(The concept of “Loving Freely” is the antidote to the “Underbelly of Service” idea)



I knew something was wrong, I just couldn’t name it. I knew there was a disconnect happening in my soul when I was loving and serving people, particularly those on the margins.

I then went through Dignity Serves and was made aware of a deeply flawed underbelly in my soul happening in the way I was serving. In reality I wanted something out of the way I was helping. I wanted their affirmation and the feeling that I was their hero. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to be right. I wanted the feeling that I had made all things right. In reality, I wanted to be Jesus.


The conclusion of Dignity Serves ends with this; “Most people who go through the Dignity Serves curriculum struggle with codependence in some measure. One way to describe codependence is the false belief that happiness in your life depends on certain changes in someone else’s life. This belief may persist in spite of consistent evidence to the contrary and heroic yet fruitless efforts to make the change you feel is so necessary.


If you find yourself feeling trapped in the role of caring for others or with a profound need to control situations and outcomes, you may be suffering from codependence. You may also tend to blame others for how you feel or are waiting for someone else to save you. Codependence has many faces, but at its core it is a futile attempt to extract love from other people. And it is exhausting. What is often missing is the core belief you are already deserving of love yourself and that you already possess the love of God. (Dignity Serves, v. 5; Phil Hissom)


So, that set me on a six year-long journey to visit what was going on internally. I went back to counseling. I read Pete Scazzero, Howard Thurman, Henri Nouwen, Martin Luther King Jr., Parker Palmer, sat in Romans 8, Philippians 3, and even memorized John 14. This culminated in a presentation I did for Desire Street Ministries on the “Underbelly of Service: Why the False Self Plagues so many ministries.“ The thrust of this content was to share out of my own struggles how the false self leaks out in so many different ways of serving those on the margins and results in compassion fatigue or narcissism.

Recently I was encouraged to develop the antidote to the Underbelly of Service content. Through all of the influences already mentioned as well as the scriptures, my walk with Christ in my own struggles to discover my true self in Christ, conversations with my wife, with the community around me, and interactions with my homeless friends have all lead into the concept of Loving Freely.

The antidote of the Underbelly of Service is coming to a place of Loving Freely as the beloved child of God through dignified interdependent relationships. The concept of dignified interdependent relationships means that we are able to give and receive freely with God and others with Christ as the center. We cannot truly love others well until we learn what it means for Christ’s love to be made true in our own inner world. It means that we give with no hidden agenda, no strings attached or to prove something. We are able to receive help freely because we know how much Christ loves us and we are his beloved. Through being served by others we come to a place of being mutually transformed.

This resource is an attempt of combining the theological worlds of Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Pete Scazzero, Parker Palmer and Henri Nouwen. Thurman developed the phrase, “Island of Peace within your own soul.” This is why the featured picture is of an island. King wrote a book called, “Strength to Love”. Scazzero leads the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality organization and talks frequently about the “true self in Christ”. Palmer is a Quaker and has written many books about the true self. And Nouwen is a Catholic priest and has written extensively about being the beloved child of God and dealing with the father wound.

If I am to be honest, this content is about Christ serving me in order that my life give Him glory. After fifteen years of being in vocational ministry, I have now realized that while Christ led me to the ministry to help and serve others, he was really using the ministry context to help and serve me in order to make me more like himself. I have struggled greatly with two opposite ends of the spectrum of the false self of serving; codependency and narcissism. Codependency being the false beliefs that happiness in my life exists because of the way people change and narcissism thinking that I’m the savior in people’s lives, not Jesus. Both approaches have gotten me in a world of trouble. It has left me burned out, bitter, mad, and depleted of any energy or emotion to love. This is called compassion fatigue.

So what’s the process look like? How do we come to a place where we are giving and receiving freely with God, self and others? How do we develop a posture to be served by those on the margins? That’s what the Loving Freely process is really about. It’s a resource to equip ministry leaders serving those on the margins to love out of abundance.


