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50 Ways to Serve the Least of These

I have a secret: a deep, dark unspoken truth that I rarely share. You see I thought for a long time if I told people this I would somehow badly influence them. Yet, as the years march on I realize I just can’t keep pretending. Today people, I tell you what’s been on my heart for over a year:

I’m kind of over church.

Well, now that it’s out there… who’s hungry for some lunch?

Since coming back to an official church about five years ago, I realized I am exhausted from dealing with the “people of God.” I don’t know, I guess I just expected Christians to be… great. As it turns out, they’re just like everyone else (sometimes worse).

I’ve learned the hard way that:

Church people can be exclusive.

Church people can be insanely selfish.

Church people can be crazy judgemental and hateful.

Church people can be destructive.

Church people can have an attitude that they are better than everyone else.

Over the past few years, I could tell you more than a handful of deeply painful stories that have shattered the rose-colored glasses in which I used to view church.

Last year, at the start of my major church funk I took up a crazy idea that I called the How Can I Help Project. I dedicated an entire month to serving someone every single day and it was incredible. It slowly and incredibly reinvigorated my love for Jesus, for unfiltered kindness, for changing lives. In my darkest moments of church struggle, I constantly turn to this verse from James 1:27

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27 (NIV)

So I’ve been on a church detox.

Yet, through it all, I’m clinging to the true word of God and the actions of Jesus. In preparation for my music ministry to Zimbabwe three years ago, God led me to this passage and it has been burned in my mind ever since. Check it:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ -Matthew 25:34-40.

Seems Jesus and Paul were on the same page. What if it’s not a building or an attendance record that is at the core of God’s heart? What if it’s how we love?

Wherever you are in your faith journey, the bible is clear – we are to help the sick, the poor, the homeless, the prisoners, the widows.

In hopes of inspiring you, here are 50 ideas for serving the least of these:

50 Ways to Serve

1.) Donate food to a food pantry.

2.) Volunteer at Feed My Starving Children (or find an organization like it near you).

3.) Create Homeless Care Packages and hand them out.

4.) Do some Random Acts of Kindness wherever you go. [Read about my 26 Random Acts of Kindness for my 26th Birthday!]

5.) Serve in the Kids Ministry or Youth Group at church.

6.) Volunteer at a Nursing Home.

7.) Adopt or Become a Foster Parent.

8.) Serve at Habitat for Humanity or Urban Homeworks.

9.) Keep $5 McDonald’s gift cards in your car for the homeless.

10.) Sign up for a Mission Trip (locally or overseas).

11.) Offer to babysit for free (triple bonus points if it’s a single mom).

12.) Post on Facebook “How can I help you?” and then follow through with what people post [Check out my “How Can I Help You” Project for inspiration.]

13.) Serve in a prison ministry.

14.) Donate blood.

15.) Mow an elderly neighbors lawn (or shovel their driveway for those of us in the tundra).

16.) Befriend someone with special needs.

17.) Volunteer or donate with Save the Storks.

18.) Tutor a kid in need (for free).

19.) Offer to drive someone to church (call and ask in the office if they know of anyone who could use a ride).

20.) Host a garage sale or bake sale and give the proceeds to a someone less fortunate.

21.) Join the Bone Marrow Registry.

22.) Serve at Meals on Wheels and get to know the shut ins.

23.) Play music at a nursing home.

24.) Take someone out for coffee and truly listen to their story.

25.) Leave a thank you note and/or present for the people we often take for granted (policemen, fireman, paramedics, nurses, the mailman, teachers, pastors).

26.) Ask at a nursing home if there’s anyone who needs visitors.

27.) Drop off toys and activities at your local children’s hospital (many have a list of needs on their website).

28.) Go through your closet and giveaway old clothes and shoes to someone in need.

29.) Host a bingo night at a long-term care facility or nursing home.

30.) Sell a luxury item and donate the money to someone in need.

31.) Sponsor a child through Compassion International

32.) Volunteer to read to kids at a local school.

33.) Search Craigslist for someone in need and help them out (don’t go alone.)

