Is the pastor leading like a servant?
"Is He a Servant Leader?" is a chapter from my book, The Perfect Pastor (2007). While this teaching narrative speaks specifically to pastors, the insights are still relevant to deacons, elders, missionaries, and any other Christian leader.
CHAPTER 9 - IS HE A SERVANT?
The ringing was coming from some distant and remote place. It was persistent and grew louder until he realized it was the phone on the nightstand. With his mind muddled from deep sleep, he picked up the phone more out of habit than cognition. “Hello,” Dan said weakly.
“She’s only got an hour or so to live. Please come. Our family needs you here,” he vaguely heard.
Without even thinking he agreed. “I’ll be over as soon as I can.” He forced himself to sit up, rubbed his face with his hands, and tried to crawl out of his dreams. Grabbing his robe, he practically stumbled down the creaky stairs and into the kitchen. The mug came off the rack and was placed under the running faucet. Dan shuffled over to the microwave and zapped the container for two minutes. He threw a slice of bread in the toaster and then made his way back to the sink to wash his face with cold water. The mental mist was beginning to dissipate when the microwave beeped.
He took two caffeinated coffee bags, dropped them into the bubbling water and added a touch of sugar. Leaving the coffee to steep he practically jogged up the steps. It took him five minutes to dress and make it back downstairs. A scribbled note was promptly stuck to the white fridge. Dan then snatched the unbuttered toast and braced it between his teeth while grabbing his mug on the way out the kitchen door. The stove’s clock read 2:30.
He stepped out into the warm sultry air from his air-conditioned house. It was oppressive, yet fit the occasion. Intermittent dollops of fog especially thick where the four-lane road cut through meadows put a drag on his time. The snail’s pace gave him time to inhale his toast and guzzle the black ink. Parking near the three-story building was easy. Dan double-timed his way around to the emergency room entrance. No one stopped him as he charged through the closing elevator doors. The ride up two stories seemed to take as long as his drive out.
When the noisy old doors pulled, open he turned immediately left and fled down the corridor to the fourth room on the left directly across the hall from the nurses’ station. With the door nearly shut, he gently knocked and entered a dimly lit room. The stuffy room with the scent of the hospital’s medicinal potpourri was overpowered by a putrid urea. The haunting melody and rhythmic beat of clicks, hisses, and beeps from the various machines pulsated in the background. Wires and tubes draped here and there monitored her breathing, pulse, and blood pressure and regulated drips of morphine and sedatives to ease the pain and panic.
Marilou’s tall husband tearfully shook Dan’s hand and thanked him for coming. The two daughters stood to the right of their mother. Jane, the oldest child held holding her mother’s right hand. Lydia was backed up against the large window, her husband seated to her right. Jane had obvious command of the situation from day one. It helped that she was a nursing supervisor at her hometown hospital. Even this night she was well put together, dressed in a silver halter top blouse, charcoal grey slacks and dressy black sandals, which coordinated with her salt-and-pepper hair. Tears had washed her navy blue mascara and most of her rose-tinted blush away.
Jane acknowledged Dan and explained that her mother had lapsed into a coma around 1:00 A.M. Although the doctor gave her several more hours, Jane had a confident sense that it was a matter of minutes. Jane recounted for him the previous day’s events and the last words her mother uttered in the early afternoon.
Marilou’s breathing was as weak as her skin’s grayish-yellow undertone. As did Jane, Dan sensed the sixty-seven-year-old rested on the precipice of another world. From the day the doctors confirmed their diagnosis, Marilou fought the breast cancer courageously but the beast had come upon her with a treacherous swiftness. She refused to surrender to her beast until three weeks ago, and she refused to return to the hospital until she could no longer bear it. On his regular visits Dan could literally see both cancer’s daily possession and death drawing the life from her. He gently encouraged her to give in to heaven’s call and assured her that her husband, daughters, and grandchildren were in good hands.
Marilou had made a profession of faith at Grace and was baptized shortly after her first round of chemotherapy. Although Dan was willing, he had never been trained for this kind of ministry. At seminary, he and his classmates received an hour’s worth of lectures on this kind of mercy ministry.
Jane asked Dan to lead the little group in prayer. He agreed and kindly ordered everyone to gather around the bed. Mack held his wife’s left, cold, limp hand. Dan stood at the foot of the bed in between the sons-in-law and reached for their hands. “Let’s pray,” he softly commanded. He could hear Marilou take three short gasps each followed by three long pauses. The very moment he said “Amen” she gasped one last deep breath through her parched and peeling lips and then exhaled her last.
