The Ministry of Helpfulness1
In his classic book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lists several ministry practices that a Christian community must be committed to living out if it would be all that God intends it to be. One "ministry" he identified which I found to be extremely relevant and a very good reminder for us all is what he calls "The ministry of Helpfulness."
What is this exactly? It is the willingness to give to others “simple assistance in trifling, external matters." In other words, this ministry is exactly what it sounds like, the giving of your time and ability to help out others whenever there is a need, regardless of what that need is. Most of us our willing to help someone out if the need is great, but if it is small or "trifling" we would rather not bother with it. We have our own schedules to keep, or own list of to-do's, after all. To this, Bonhoeffer responds that none of us is too good or important for the lowest service to someone else. He says, "One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly."
He continues, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important task, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves." For Bonhoeffer, allowing ourselves to be interrupted by others is part of understanding that God's agenda for our day is more important than our agenda for our day. When a need presents itself, we are to learn to see it as a divine appointment and an opportunity to show God's love and care to someone else. “It is a strange fact," says Bonhoeffer, "that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them." He continues with a word to Christians that I believe is both timeless and timely for busy 21st century American Christians:
"It is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God...Only where hands are not too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness can the mouth joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy.”
Personally, I found Bonhoeffer's comments both refreshing and convicting. I found myself wondering what would happen if all Christians made a commitment to live with this mindset on a daily basis? What if we refused to see the many interruptions by others in our day as interruptions, but instead as God's divine plan for our day allowing us show practical acts of his love and care to others? What if we really didn't value our own schedules and commitments as important as we valued helping others when we have the chance? What if we committed to always lend a helping hand if we have the ability to do so? Not only would our church community flourish and itself attract others to the gospel, but I believe we would also have many more opportunities to “joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy” to others.