34.) Let someone stay in a spare room for cheap or free.

35.) Sign up to mentor an ex-prisoner.

36.) Downgrade your cell phone or cable plan and donate the monthly savings. [Learn about Why I Said Goodbye to My Smart Phone here]

37.) Sign up to coach a youth sport and tell the kids they are smart, kind, and important.

38.) Sign up to sort medical supplies going overseas to a place like MATTER.

39.) Encourage a young person you know to audition for CTI Music Ministries or host a concert of one of their ministry teams at your church.

40.) Put a cooler of water and Gatorade in your car on a hot day and hand them out to homeless people you see.

41.) Donate to a program like Meals for Minds or the Sheridan project that provides food for

42.) Give out a microloan through a program like Kiva.

43.) Sign up to drive cancer patients to their appointments.

44.) Volunteer to teach a class to inmates.

45.) Sign up to serve a meal at a homeless shelter.

46.) Sponsor a Special Needs child in Haiti through Beyond Our Door.

47.) Start a group dedicated to home repairs and house work at your church for people in need (ours is called Kingdom Warriors).

48.) Invite someone with nowhere to go over for a Holiday.

49.) Host a “get to know you” even at your house to help people in your community get connected and make new friends.

50.) Check out a website like Volunteer Match to find even more opportunities not listed here.

You see, a few weeks ago I realized I am done getting burned. I am done holding on to the pain and the struggle. If church is not on the top of God’s priority list, why is it on mine?

So today I am turning my focus from church, from the place that hurts my heart, and focusing on being the Church to the One who heals. Today, I am choosing to listen to Jesus and choose a religion that is pure and faultless in his eyes. Today, I re-calibrate my life from a building back to God. Today, I forgive and start again.

For a moment at least I am thankful for my church tension because it is what keeps leading me back to the true heart of God. It is what keeps me from turning into one of them.

Have you ever been mad at the church? Do you have any ideas for serving that didn’t make my list? Let me know in the comments below!




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About Sam

in love with all things Jesus, music, adventure, writing, teaching, laughter, running, friendship. Founder of recklesslyalive.com.

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  1. Karen Featherston

    Sam, thank you for being so R-E-A-L! You nailed it on the head…it ain’t about the building, the budget, the attendance, the agenda…it is not even really about the people inside the church. It is supposed to be about equipping everyone inside to GO OUT & BE THE CHURCH to a hurting world!

    I appreciate your encouragement (and 50 Things list) as a reminder that I alone can do something to make a difference, every day…I don’t have to wait until Sunday to “play” Christian. No wonder it is so hard for so many to join the congregation of believers…what’s the point if there’s just as much nit-picking, back-stabbing, grumbling, envying and discontent within the church as there is out on the street? Why believe someone’s testimony when their actions don’t line up with the Word their boasting of?

    The time is NOW…for all Christians to step it up and finally live like the Jesus they claim to worship and adore.

    Taking it to heart – Karen

  2. Yes and at times I was even afraid of the Church. In the south there are a few Churches that are very extreme and not in a positive way. They made me feel so undeserving of God’s love and forgiveness and made me not want to go at all. I believe the Church itself is about meeting people who can help you maintain your goals; not discipline or belittle you for not meeting them. Sometimes, that means providing an ear to hear and a heart to understand. The last thing anyone wants in a time of need is to be “preached” at and told it is their own fault life is hard. Thankfully, I have found a Church that is all about helping the community and each other. One thing I find really cool is their Meals for Moms program. I don’t know if it was mentioned in the list, but whenever someone has a new child, the start up a sign up sheet to bring meals for the family for as long as three weeks! I was on the receiving end of this generosity and it was such a blessing! Also, there are companies and stores, such as 31 Bits and Alterd State that donate their sales or use their business to a charity or support a cause.

    Keep it real Sam!