A machine’s hushed beep of her erratic pulse now softly whined. Mack and Lydia broke down. Jane and the men remained silent. Two nurses quickly entered the room to check on their patient. One immediately left the room and summoned the doctor on call. In five minutes he arrived and officially pronounced her deceased. The attending nurse wrote down 3:24 A.M. as the official time of death, and then shut off all the machines. She told the pastor she would give the family as long as they needed before returning.
After tearful reminiscences, around 4:15, the family decided it was time to leave their beloved wife and mother. Mack stopped at the nurses’ station to sign a few forms before joining his family in the vacant cafeteria. Jane did most of the talking, explaining the funeral plans and other essentials to Dan. When the family became too exhausted, they hugged and promised to gather the next day at Dad’s. They thanked Dan profusely for his service. Dan committed himself to be available whenever they needed him, and with that, he walked out into Saturday’s rising sun.
Life's Challenges and the Leader
This was one of the most difficult weeks in Dan’s life. The previous Sunday started quite well, with the blessing of a baby’s baptism. The infant girl’s parents were relatively new members at the church, having given a credible profession of their faith in Jesus Christ about the time their child was conceived. They understood that the baptism did not confer a guaranteed salvation upon Madison’s soul, but rather it was a sign and seal that pointed to the sacrificial death of Christ for sin. Her parents vowed to love and nurture her and to call upon her to apply a saving faith to the meaning of her baptism, trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior from her sin, guilt and God’s wrath. That afternoon was spent celebrating the baptism with the parents and their extended family at the baby’s new home. Dan and Mona left their two sons at home with a babysitter but brought their little newborn with them.
He was unable to take his normal Monday off because of another crisis: a middle-aged woman made a surprise visit to the Lees’ home to talk with the pastor about leaving her husband. The thirty-seven-year-old minister and his sweet wife listened to the frantic woman’s story of neglect, verbal, and emotional abuse. The meeting lasted over two hours. Dan was able to get her to commit to counseling, but she said she could not ask her husband to come for counseling because he would explode in a rage and that would only make things worse for her and the children. She was a member of the church, but her husband never professed faith in Christ. The story was uncannily familiar.
That afternoon at the hospital, he extended his visit with Marilou. His evening supper was interrupted by a frantic phone call from one of the long-term members. She was crying so hard that at first, he understood her to say that her husband had died. Dan’s heart sank. He immediately took off to her home only to discover her husband standing with her at the door and to find that it was her husband’s father who had passed away. Obviously, the two were grieved and quite upset. For Dan it was a big relief, on the one hand, seeing her husband alive, but also sad to share their grief.
Dan also discovered mid-week that a deacon and several families had been meeting privately to discuss “the issue with the pastor.” When the pastor asked the deacon he admitted there was a gathering, but it was an informal fellowship that had nothing to do with the pastor. Knowing full well this deacon’s friendship with the Dumpletons and Deacon John who had left the church, Dan urged the man to follow Matthew 18 - to talk with him directly about concerns or Dan’s apparent sins before talking with others. He also warned him that if the rumors were true and he was involved in gossip and slander, Dan would have to proceed with formal discipline against him. The deacon acted as if there was nothing wrong and assured the pastor he would come to the pastor if he had any grievances.
Wednesday afternoon Ellie May’s family asked him to visit her in the nursing home. She was an eighty-one-year-old member with Alzheimer’s disease whose health was also failing. She did not recognize him or remember his visits, but the family appreciated them. Irma was always quick to remind him it was his duty to check on her, and Bernie would scold him if he missed a week.
These were unexpected events that fought for Dan’s normal schedule of the regular Tuesday morning Bible study, a pastoral visit that night, a luncheon appointment Wednesday, a care group meeting on Wednesday night, the bi-weekly prayer meeting in the church’s basement on Thursday night, the Friday morning prayer gathering with some of the elders and deacons, Friday afternoon discipling with Matthew, Friday night youth activities, and the Saturday morning breakfast and leadership training after the hospital ministry. Dan was finding it very difficult to finish his sermon and the Sunday bulletin. The pastor had to get the hymns to the pianist and finish the bulletin in time to run it over to the printers. He also had to prepare for Saturday afternoon’s presbytery committee meeting to investigate charges against one of the pastors in the region for supposed abuse. He hadn’t finished his assigned homework on that either.
