The Ministry of Helpfulness


As I continue to expand upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 4 services/ministries in which the Christian community owes to each other (found in his book Life Together), I am continually made aware of the life-giving nature of each. And I’m also amazed at the simplicity of them. Each service can be and should be performed by each member of the body of Christ.

The First Service

The first service that Bonhoeffer mentions and in which I expounded upon earlier was the ministry of listening. When we listen, we “listen with the ears of God,” writes Bonhoeffer. And with the fast-paced, information saturated, social media-driven world in which we live, listening has become lost. But if we will decide to perform the ministry of listening, as has been given to us by God, it will be much like giving water to a parched man or woman.

The Second Service

The service that is being highlighted in this post is the second of the four. It is the ministry of helpfulness. Bonhoeffer writes that helpfulness is “simple assistance in trifling external matters.” It’s important to notice that Bonhoeffer sees that the helpfulness we give to others is in the ordinary day to day needs that come about. It’s not that we don’t help one another during crisis times. Those are quite apparent. What might not be readily recognizable are the “trifling” matters.

Just as was true for the ministry of listening, our tendency towards busyness, as well as our bent towards making everything about ourselves, can make it hard for us to sometimes see and help with the needs of those around us. However, Bonhoeffer writes that “we must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God as He will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.”

To have our day or plans interrupted does not always bring a joyful response from us. And such negative attitudes reveals our heart of selfishness. This is why Bonhoeffer says that we need humility. “It is the part of the discipline of humility,” he writes, “that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.”

Though Bonhoeffer writes of the ministry of helpfulness as that which we owe each other as a Christian community, helping those around us who are outside the church is also needed. So we must look around us to see the needs. And once again, these are not necessarily the huge crisis moments. It could be that someone just needs help carrying his/her paperwork to the office.

Bonhoeffer wants us to remember that helpfulness, most importantly, opens the door for God’s Word to be shared. He writes: “Only where hands are not too good for deeds of love and mercy in everyday helpfulness can the mouth joyfully and convincingly proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy.” Many of us have heard the saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Bonhoeffer would agree.

So let’s do life today with open eyes, hearts, and hands that are willing to be interrupted!

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