  3. Thanks for sharing so many wonderful ways we can serve others and for sharing your heart. I think “church” is more to help build our faith, but putting that faith into action is definitely what Jesus showed us by His example too! Yes, you are so right, Sam. Blessings to you as you serve all that you meet and thanks for the inspiration for each of us to do the same. I think I missed the “donate blood to help save lives” on the list! 🙂

  4. I sometimes find it discouraging to go to church when I know people there are “exclusive” and too perfect for me. I’m glad there are communities that believe in God’s love and true essence of service.

    Thanks for these ideas. Let’s keep serving each other.

  5. Sam, I love your heart!

    I know people can remove some of our focus because the truth is we are all horrible people! Isn’t that exactly why Christ came to die?

    but people like you are refreshing to the weary heart!

    You encourage the discouraged even though you get discouraged yourself.
    you give even though you likely have little to give
    you impact hearts while expecting nothing in return.

    You are amazing!

    I’m thankful for you

  6. You speak truth that so many of us feel. I hate sitting and socializing.but love to get to know by working alongside others.We are the church! Thanks for motivating!

  7. Right on! The church is not a building where we go to sit for an hour to get into heaven….but a group of people, self professing believers and you will find immature, mature and non Christians there and I totally get what you mean….and agree. Why do we stay with a group of believers that do not practice the word or just want to debate/discuss but never do…and instead do what their own self interests want to do and do not love others as we are commanded to do? Is it self doubt or laziness? It gets more complicated when everyone is nice but no one wants to be givers and only want to be taken care of…. There can be nice people overwhelmed with life that just want to go and feel like their debt is paid by going Sunday morning but want no other contact with other believers…and there are communities where the believers want to share their lives and help widows and orphans and spend their extra money doing so rather than using it to impress each other. There are so many young women out there that are so discouraged that their boyfriends/husbands fit the example of the church that you are talking about and so it is so refreshing to hear your testimony of experience. If you are in a group that is not doing what the Holy Spirit is leading you to do then there are lots of us out there that do. Playing church is a soul destructive habit and will be the cause of many souls going to be forever without God. (Hell) May God bless you with his presence and may you bless those with His love. Great article and verses.

    • Thank you so much for the encouragement Sherry! It’s a hard place to be knowing that no church is ever going to be perfect and also understanding that we are not meant to be served by the church, but rather serve ourselves. Since writing this last spring, I haven decided to stay and keep serving the youth there that I love like crazy. Hopefully the political, exclusivity, and all that junk gets better. Thanks for the very thoughtful comment. Blessings my friend!

      • Greetings, I’ve enjoyed reading your post and others who share these same concerns. I came to Christ at 40 and absolutely did not want to go to church (because of past winessed hateful, hypocritical Christians). God’s word, however, encouraged me to find a church family. Can it still be full of the junk? Yes! But if we are vigilant, standing firm in God’s truth, watching out for the enemy who seeks to destroy, we can use this place to partner with others who want to simply Love God, Love Others.
        I am a person like you, constantly stirring and looking and knowing that those outside are hurting and dying to connect. They are not going to magically walk in the doors and thank us. We have to be the light of Christ in our neighborhoods, in our cities; building relationships and caring for them. And quite honestly…”the church” hasn’t done such a great job at it as they’ve been fighting to keep the few they have inside, whimpering that they are dying and blaming it all on everything else. Couldn’t be their fault. 🙁

        Thanks! May Christ continue to stir your heart.

  8. I can add to this – offer time to a special-needs family in your community. Often these are single parents (80% divorce rate with parents of autistic children), they are tapped out (b/c the NEVER have a break), they are tapped out financially (b/c insurance doesn’t pay for a lot of necessary services), they are desperate (b/c finding help for their children is like a maze of dead ends), they are lonely (most are rejected by family and friends b/c their children are not the most pleasurable to be around), their houses are falling apart (b/c autistic children are known to kick out screens and do other destructive things, and they don’t have the resources or time to fix), they are burnt-out (and would die for a few minutes to take a long shower, or enjoy an uninterrupted cup of coffee, or even clean the house while someone else occupies the SN child), and they are unchurched (b/c most churches do not have a special needs program, and their children are not welcome with the regular children).

