When Dave Berg first told me he brought his three-month-old baby to serve as part of a family mission trip, I’ll admit that I made a weird face. Was he joking? He brought a baby to a work site? To serve? It’s a baby. Dave is an earnest guy, and as he continued his story, it was pretty clear that not only was he not joking, it wasn’t obvious to him why we thought he might be.
When we consider service in the framework of market utility, we draw limits around who can be helpful. We look for those who have something we consider valuable to offer. Part of the reason hands-on service experiences are so popular among teenagers is because organizations see teenagers’ physical energy and capacity as utilitarian. Dave knows all about that. He is part of the executive leadership of YouthWorks, which has organized youth mission trips for hundreds of thousands of teenagers over the last three decades. Part of Dave’s work, however, has also been developing frameworks for understanding service that are anchored in the sacred value and inherent worth of every single person and the reciprocal relationship required in truly selfless service.
Service is the offering of all that we have to the other, motivated by the truth that Christ is present in every person we interact with, and when we serve anyone, we serve Jesus himself. Jesus, who we have nothing of value to offer to. If service, then, is about the selfless offering, not the market value of what is offered, why can’t a baby come to a worksite?
As leaders and innovators, we can easily get sucked into evaluating our resources the way the larger world does. We analyze income and costs and potential revenue and strategic plans, and all of that planning is good, but we can miss out on the much larger economy of God. God who defeats armies of 100,000 with just 300 men with jars and trumpets, who uses slaves and peasants and carpenters to transform the world. God calls us to careful management of what we are given, but the supplies that God starts with are no hindrance to what God can accomplish.
One of the practices that we encourage in our Starter Suite video course and in our events is an evaluation of the multiple revenue streams we have to pull from as we begin a project. These revenue streams include things you would imagine – registration fees, merchandise sales, donations – but it also includes a much longer list of all the potential resources innovators have. That list includes in-kind donations, volunteer hours, facilities, relationships, and a whole host of things that often leaves participants marveling at just how much more abundant resources are than they initially imagined. One of the most valuable and faithful practices we can engage in as Christian innovators is gratefully noticing all that we have already been given, and the open-handed reception of the gifts God offers us, even if they weren’t in the form we expected.
Even if one of the volunteers that shows up is a three-month-old baby.
So we let Dave continue his story. As part of the family mission trip, they went to serve at a retirement home, and while some of the older children and adults did landscaping and painting, Dave and his baby went to the dementia patients. Dementia patients can become colonies of those considered without value in our world; locked away, forgotten about, and avoided. Dave brought his baby to some of the patients, agitated and separated from the group. This group of people, many of who had likely raised children of their own, were immediately soothed by her, captivated, remembering in a deeper place than conscious thought a profound experience of connection, of love, and of God’s grace to them. Dave’s baby, for her part, brought all of her sweet self, defined as without value in our marketplace, and offered these patients something that no amount of manual labor ever could.
What more meaningful service could we offer to people? What could be a more faithful demonstration of the love of Christ than reminding people of their own value and connection to the beloved community of God? There was likely no service work done that day that honored the image of God in the vulnerable as much as the finger grasps and peaceful dozing of that baby. Dave’s story made me suddenly aware of how much of God’s grace I may have missed the opportunity to experience (or share) by limiting who I thought had something to offer.
What resources, services, and value have we missed by using the world’s way of determining value instead of the evaluation of God? God used five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand; who’s to say God can’t use a baby to transform an organization or an old church building to revitalize a city?
This week, ask God to make it obvious what resources you might have missed. And when you get a response, in the form of a volunteer who drives you crazy, or an old fax machine dropped off in your office, practice the spiritual discipline of being grateful for it, and ask God to show you how to best use it. This week, let God’s economics surprise you. You won’t regret it.