Service Learning: Developing a Lifestyle of Service

Service, community service, and service learning are buzzwords that describe the good work of lending a hand to meet the needs of others. For the church worker, youth leader, community activist, or educator, service should be a way of life or second nature. For the Christian, service to others is a model that was illustrated by Christ as being both sacrificial in nature (e.g., Christ dying on the cross to bring about forgiveness for sins) and the responsibility of believers (e.g., the early apostles’ approach to holistic service by calling on communal giving so “none among them had need”).

Real-life examples of service to others include feeding the homeless to visiting shut-ins, from advocating for liberation of the captive to tutoring students, and a range of hands-on, tangible projects (such as yard work, general cleaning, disaster relief, and so on). For most religious institutions, service to others seems to be part of the general makeup of a congregation or group within the congregation, where leaders and followers reach out to another person and meet their need. This is best illustrated when it involves a relational component or a tangible touch (a cup of water in Jesus’s name).

This article will provide the practical steps for leaders to design and develop meaningful service projects with the intent of meeting individual and community needs. Before diving into the nuts and bolts of practical service, let’s explore a few definitions to help stimulate our thinking. First is service learning and second is the idea of experiential learning.

  • Service learning applies to projects that include theory and praxis (Kenworthy-U’Ren and Peterson). Theories are ideals that are studied in a classroom setting and praxis is the opportunity to test the theories in real-life application. Service learning includes a built-in reflection piece whereby students are able to talk about the project before participating (pre-flection) and discuss the project with others after the service is completed (reflection).
  • Experiential learning occurs (1) when people learn by concrete experience, (2) by reflective observation of experiences, (3) with theoretical models and concepts, and (4) by active experimentation to discover cause-and-effect relationships (Kolb).

Service experiences that include ways for volunteers to reflect on their experiences while seeing the connection between the theory and the application of the theory have proven to be best practice and a tested approach to caring for others. When the servant sees the value of sustainable change, he or she feels the pull toward a lifestyle of service rather than service merely being episodic or event-based.

In recent months, there have been numerous natural disasters that have affected millions of people. Immediately after these disasters occur, the human spirit is motivated and mobilized to help bear the needs of another. For believers, this type of meaningful care should be happening daily, wherever pain or injustice is evident. It is the responsibility of the Christian leader (that’s you and me) to help others to see and respond to the needs around them and to know how to do so effectively.

You Are Responsible for What You Know

I have the opportunity to teach college students each week on the values of service, benevolence, and community outreach. One of the standard lessons that I use with every group of students is titled “You are responsible for what you know.” [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]