Getting to the Heart of Service in Small Groups

After a day of learning about what advocacy looks like in organizations and churches, our compassionate ministry training landed on a question:

“What breaks your heart?”

Before the question was asked, I felt empowered with new knowledge, comforted that there was a plan in place to aim for community transformation through a network of churches and ministries around the world but I also felt somewhat detached from it.

Because . . . information doesn’t always motivate me. Pain, however, does.

Information filled me with the ache to live what I was learning but the ache was coupled with very real tension and wonder. “Which part of this information is for me? And how will I contribute in a way that makes a difference?” I think most people wish to make a difference that they can see. Yet, I was learning that advocacy is the slower but more empowering road to support people and communities.

The difference I make isn’t so much about the results I see. The difference is more about the level I will allow my heart to be broken.

“What breaks your heart?”

Without this very personal question and answer moment, I may have left the room grateful to have learned more, but also less motivated and lacking gumption to do the work regardless of the difference I’m able to see.

When I think about how most churches and student ministries approach serving others I observe a reactive, “We should care when something breaks,” response instead of a personal gumption to live from a broken heart. Living from a broken heart causes us to see needs even when they aren’t directly in front of us and to do whatever we can regardless of visible differences we can see right away.

I believe the shift happens in student ministries when adults begin to honestly answer the question: “What breaks your heart?”

Helping someone pick up broken limbs in their wrecked-by-a-hurricane yard is an act of compassion and care. I can’t imagine what our life would have been like in Florida post Hurricane Irma without the reactive love and compassion that poured from neighbors and friends.

Compassion is a reaction and willingness to suffer with others.

But how do we help small group leaders connect with the priority to serve, not only in a crisis, but also in the quieter moments when the continual exposure of a need could be helpful?

We get to the heart.

Every adult in your student ministry has been created with value and for a purpose. Every adult in your student ministry has a story that causes them to care about some things more than others. Our job as leaders is to uncover the purpose in people to love like Jesus did and to give them opportunities to dream about what that could look like together with those they lead.

When you take the time to find out why a leader will fight for a kid who’s been bullied, or why a leader will visit an assisted living community every Thursday at 10 a.m., or why a leader notices a kid on the margins before every other leader does, you’ll find the motivation that will give these same leaders gumption to invite teenagers to serve out of broken (and empowered) hearts.

As you help to shape serving opportunities for leaders and their groups, think about adding space in the process to listen and to learn to do them first.

Ask a simple, yet powerful question to your leaders:

“What breaks your heart?”

If they know how to articulate what breaks their heart, they will find the ability to serve and keep serving from that heart that has passion, grit, and determination.

Then decide together to let the grace and grit between you multiply the work:

  • Make a list of possible ways your leaders can serve with students.
  • Create blank spaces on the list for new ideas.
  • Listen to what breaks the hearts of students in your groups and look for intersections between leaders and groups. Couple small group leaders or swap them if it makes sense to do that!
  • Provide the story and information about WHY and WHO you serve currently or in the future. Invite them to be curious and in tune, invite them to receive from those you serve, and become aware of ways their gifts could support the cause or people involved.
  • Direct leaders to shift from thinking about serving from the perspective of having a “project” to do, and create space for leaders to think of serving from the perspective of discovering stories in need of voices and resources.
  • Invite your leaders into the mystery of getting to be a part of Kingdom Work on earth.
  • Get to it. Don’t let everything else that’s on your plate keep you from having these planning times with your leaders. Your student ministry isn’t called to sit in a room, they are called to serve in the world around. If you haven’t been able to help them make that shift. Then, I recommend asking yourself:

“What breaks your heart?”

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