The process of loving freely follows the narrative theological framework of creation, fall, redemption, and completion found in the Bible. We are able to come to a place of loving freely only when we understand that we are created for glory, understand the power of the fall by visiting our family of origin, name the core lie from our past, and discover the true self in Christ as a glimpse of what is to come.


First, we understand the glory that God creates in all of us in order to love and serve well. We then are honest about the affect of the fall and how it shames us. We work through our shadows and family of origin, being honest about the affects of the fall in the interior parts of our lives and the way it affects the way we serve. We then repent and place our faith and trust in Christ as he makes all things new in the interior and exterior parts of our lives. We begin to discover the true self in Christ that was placed there in creation and that loving those on the margins needs to come from that true self. We then begin to live into a rhythm of dignified interdependent relationships with God, self and others as a glimpse of what is to come when Jesus comes to restore all things.


This is a place where we are “loving Jesus above all else” as Scazzero says and loving others from an “Island of Peace within one’s one soul.” The phrase, “Island of Peace” is from Howard Thurman’s “Meditations from the Heart”. In it he writes, “Each one has to deal with the evil aspects of life, with injustices inflicted upon him and injustices which he wittingly or unwittingly inflicts upon others. We are all of us deeply involved in the throes of our own weaknesses and strengths, expressed often in the profoundest conflicts within our own souls. The only hope for surcease, the only possibility of stability for the person, is to establish an Island of Peace within one’s own soul. Well within the island is the Temple where God dwells—not the God of the creed, the church, the family, but the God of one’s heart.”


Thurman is a hero of the faith that lived during segregation, Jim Crow and was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr, and the theologian where the Civil Rights found much of its theological under pinning’s. I am finding my own faith in Christ greatly challenged by the way he was able to walk closely with Christ through all he faced.


This place of loving freely means we can give and receive with God and others not from a place of codependency where we are constantly trying to fix others or narcissism, where we think our thing is going to solve and fix the world. It’s loving freely as God’s beloved child of God where the love we give is patient, kind and longsuffering and rooted in God’s love for us. It’s also a place where we realize that we are not the savior, Jesus is. The purest glimpse of this is being in a dignified interdependent relationship with Christ, self and others.


Loving freely really means;

  • To come to a place where you can give and receive freely as the beloved child of God. This, is a dignified interdependent relationships.
  • Not having to prove yourself to God, others or yourself through the ministry you lead, serve in or the person you are trying to help.
  • Receiving help, guidance and advice from the community around you allowing them to speak into your blind spots, but also allowing them to remind you who you are in Christ.
  • Paying attention to how Christ is serving you through the people, structures, and jobs around you. To often we spend so much time trying to change people or the structures around us and miss the fact that maybe Jesus is trying to change us?
  • Loving others with no strings attached, no hidden agenda or coercion.
  • Not trying to extract love from other people changing or your ministry going well.
  • Holding loosely what Christ has called you to lead realizing that “God cares more about who you are than what you can do.” (Dr. Anthony Gordon; Desire Street Ministries)
  • Being able to live a life of “differentiation” when you serve and love others. Differentiation means you can be yourself regardless of what others say or think when you serve something.


If you are interested in taking the journey with us to come to a place of “Loving Freely”, let’s talk! The options for delivering this content are as follows:


  • Schedule to take the Dignity Serves training. The roots of Loving Freely come from this amazing study.
  • Schedule Dan to come and present the content in 30 minutes, 1 hour or a 4 hour format to your small group, church leaders, house church, business team or a team of people you think need to hear this message.
  • Sign up for bi-weekly emails on this content that Dan will be sending out regularly.
  • Join a monthly “Loving Freely” learning co-op. These are a group of 7-10 people that are serving those on the margins that meet monthly for 90 minutes to discuss how their false self affects the way they serve, but are giving their lives to Christ and learning to serve through dignified interdependent relationships.
  • Meet with me at the coffee shop in our neighborhood to discuss how Christ is serving us.


*This is a work in process and I am sure this content and deliverables will be changed over the next year.


Thank you to all of those who have spoken into this. I am so deeply grateful for you and your belief in the true self that Christ has placed in me.


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