Then very early Saturday morning he received the dreaded summons to the hospital. No one, not even his mother, told him there would be weeks like this. Nevertheless, as his military brother would remind him, this is what he signed up for. It was. He was called to serve. From the moment he became a committed Christian, and got involved in the life of a church all the way through seminary, he had a romantic vision of serving as a pastor. The school of life often has a habit of teaching masterful lessons through strong doses of reality.
The Pastor's Priorities
It took Dan more than four years of pastoral service before he understood that his priority was to serve the Lord before serving others (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24), and to serve the Lord by serving others. It also took that long for him to catch on that he was to serve the Lord’s agenda, but not any other agenda that deviated from his most vital mission. Not until he learned that hard-won lesson did he run across Brian Dodd’s statement: “Bob Schaper, a seminary professor of mine, taught me a motto that has helped me keep the balance between obedience to Christ and a servant-like posture towards people: I am your servant, but you are not my master." Dan had a friend take the professor’s statement and make a framed calligraphic wall hanging for his office, not so much for visitors to the office but for him to keep this cogent and balanced truth always before his eyes.
Various opinions abound about the nature of pastoral service. Even scholars, theologians and pastors differ. Some say the primary role of a pastor is as a priest and worship leader. That was a predominant view of the medieval church and is a pronounced feature in certain hierarchical churches. Others declare that the primary role of a pastor is as preacher. The Reformation period emphasized this role, and various traditions still hold this position. In the Reformed tradition the pastor is preacher, declaring the will of God to sinners and saints. In some Baptist or other like churches, the pastor is preacher who preaches an evangelistic message of salvation to the sinners sitting in the pews. Certain independent Bible churches see the role of the pastor as teacher whose purpose is to teach the church solid doctrine whenever it gathers. Such churches were quite popular in the 1960s to late 1980s, though several exist today. Their model for a church is taken from the classroom. In the era of megachurches, pastors are perceived as chief executive officers who oversee a large staff who, in turn, direct and run the many programs. Recently there have been many books calling for churches and pastors to see the pastoral role as primarily that of a biblical shepherd, which, of course, is the meaning of the term pastor.
However, the overarching model in Scripture for a pastor, which ties all other roles and duties together is that of a servant, just like Jesus the grand Servant. Christ declared that anyone who desired to be great in his kingdom must be a servant, just as he had come not to be served but to serve, even to the point of sacrificial death (Matt. 20:26-28). That was God’s mission for him – the eternal Son of God came to be a man, and in a radical reversal of human proclivities became a lowly slave in order to accomplish the high purposes of God (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 12:1-2). He was and is the perfect prophet, priest and king, the wonderful shepherd, teacher, healer, and savior, but he executed all those roles through God-ordained, God-directed service. Jesus was and is the consummate humble servant (Isa. 49:5; Luke 22:27; Heb. 3:1-6), the One who was self-sacrificing (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).
Jesus made it clear that the manner in which his disciples were to function, rule, lead, and shepherd the citizens of God’s kingdom was in the form of a willing servant and a humble slave. That was the object lesson the Master taught in Luke 22 when he said that while he sat as the premier one at the table he really sat as the servant. Then, when he wanted to summarily demonstrate what he had been teaching all the while about the nature of his disciples’ role and position in the Kingdom, he dressed down and acted just like a common slave washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). This living parable was punctuated by Christ’s own teaching: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13 ESV). In other words, they were right to address and treat him as dignified royalty. Yet though this King of kings and Lord of Lords had every right to claim his place and title he does something dramatically profound, once again a reversal to humanity’s sinful nature – he declares himself an honorable servant: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet” (John 13:14)! And should his disciples be as dense as many of us, he explains exactly why he said and did what he said and did: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15-17). “[S]ervant leadership must be humble because proud people serve only for what they get out of it. Humble people serve for the sake of those being served, not for their own sake” (Lawrence, 1999, p. 88). Christ’s people are servants, and leaders in Christ’s church are servants of servants. A reversal from the natural world.
That’s the nature of Christ’s kingdom – a topsy-turvy world as John Gilmore tells us about Jesus:
Hans King writes: ‘For those who supported law and order, he turned out to be a provocateur, dangerous to the system. He disappointed the activist revolutionaries by his nonviolent love of peace. On the other hand, he offended the passive world- forsaking ascetics by his uninhibited worldliness. And for the devout who adapted themselves to the world, he was uncompromising. For the silent majority he was too noisy, and for the noisy majority he was too quiet, too gentle for the strict and too strict for the gentle’ (2002, pp. 53-54).
