Waiting Tables with a Famous Evangelist
Seven Reasons Why the Smart Also Serve
By Shane Bennett
When in last month’s Practical Mobilization, we left Philip the Apostle, he had stumbled grievously. Maybe, in the past four weeks, you have stumbled as well. I have. Rejoice in this with me: Stumbling does not mean disqualification. There is no mess too big for God, but the trick is to get back up when you stumble. God’s work to redeem all things includes you.
Now we move on to Philip the second, the one they call Philip the Evangelist. His career took off when, of all things, he was assigned to wait tables … and not because a hip new place opened on State Street and the tips rocked, but because a low-level ethnic conflict meant some dear old widows missed lunch!
Luke records in Acts 4 that the apostles, hearing about the problem, asked around for “seven men from among you known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” They found them, laid hands on them, and gave them the job.
Apparently, Philip and the others nailed it. I don’t think they’d take all the credit, but Luke does end the vignette by saying, in verse 7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Things were going great for the deacons until one of them, Stephen, starting moonlighting by performing signs and wonders. Opposition arose. He was tried and killed. This uncorked major persecution and everyone—save the apostles—got out of Dodge. As for Philip, he made his way to a city in Samaria and began to go all “Stephen” on them. People paid attention. Luke tells us, “There was great joy in that city.”
When the apostles came down to certify this new ministry, an angel told Philip to hit the road, the desert road. He did, bumped into an Ethiopian eunuch, and was instrumental in the gospel moving into Africa.
The waiter! The waiter gets to play a brief, but crazily significant role in the advance of the gospel. (I’m going to start tipping better.)
There’s much to learn from Philip’s life, but I’d like to focus on his service. Without trying to read too much into the text, it seems that this was a foundational part of his character. Likewise, service is a significant part of mission mobilization, and often an overlooked part (if my own life is any indication).
Let me say here that some of the best servants I’ve ever seen have been mission mobilizers, and I’m thinking of Perspectives Course coordinators in particular. The last thing I want to do is load up your tired back with more burdens. If the Holy Spirit says, “You’re serving well, so let this slide,” listen! There’s always the chance I’m writing this mainly for me.
Still, here are seven reminders why picking up a towel and wiping some tables is a good idea for mobilizers.
1. Stuff needs to be done.
Before we get all spiritual about this, how about some practicality? A laundry list of grubby work needs to be tackled, including sometimes literally laundry! Things need to be put away. People need to be listened to. Cute little noses need to be wiped. These are kingdom concerns. Let’s do the ones that fall to us.
2. Jesus modeled service.
One episode in the life of Jesus that you hope doesn’t come to mind when you’re trying to dodge an unwanted service opportunity is when Jesus got down on the floor and washed those grubby apostolic feet. The one who made the dirt and fashioned the first feet said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”
I suppose the list could stop at two items, but there’s more.
3. The Bible instructs us to serve.
Perhaps remembering his mini-bath debate with Jesus, Peter writes in his first letter, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” In many other places, we’re told the life of Jesus is one of putting others ahead of ourselves as we put God ahead of everything. This isn’t easy, but it is clear.
4. Serving trains us for further service.
Is it possible that Philip’s record of service somehow suited him for outreach in his Samaritan city? I don’t want to make too much of this, but Jesus did say that faithfulness in small things leads to opportunity for faithfulness in bigger things. I like to think that Philip’s time at the tables developed internal character, qualifying him to work effectively as an evangelist.
Credibility is a key payoff here. I love a volunteer who will put away tables, do data entry, and drive the van when it would be more fun to snooze in the back seat. If we haven’t logged some hours in the nursery, we may not be ready for the missions committee.
5. Service is a tangible expression of love.
In Galatians 5:13, Paul says to use our freedom to, “serve one another in love.” One of the clearest ways to live out “I love you” is to serve the one you love. They go hand in hand. As with Philip before us, simply bringing food to someone or clearing away their dirty dishes speaks a great deal. Some of my living heroes of the faith are those who see a need and quietly go about meeting it. Sometimes you have to be sharp to observe this because the good servants do it on the down low.
6. Serving models service for others.
Years ago I took a missions pastor role and moved to Indiana. My new church had a community service day just after our arrival—like hours after our arrival. I didn’t really want to go, and it technically wasn’t part of my job description, but my dad swayed me and got me there! When we arrived at the site I was pleasantly surprised to see the senior pastor, my new boss, pulling weeds alongside a church member who was the owner of a significant local company. That marked me. We didn’t always live it out 100%, but we were a community who served.
7. Serving is an antidote for arrogance.
Since you probably need no such antidote, let me just share about myself here: Sometimes when you read what I write or when people listen to me talk, I begin to think I know a thing or two. Then it’s a short jump to a confident sense that I do know what’s right. And pretty soon, I’ve figured out how nearly everyone else is off in their approach to missions, while I’m right on! Cleaning a dirty toilet tends to dial down my arrogance meter.
As you work out the calling God has given you, may you challenge the church boldly, love them deeply, and serve with great gusto, as one who has indeed been served by the King of kings.