Rory Stewart may have been jettisoned in the race to become the next prime minister, but his idea of making “service” compulsory has gained some traction. Stewart’s vision was for every 16-year-old to take part in the National Citizen Service, a four-week community learning and service programme that at the moment is voluntary.
I don’t know about you, but selfless service to others doesn’t always come easily to me. Life purpose is so often self-focused. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains our inner motivations, which range from self-preservation to self-actualisation. It is certainly true that it takes a lot of self-focus to navigate modern life well.
Service to others, however, is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus Christ set the bar of service extremely high for us when he got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of the disciples saying: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John8:15) Service is the standard by which Jesus invites us to live our lives.
Cinnamon Network International, the organisation that I run, works in countries around the world to help churches to serve their communities. We find brilliant church-led projects that serve the community and replicate them through other churches so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
As I write this article I am in Australia. One of the greatest social problems here is domestic violence. On average one woman a week is killed by her partner or a former partner, and police respond to calls about domestic violence every two minutes.
Cinnamon has found a church-led community project that invites people who feel that their anger is damaging their relationships to take part in its programme. Circuit Breaker has been replicated in five churches, and we would love to see it taken up by churches across Australia to serve their communities.
During a recent trip to South Africa I visited a church that chose to serve its community by adopting the local police station and its team. Church volunteers helped to refurbish the police station, prayed for the police and offered chaplaincy services. Now the police station and team is one of the best performing in the region, and crime has reduced. The church-led community project has been replicated by ten churches.
Closer to home in the UK, Peaced Together helps churches to serve vulnerable and sometimes traumatised women. One part of the craft-based programme invites participants to break a china plate and talk about the brokenness that they have experienced. They are then invited to take the pieces of china and use them to make something that could be even more beautiful than the original, and in the process explore how God can rebuild broken lives. Cinnamon has helped Peaced Together to set up projects in 25 churches.
The invitation to live life in service of others is not just for churches and religious types. Business schools around the world teach “servant leadership” as one of the prominent executive leadership models. Servant leadership is also the criterion on which people should be elected for public office, party leadership and to be prime minister.
Jesus said of himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark10:45) If the Son of God came to serve rather than be served, how much more should business executives, politicians and all people live to serve?
Whether we are a 16-year-old leaving school or 46-year-old Rory Stewart, our lives should be lived in service to others. It is my experience that true meaning in life is found by what we give in service to others, and not what we receive.
First published in The Times Newspaper 19th June 2020