  9. Just to add to the choir above, this is really helpful! I’ve been back home for 6 months and I too am over The Church :/ It feels so restricting–praising attendance rather than humility, brokenness and compassion.

    I’ve been thinking about and looking for ways to show compassion in my community. I will definitely look into a few of these! I also hope to start a Bible study with some non-church goers (potentially ex-convicts) in my community where I might have to find a friend and to them instead of having them come to me. I really pray God can use me in this endeavor! Please pray for me! 🙂

  10. Thank you for sharing your heart. It helps me feel less alone in my decision to leave my church.

  11. Hi Sam, I don’t know how I ended up here but your anger and hurt toward the church jumped out at me. I been there. I’m only 23 but being raised in church, I’ve had my fair share of dissapointment. I’ve been in and out, I’ve seen my family hurt over and over and my siblings leaving Jesus all together because of the church. I wanted so bad to be done with it. I kept saying to myself ‘I’m the church too, I don’t need a building’. But God kept calling me and telling me to love church. Because it’s true, we all are individually the church, but when we join together we form something bigger than ourselves. We are supposed to be the Body of Christ and when part of our body is ill, we take care of it. And the whole body suffers while it’s sick. I see that happening now at a global scale, church is sick and broken because for years we followed men and structures more than we followed Jesus. There’s gotta be a turning back our hearts toward Jesus and that means turning our hearts towards what Jesus loves.
    You wrote a line in this post that broke my heart:
    “If church is not on the top of God’s priority list, why is it on mine?”
    It broke my heart because it isn’t true. Church is very much on God’s priority list. HE LOVES THE CHURCH. With a passion. It doesn’t mean he likes or aproves of the state modern church is, but He loves it still. We are his people, his children. His Bride. And the first thing Jesus is doing when He returns is marrying his Church (see Revelation 19).
    The devil goes out to destroy everything that God loves, so it’s no surprise that he has corrupted church so much, and used it for generations to turn people away from God instead of towards Him. So we need to take authority and declare that his control over Church is over because Christ is taking his rightful place as the Head of his Church. We need to love the church with all of its imperfections (just as Jesus loved us on the cross) and help it be the Church God dreamed it to be.
    Now, i don’t mean to sound preachy. It really saddens me everytime I hear christians saying this about the Church. I know this blogpost is not recent and really hope that the Lord has spoken to you about this subject. If not, ask Him to show you His heart for the Church and how much it means to Him. I pray that he awakens in you a supernatural love for his church – as He has awakened in you a heart for the needy- so that you see it not how it is now, but how it’s meant to be.
    May God bless you! (and I hope I don’t offend you)

    • Hey Lucila, I got a different impression from reading that line. To me, it meant the church organization as a structure and not as a collective body of people. If I re-read with your point of view I understand where you are coming from. We all need to have some level of order in our operation, but this has become a problem because many Christians worship the church and not the God of the church. I pray not to have a love for God’s church as an organization but as a people. The scripture James 1:27 just reminds me that I am put here to serve people. This is where I think many Christians go wrong.
      Have a blessed day. 🙂

    • This is an excellent response Lucila!

  12. I am actually curious, do you have any live examples of this at work? Sorry but, if these are claims, its no good.

  13. Hey, I am a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In my part of the world our local congregation started a Branch Sabbath School in our community we call it a Children’s Bible Hour (ages 2.5 – 14). We use the church van to shuttle children to a central location. There we sing songs, listen to bible stories, talk about moral issues, learn passages of scripture, conduct simple bible studies etc. The children we cater for generally come from needy families so we also provide a snack (sandwiches, juice, fruit, cake etc) each week. I’ve been helping out since the inception approximately 1.5 years ago. It has truly amazed me to see how these children have improved in behaviour and their attitude towards the messages they receive. I think this idea is one which a family can implement in their home/church community. People are always looking for positive influences for their children and this is a great opportunity.

