. Our good deeds will eventually become known (I Tim. 5:25). By helping the needy, we honor God (Proverbs 14:31), make our prayers effective (Proverbs 21:13), lend to the Lord (Prov. 19:17), receive a blessing from God (22:9), and store up treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22).
  • The bottom line? In our personal lives and youth ministry programming, we should be zealous about doing good deeds (Titus 2:14) and meet pressing needs around us (Titus 3:14), not just for the saints, but for all men (Galatians 6:10).

It’s interesting that of the hundreds of verses on helping the needy, I find no verses telling us to do good deeds in order to set up a gospel presentation. Yet, I do see that if I do my deeds in the right way, people will glorify the Father as a result (Mt. 5:16).

Pop Quiz #1: If God told you that nobody in your nearby high school would ever make a commitment to Christ or come to your youth group, would that keep you from serving there? If so, I believe your theology of good deeds is sub-biblical.

My conclusion? Don’t try to impress me with how many kids come to your bible studies if you've failed to develop a culture of doing good deeds. Biblically, doing good deeds is central to our mission.

Pop Quiz #2: If people in your community were interviewed about your youth group, could they say, "Although I don’t agree with their religious stuff, I can’t deny that they do a lot of good for our community. If I run into financial trouble or need a friend, that group is the first place I’ll go." Jesus was known for going about doing good (Acts 10:38). Are we?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for sharing the gospel, and it's not just a "social gospel" (Matthew 28:18-20). I'm just saying that our approach (low priority plus attached strings) to good deeds has often been a hindrance to the gospel rather than an asset.

Benefits

Today's kids want to serve. They love the feeling that their lives are making a difference; that their lives count. Acts of kindness are:

Low risk - Everybody can hand out free water or clean up after a parade, no matter what their gifts.

High impact - We can see direct, immediate results in meeting the need, long-term results in spiritual impact.

Size doesn't matter. Big and small groups can put together bookshelves at the local school or visit a nursing home.

How it looks:

Steve Sjogren was one frustrated pastor. Trying his best to start a church in Cincinnatti, he talked to 1500 people door to door for two years, getting almost nowhere. Then it occurred to him that while only 10% of his small flock had the gift of evangelism, over 90% had the gift of serving. They started doing simple acts of kindness like free car washes. The church tripled in size that year. Now running over 4000 on weekends, the motto at the church entrance reads: "Small things done with great love will change the world." (For hundreds of ideas from Sjogren's experience, see the Servant Evangelism site at http://www.servantevangelism.com/matrix/matrix.htm .)

Youth minister Russ Butcher at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, asks school principals and other community leaders how he can serve. His students can be found giving directions to athletes at a local triathlon, cleaning up after a community festival, or baby sitting at a church event. When a local high school principal saw NorthStar students cleaning up after a festival, she caught fire and implemented a community service program for all her students. Community leaders take note, parents get excited, students feel strategic to God's plan, and our image in the community opens doors for ministry.

Taking Action

Implementing acts of kindness is not a quick fix. School officials will most likely respond to your volunteerism with skepticism. It takes time to overcome the church's bad press and establish trust in the community. But from what I've seen and experienced, it's worth it.

I can almost hear someone responding, "Great! This is just the thing we need to be more effective at evangelism! We'll do all this "no strings attached" stuff so that we can build our youth group!" But did you hear what you said? You reattached the strings. You missed the point! Go back to paragraph one to start over. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect $200.00.

Further Reading:

See tons of ideas for acts of kindness that your group can do at http://www.servantevangelism.com/matrix/matrix.htm . Steve Sjogren's books can be found at  http://www.servantevangelism.com/resource/books.htm .

Author

Steve Miller writes Web-based youth ministry resources at www.reach-out.org . He lives in Acworth, Georgia, with his wife Cherie and their seven boys. 

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Used my permission, Group Magazine, Copyright 2002, Group Publishing, Inc., Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539.

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