The Idea of Servitude from Ancient Times
To understand how radical and also how degrading was Christ’s self-imposed position and the place of his disciples we must understand the nature of the ancient slave.
There were several Greek terms for servant or slave (Bauer, 1979; BibleWorks 5, 2002; Brown, 1979). The first, more common word was doulos, which identified the person as being on the opposite side of the class spectrum of a freeman or citizen master-owner. A doulos-slave was owned either by the government or by a personal master. The public doulos-servant had no rights, but could control a city’s treasury and, as such, wield considerable influence. The doulos-slave owned by a personal master was the more common type of servant. As a non-person, he or she had absolutely no rights: no right to marriage, to children, or to protection as a slave, but merely protection as the master’s property. The slave existed for the master’s purposes. The will and desires of the master were to be obeyed and fulfilled. Anything the master wanted of the slave he got – anything (BibleWorks, 2002; Cowell, 1980, pp. 95-107; Davis, 1912, pp. 90-97; Frame, 2006; Gill, 2006; Glancy, 2006; Stark, 2003, pp.295-300)!
The Romans had over a dozen different terms which defined the nature of the slave’s duties: a cook, farmer, footman, gardener, messenger, prostitute, steward, storekeeper, etc. In other words, there could be specialist slaves and those might include the role of teacher or physician. A doulos-slave could be given the responsibility to oversee the finances and run the household, in which case he was a household steward who had control over the master’s other slaves (Matt. 8:9).
There was the pais or paidos, which described someone of a child’s status (Matt. 2:16; Luke 8:51). When these terms referenced an adult it was to identify a servant or slave who would most likely always remain in that status of a “boy” unless some gracious circumstance emancipated him and brought him to the legal status of a man.
Another type of servant was a diakonos who rendered service, help or aid to another, many times voluntarily. Usually, the tasks were of a necessary, but mundane or menial, nature. The very term itself did not necessarily mean he or she was a slave but he or she served or ministered in some capacity. The individual could be a waiter at a special function or a household servant. The diakonos-servant may or may not have been paid. Those godly men specially gifted and filled with the Spirit of God whom God called to serve alongside the apostles in order for the apostles to dedicate themselves to the tasks God had ordained for them were called deacons (diakonos) (Acts 6).
One other Greek term the Bible uses is the huperetes-servant. This was an assistant or helper who was given the task of carrying out the expressed will and explicit orders of another. He could be a court officer (Matt. 5:25), an officer in the Jewish Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:58), a king’s attendant (John 18:36) or an attendant in a synagogue (Luke 4:20).
Of all those above the most contemptible, despicable position of that day was that of a doulos-slave. Yet, it is that very classification Jesus, Lord of the universe, took upon himself (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus, was God’s master-servant who came to serve and not be served (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27). He is the glorified paida-servant of God (Acts 3:13; 3:26; 4:27, 30). Jesus fulfilled the model of doulos-slaves Moses (Deut. 34:5; Ps. 105:26; Mal. 4:4; Rev. 15:3), Joshua (Josh. 24:29) and King David (2 Sam. 3:18; Ps. 78:70; Luke1:69; Acts 4:25) exemplified in the Old Testament. Jesus came not only as God’s slave but came to be a diakonos-servant to Israel (Rom. 15:8). Like a perfect slave, Jesus put his life subordinate to the cause of the Father’s will.
As the steward-slave, Jesus was and is the overseer of God’s other servants or slaves. He told the disciples that if anyone would serve him that person must follow him, and wherever Jesus would go his servant would also be there. But not only that, those who serve the Christ-Servant will be honored by the Master-Father (John 12:24-26). Later Jesus identified another position disciples have, and that is as his friends (John 15:15-27). His point was not that they were emancipated from serving their Father-God, or Christ, or one another, but that they were now privy to understand the will of the Master in a way similar to Jesus. But the specific will they were to understand was the inevitability of being persecuted and suffering just as their fellow doulos-servant Jesus (John 15:20). All true disciples of Jesus Christ are doulos-slaves of their Master. And therefore all disciples hold that same level status with all the other doulos-slaves of God.
