Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thoughts on "Service"

"To help other people at all times."

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

The other day, the YW of my ward held a service project. It reminded me of a lesson I did in Priesthood Meeting once on the meaning of service.  I distinguished Service from service: in other words, there's a difference between a Service Project,™ and just being helpful because it's the right thing to do. There's also a difference between doing something because someone else set up "service hours" and simply helping out.

Now, I'm sure that this YW activity was fun, that there was camaraderie and fellowship going on, and that there was a sense of accomplishment at the end. (I have it on good authority that, as a male, I just don't understand how valuable this was to many.) But maybe for every fluff project done, it be balanced with something meaningful (and hard), that serves people in actual need. I wonder, that when service activities trend toward being ward-centric, if we aren't inadvertently sending the message that it's ok to not reach out to the larger community, that in effect, we should voluntarily sequester ourselves.  In other words, are the Laws of Unintended Consequences and Murphy in play?*

Again, that quote from Elder Holland:
"When I was a deacon, it didn't matter if we were working on merit badges, doing a service project or collecting fast offerings, it was all priesthood.  It is with this vision that we need to utilize Scouting and the priesthood to help our young men reach their potential by learning NOW to do hard things!" [And these same principles of Scouting are equally applicable to young women.]
With that in mind, we can and must provide service opportunities for youth that are meaningful and that extend beyond the (in my case, literal) four-block bounds of an LDS ward. If you limit yourself to just the families in your ward, or even stake, you're limiting your opportunity for experience and growth. You also can't change hearts and minds if you're not out among the hearts and minds you seek to change.  It simply doesn't happen within the sterility of the church house (OK, that's a relative term, I know how well the EQ cleans the building). It doesn't happen in the YMP or YWP's living room.

Here are some ideas:
  • Read to nursing home residents
  • Help out at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
  • Work to improve a local trail or clean up a campground or vacant lot
  • Clean up a park or other public space
  • Paint a school or fire station in need
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Ask the folks at Catholic Charities what they need. Do it.
  • Volunteer with Toys for Tots, a hospital or other nonprofit
  • Do these things more than once

  • NOT clean the building, or go to the cannery or anything else that's already assigned - that's not voluntary service, that's doing your job, doing what's expected.

I remember as a missionary filling my weekly four hours digging latrines, serving lunch at a parochial primary school, chopping (not mowing) lawns with a machete and more.  

The idea is to think beyond the 20 families you know from the ward, get outside the (again, literal, for me) four blocks of the ward and serve in the larger community.  Above all, see what the youth will come up with on their own, help them see the needs out there, guide them to plan meaningful service, and not cop-out "projects." Plant and nurture the seed of "helpful at all times."

We can and must encourage our kids to reach out and stretch themselves, to get out of their comfort zones, because that's where growth happens. Ask any athlete how he can improve if he doesn't push himself to the next level - we've all used this analogy in a Sunday School or Quorum lesson. It needs to be made to apply in reality.

* Fortunately, there are high schools and other institutions to take up some of the slack.  Here are another's thoughts on serving in the community.

Prepared. | For Life.™


Evenspor said...

This reminds me of the Ensign article from last year called "Leadership the Lord's Way" I think it was the January Ensign. There was a part that stuck out at me and I have pondered many times about callings being like training wheels on a bicycle. Callings teach us how to lead so that we can lead (in othet words, serve) in other situations, especially in our communities. I have run into many people who are reluctant to serve outside of their church callings. (Maybe it's just here, but I tend to see people who are not members of the church more often in those volunteer community roles.) Maybe we could all be a better example of that to our youth.

Eric the Half-bee said...

You said in a paragraph what I barely could do in an essay. Thanks for the second witness!