Sometimes someone says something that suddenly shifts your way of thinking. And changes how you view the people around you.

Take, for example, a recent conversation with Donna Alexander, Shepherd Community Center’s director of volunteers. As we talked about a range of volunteer opportunities, Alexander repeatedly used a phrase that I love in relation to ministry:

Our neighbors.

As in, the people who receive services from Shepherd aren’t “clients,” or “people in need,” or even “the people we serve.”

They are our neighbors.

That way of thinking about the families who receive Baskets of Hope or visit the Christmas Store goes beyond a mere phrase. It informs an approach to ministry.

Ministry becomes even more about building long-term relationships and less about meeting temporary (although essential) needs. It becomes less about our need for validation and more about the needs of others – things like respect, dignity, and love.

Now, in case you think, I’m making far too big a deal out of a couple of words, just remember that Jesus had quite a bit to say about what we say to each other, including the fact that our words reflect our heart (Matthew 15:18).

He also left instructions about how we’re to live in relationship with our neighbors (that thing called love).

So, a simple phrase like “our neighbors,” and the thinking it reveals, matters. A lot.

A couple of questions to challenge you and me before we step back into the service line: How do we truly see the people whose needs we try to meet? Do we approach them as equal children of God? Do we carry even a hint of economic, intellectual, cultural superiority? Are we self-centered in our service (“It makes me feel good”), or do we persist when we’re tired, frustrated, and unvalidated?

Do we understand that it’s not about us; it’s about our neighbors? (And the One who loves all of us no matter our Zip code, bank balance, or job title).

Now, let’s go serve. And love. Together.

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