Jesus, the master-servant, orders his subordinate servants to minister just like him (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20). That means Christ’s disciples, who would be given the Spirit, be empowered as apostles to lay the foundation for the New Testament people of God, who had Christ’s delegated mandate and authority, were to administer their positions first and foremost as servants (1 Cor. 4:1-2; Tit. 1:7). After Christ’s death and resurrection, this ragtag group of class-inferior men was elevated to a remarkably high and lofty position in the eternal body of Christ. Nevertheless, they and all those who immediately followed in their footsteps had the mind of Christ in them. That is since Jesus set aside his rightful place as God and lived for others as the Servant of servants (Phil. 2:3-7) they did too. If he did, and they did, so should we.
In the New Testament the term that most frequently classifies one in the role of oversight and administrative rule in church government is not “pastor.” For that noun is used only once, in Ephesians 4:11 and the verbal form “to shepherd” is used in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2. The overwhelmingly most popular terms are the doulos-slave or diakonos-servant. The person in this position is a serving minister. However, today the word minister tends to pack baggage that escapes the lowly, humble service role of a slave. Perhaps the pastor should be labeled slave or steward-slave? Yet again, he is a slave to Christ and of God, who sacrificially serves others (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35). Other slave-disciples are not masters, even over the specially called and ordained minister.
The identities given to the apostles, elders and pastors in the New Testament fully illustrates this. They are all classified as doulos-slaves or diakonos-servants that do specific ministries (Acts 6:4; 2 Cor. 3:3). Peter, James, John, Jude are doulos-slaves of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1; James 1:1; Rev. 1:1; Jude 1:1). Paul uses doulos-slave and diakonos-servant at least as often as the title apostle. This is because more than anything else he is called to serve God, the saints (Rom. 15:25; 2 Cor. 8:19), and even Gentile unbelievers. He is a doulos-slave in Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10, Phil. 1:1; Ti. 1:1, and a diakonos-servant in Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25. At his conversion, God abruptly called and appointed Paul to be God’s huperete-servant (an attendant or assistant who carries out the explicit orders of his master) of the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-18). Paul labels what he does service or ministry in Acts 20:24, Rom. 11:13, 2 Cor. 3:1-6; 4:1-2, and 1 Tim. 1:12. Luke later says that he received his information for the Gospel record he wrote from the eyewitnesses and huperete-servants of God’s Word (Luke 1:1-2).
These apostles were not the only slaves or servants. Paul’s young protégé and fellow-servant Mark, author of the Gospel, was useful for diakonos-service (2 Tim. 4:11), as was Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:5). Phoebe, a godly woman and friend of Paul’s was it (Rom. 16:1-2). Other men, often recognized as church planters or pastors were diakonos-servants, translated ministers: Archippus (Col. 4:17), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), and Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7).
The ways in which God’s slaves or servants minister vary. They are to serve as slaves to God (2 Cor. 6:4; Tit. 1:1, 7) and of Christ (Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24). These ministers must understand along with others that their lives and ministries are living sacrifices to God (2 Sam. 24:24; Acts 20:24; 21:13; Phil 2:7; 3;7-8; 2 Tim. 4:6). Through love they serve one another like a doulos-slave (Gal. 5:13), using whatever gift(s) God gives in order to doulos-serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10). The Corinthian church, fellow-saints and servants with Paul, did this when they ministered to the saints in Jerusalem through their financial gifts (2 Cor. 9:1, 2, 11, 12).
All believers in Christ are equal as humble slaves (Acts 2:18; 1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6; Col. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:24). They are called to do God’s bidding, serve Christ, and minister to one another. Yet, as we have seen, some of these slaves have been called, gifted, trained and ordained to be steward-slaves in a special office ordained by Christ (2 Cor. 3:9; 4:6; Eph. 4:11ff). These stewards administrate and oversee God’s household by means of God’s Word through love (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 6:34; Acts 20:20; 1 Cor. 12:28, 31; Col. 1:28; 1 Tim. 1:3; 3:2, 16; 4:11-12; 6:2-5; Jas. 3:1 Rev. 7:17) and serve in the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). Performing service in Christ for God’s people (2 Cor. 4:5) ministers do so with diligence (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15).
Servant Leaders in the Church
These servants placed in their respective roles and particular office, are answerable to God. They are to live for Christ, never ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:8-11; 2:11-13), always focused upon Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim. 2:8-13) and always ready to suffer for Christ (Luke 21:19; 2 Tim. 2:3-7; 3:10-12).
