Setting aside my own self-interest continues to be one of my greatest struggles in serving the urban poor. We live in a society that teaches us to look out for ourselves, while we serve our LORD who asks us to look out for others. The clearest presentation of God’s concern for others, even at the cost of self is the incarnation and death of our Lord Jesus. Paul asks us to follow His example in taking care of others even at the expense of ourselves. In Philippians 2:5-11 Paul defines the mind of Christ as emptying Himself, being humbled, taking the place of a servant, and dying the horrible death on the cross. Jesus’ actions required Him to set Himself aside for the sake of others. Jesus did not need a sacrifice, He did not have a broken relationship with God that needed healing, He did not need to take on humanity for His own experience – He did all of this for you and me. So Paul invites us to share the same mindset the same attitude in our service to each other. But such service requires us to push back against our culture that teaches us to always do what benefits our own interests.
As a preacher I always hoped to preach to a large congregation, to make disciples, and so find significance through the gifts the LORD bestowed upon me. I dread the idea of failure and insignificance of being in a place where churches remain small and true converts are rare. All this dread and fear came to me through my culture, and the call to stand in a place which screams of worldly insignificance came from God. Through the years from time to time friends and family remind me of my insignificance, so this experience comes not only from internal dialogue but also from those who look on. In a conversation about planting churches among the urban poor, a friend from a mega-church asked, “Why would you want to reproduce this struggling church?” Others simply look upon our work as failing because we work with disenfranchised and dispossessed and by contrast have little to do with “successful” people. In the “Christian” culture which measures success by size and salary – we indeed stand out as insignificant. The question here is can God call us to be less in order to be of service to others.
Jesus exemplified the action of becoming less in order to serve others. To attempt to place ourselves in the paradigm of Jesus’ humility may seem arrogant, but Paul asks us to do just that. Our culture and sinful nature teach us to protect ourselves at all cost and only act in our own best interests. While Scripture asks us to conform to Jesus’ way of thinking and consider others rather than ourselves. So can we reach for such lofty heights? The context of underserved, un-resourced, decadent, and sometimes depraved urban communities frustrate our social structures. Government, schools, police, social services, and even the Church struggle to contend in a helpful manner with the complexities of the stressed urban communities. Government institutions pour money and personnel into the void of mostly ineffective solutions. I call them Ineffective because no solution they offer deals with sin, and our previous study stated that the problem of stressed urban communities come foundationally as an issue of sin. While government, psychological, and educational institutions cannot offer a remedy for sin, the Church uniquely possesses the mission of sharing Christ’ message of reconciliation and redemption from the devastating results from sin. But the stressed urban context causes personal frustration, pain, and little in the way of worldly success for those who take on the challenge of preaching the Gospel in this rough context. Meanwhile, Scripture says, “this cannot be about you, but it must be about the need of others.”
In my right mind I think about a worthless servant ignoring his master, using all his resources to live in false pleasure, full of cursing, lying, cheating, and every deviant behavior. What should be done for such a piece of work? How far should anyone go to reach out to bring that person into their right mind so he may learn to love, obey, and serve their master in an acceptable manner? Jesus answered that question by forfeiting heavenly joy and becoming a servant, then receiving the punishment due that rebellious servant – He suffered death, even the death of the cross. “God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8. Scripture asks us to do the same as we look at the world around us. To become less for the sake of others, to go to the stressed out people locked in rebellion and share the Word of Life.