One-time service is a drop in the proverbial bucket. Being a servant is a steady stream.
There is a difference between being a servant and practicing service, yet within our generation there seems a growing inability to distinguish between these concepts when engaging our communities. Service is the cool, trendy thing to do, where being a servant has lost its appeal. In some ways, service is now confused as having the same impact as being a servant; it is a dangerous assumption in making these two types of civic engagement equals.
Our generation must define servant vs. service if we seek to create true community change. When considering the difference between the two, service is one drop out of many into an organizational bucket. With service it takes a great multitude of individuals to fill that bucket, and sporadic service equals empty buckets.
Servants are steady streams. Being a servant is an outpouring of self. It is continual dedication to one bucket, filling needs in multiple spaces and giving back when those multitude service drops are not present. Being a servant means engaging more than just that one time event or those few hours on one weekend. It is an ongoing dedication of time.
I am not sure when the shift happened, but it likely correlates with our strong link to technology and the constant feelings of instant gratification offered through our rapid-paced world. We are supporters of one-time events and short-term commitments. We love running that fun 5K or attending the next day-long charity benefit to support a cause. The worst of this can be seen through the idea of Internet ‘slacktivism’ where we willingly change a social network profile picture to support a cause, but our actions never carry beyond a few clicks.
Our perception of service is immediate, it is short, and it is fleeting. When asked to engage in a dedicated volunteer process though, the time we have for service disappears and the commitment flounders. Like everything else in our generation, we love the instant gratification found by being a part of the immediate event yet fear the commitment of having to become a regular volunteer.
Inherently, there is nothing wrong with the concept of service. Causes need funds to survive and many times non-profits rely on short-term volunteers for task-specific projects. This is a natural part of the volunteer cycle. The issue then stems from lack of long-term commitment to a cause. We get excited about the next big thing, but it only holds our attention as long as it remains trendy before it fades into being forgotten. The danger lies in our inability to dedicate to a cause.
I acknowledge that this is not everyone. Many are committed volunteers who offer a particular cause hours and days of their time. The present divide on the issue, though, is growing, with short-term engagements winning out over long-term commitments. After all, it is easier to donate a few dollars or a few hours to reap those feelings of satisfaction than it is to go through the application process and obligate yourself to a set number of volunteer hours per week.
When we allow service to be our only method of giving back, we are unintentionally hurting our communities. Many organizations, events, charities, and fundraisers are forced to rely on drops of service for survival. Constantly waiting for service drips is very different than assurance the servant stream will flow. We are forcing organizations to face the real possibility of an impending drought.
Granted, fully dedicating oneself is time consuming and requires ongoing commitment and sacrifice. The continual filling of a bucket while never having to witness it go dry, though, is what enriches the servant experience. By being servants, we leave behind a legacy built upon self-sacrifice to something greater. Being servants means we give up some freedom, but we gain a more complete sense of community.
Being of service is simple; being a servant is a sacrifice. Only you can choose how to invest your time, but in the end being a part of a legacy is more fulfilling than just taking part in an event. If you are not a dedicated servant, invest in an organization you believe in. Give yourself fully and watch what happens when the stream you provide regularly fills an organization’s needs, and in turn, fills the buckets of many.
Image credit: peasap/flickr