When we do missions mobilization training we love to highlight the article by the Brewsters that talks about the postures of learn, serve, and tell stories–the roles of learner, servant, and storyteller. The article was initially written to share with those who are going overseas some best practices and roles that will help them better connect with the people they’re reaching out to. These same roles also apply well to missions mobilization. Here’s an example. I think we often like to assume the role of “expert.” There’s something fun about having the answers and knowing what God is doing in the nations. We enjoy telling people about that, and even telling them what to do about it. But when we enter a community and start telling people what to do, they often shut down. Few folks really like to be told what to do. So there’s a lot of wisdom in coming in as a learner, servant, and storyteller.
Let’s focus in a little bit more on the role of “servant”. We see, of course, in the life of Jesus that He was a servant leader. By being willing to take on the role of the lowest servant in the household and wash the dirt off His disciples’ feet, Jesus demonstrated for us the operating system of the Kingdom of God–servanthood. That’s the DNA of how the kingdom of God works. So, we need to see mobilization as a leadership role that should be driven by servanthood.
When we come into a community, we can ask the question, “What are their ‘felt needs’ and what are their ‘real needs’?” Perhaps from our perspective, the “real needs” are missions vision and clear ways to engage with what God is doing in the world. But the community’s “felt needs” are the things they’re in touch with now, the needs they feel. We should try to discern what those things are. For example, for leaders in many local church communities the felt need is… volunteers. “How can we get people to volunteer to help with these programs? We need people for the nursery. We need people for setting up and tearing down for the services. We need people to help with the youth program. We need…help!”
If people go in with a desire to help, to serve, they will probably gain greater insight into both the real needs and the felt needs of the community they’re reaching out to. And if they then come back home with a heart to serve in their own community, folks will be more likely to open up and ask, “What is it that’s on your heart? Can you tell me stories about what God’s doing in the place you just visited?”
Unfortunately, short term missions participants who go with the “expert” attitude, may also return with it–something like: “Oh, I’ve seen the world and I’m going to wake up my local church community!” Imagine what would happen if every short term missions participant were to go and come back with a heart to serve, a heart to say, “What’s a need here that I can meet? I want to plug in and serve well in any way I can.” Having a servant’s heart may well be the key to opening others’ ears and hearts to stories of how God is using ordinary people to change the world.