  14. Thank you! I feel like I have FINALLY found someone who understands my heart!
    My daughters all grew up and left the church and Christianity behind them. Something that causes me immense pain. But all 5 of e grown ones, have taken with them a sense of helping others. They have all joined various community based organisations that exist to serve. So this really resonates with me on their behalf too.
    The youngest of our 7 daughters has multiple disabilities, and I wanted to share a couple of blog posts I wrote about the last experience I had in a church, 3 1/2 years ago. Since then I have been to 3 churches. My daughters wedding, my granddaughters Christening, and a friends daughters funeral. I am too afraid to try again.
    I tried to copy and paste, but it didn’t work, so I will have to send links sorry.
    And then the killer, which ended my church days

    Would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Hi Carolyn,

      It can be really hard to find a church that works for families that include someone with a disability. I have an autism spectrum disorder and left the church for 13 years because of how I was treated by people in the church. Eventually though, I found that the growth in my faith stalled without community. I have since done 2 things first, I made the decision that it was about God and not those other people and second, I prayed for God to help me find the right congregation. I now attend the church in my town that has been labeled “the church of misfit toys”. We fully embrace that label. There are two others in the church with autism spectrum disorders.

      If you’re interested, you might try looking for church with a disability ministry. Joni and Friends also has a lot of resources: http://www.joniandfriends.org including resources to help a church adapt to your child.

  15. 51. Volunteer at your local VA hospital. You don’t need any medical training. You can escort wheelchair-bound patients to appointments, drive a Disabled American Veterans van to get elderly & disabled vets to and from the hospital, cook food in the Canteen and all sorts of stuff.

  16. Hey Sam,

    You have got some great suggestions. Several of these I have done and know by experience what a rewarding experience it is for those giving as well as receiving. Also I would like to point out that prayer ministry is a valid way to serve. Many who would like to do “active” service are unable due to illness or other constraints. However, everyone can take time to pray. Pray for a particular ministry, for the homeless or other people in special need, for your neighbor or a family member. A lot of people don’t realise this but Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity have cloistered contemplative sisters whose sole purpose is to give prayer support to their active ministries. So start you prayer ministry today!? Just thought I would throw that out there. As for you active folks how about volunteering to teach an adult to read (you’d be surprised to know how many illiterate adults there are) or to teach someone English as a second language? It’s so encouraging to see people brainstorming about what good they can do in the world instead the usual finger pointing and complaining. May God bless you all in your charitable endeavors! In Christ…

  17. Hi, Sam. You are such an inspiration to get up off our duffs and get out there to BE JESUS. Such great advice in sending it to my church, if that’s ok.

    I do, however, urge you to get back to finding church that FITS. Not every church will be a match. Some churches are more about being seen and checking the box than about being Jesus. I say this because we are also commanded to be a community of like believers, to commune with our brethren (hence ‘communion’, I would guess). Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This is about accountability. A community will help each other stay faithful to the message, the WHOLE message of the bible. My fear for you is that you are stealing away from yourself a real, core peace that you can have in a community of believers that fits your incredible vision of ‘Christian’. And that they cab help you have a filter knowledge of what’s all in the bible (like: who is God? , a full picture of who he is; what doctrines are at the core of the bible; accountability – as much YOU HOLDING THEM ACCOUNTABLE as they, you). No one of us has the ability to *know* the bible and all these things by our selves, because there just isn’t enough time in the day to do that and the ‘being Jesus’ that needs done. Martin Luther is a perfect example: very studied, but his life was given to this. Solely and completely… And apart from a community of bible immersed people, it is so.very.easy. to create my own version of what the bible should be. We’ve got a billion wayward churches because they’ve ignored Matthew 18 completely, and don’t hold themselves accountable (for mutual benefit: those churches as a whole don’t want to be held accountable), and are believing not the WHOLE bible but a customized version to their liking. That is the danger.

    Three bible is complete and sufficient. But the Sacchesees (so? ) and the Pharisees did exactly that – and held up as wayward by Jesus himself.

    Please, take some time, but think about ‘shopping’ for a church that fits you. You would be such an incredible BLESSING to a body of believers! Just imagine the impact you can have inciting a Jesus revolution withina body of believers!

    Love to you, Sam!