Therefore, the pastor and elder are called to train and discipline their lives for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-11) so as to become and serve more and more like Christ the perfect servant (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20; 2 Cor. 3:10; 1 Tim. 4:14-15; 6:11; Tit. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:4). After all, the pastor or elder is to incarnate and model Christ (2 Cor. 12:18; 1 Thess. 2:10-12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). The pastor and elder are also to put to use the good gift(s) the Lord has placed upon them. Indeed, they are called upon to fan the flame or rekindle the gift(s) of God in his life (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).
These ministers are to serve God’s people as Christ’s stewards, neither aiming to cater to or please people (Gal. 1:10), nor fearing people (Deut. 10:12; Eccl. 12:13; Ps. 118:6; Isa. 12:2; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17). No judgment is to be leveled against them by fellow servants of Christ based upon the personal preferences or desires they might have (Matt. 20:20-28; Rom. 14:1-4).
While the slave or steward is the all-encompassing paradigm for those who have been gifted, called, tested and ordained to the office of pastor or elder they minister primarily through God’s Word (Mk. 6:34b; Jn. 21:15ff; Col. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1ff; Jas. 3:1) and through the various roles identified by God in his Word. The roles include serving as a shepherd (Jer. 3:15; John 21:15ff; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:12), a professor-teacher, a preacher, parent, a peacemaker, a mentor and model, and as an evangelist. The servant-minister is also described in roles as an athlete (1 Cor. 9:24-25; Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1), a farmer (2 Tim. 2:6), messenger (2 Cor. 8:23), a soldier (Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:3-4), and a good worker (2 Cor. 6:1; Phil. 2:25).
Ultimately, Jesus’ ministry provides the model for all his ministers. London and Wiseman report one such way:
The life of Jesus provides a wonderful pattern. He modeled spontaneity of service. Wherever He went, He had time for the person in front of Him. I can’t remember one time in Scripture where He told a needy person to take a number or make an appointment. When we don’t make room for margins, the person in front of us is an obstacle we have to get around to get to our next appointment. But what if the person in front of us is the exact expression of ministry God has planned for us next? Jesus provided a model of caring for the need of the person in front of you (1993, p. 225).
Serving Others is Transformational
Marilou and her family were at the front of the line. The abused wife was there too. Other incidentals at the top of Irma’s and Bernie’s and the deacon’s lists were incidental and in the grand scheme of eternity insignificant. They had no right to dictate their preferences or command their desires to Daniel. No fellow disciple-servant does.
God’s providential work was exerting a transforming pressure upon Pastor Dan to teach him in a mild way what Paul had to learn in a tortuous way when the apostle wrote:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed -- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor 4:7-18).
Is Your Service This Bad?
While the pastor had gone through the most challenging week in his pastoral ministry, he did not come close to Paul’s “light afflictions”:
From the Jews five times, I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness --besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:24-28).
Everything Paul did after his conversion, call and commission was in the service of Christ to serve Christ’s Church. Furthermore, Paul was living out biblical servitude as described for us in Isaiah 50:4-6 and 53:7, by enduring beatings, mockeries, and spittings without retreating in fear or retaliating in fury. Dan was certainly humbled when he read these verses during his morning devotions. Some of the pressure he had been feeling was self-imposed. He was allowing intruders to stress him out. So what if he did not finish the bulletin or completely resolve people’s problems or lead the studies perfectly or unintentionally offend demanding, self-absorbed, self-appointed masters? What mattered was that he was to serve with Christ’s priorities by grace, mercy, and love. As John Frye says, “Compassion, Christ’s activated love, received and given away to harassed and helpless people, is the heart of empowered pastoral ministry” (2000, p. 95).
At the top of the list in need of Christ’s compassion were Marilou and her family. So too was the woman in crisis. Yet also preparing Sunday’s message from God was a top priority. All else could be done another time. If the critics did not like it, then so be it. Neither Paul nor the rest of the apostles would cater to the selfish preferences and whims of the emotionally and spiritually immature. Why should Dan, or any other minister?
Paul made it clear that his ministry was empowered by God through the Gospel treasure in his own body (2 Cor. 4:7). He went through great trials as he bore the cross of Jesus for others. In Christ Paul took up his own cross, dying to his wants and ways so that the redemptive, reconciling life of Jesus would be brought about in others. That is the nature of true Christ-like, pastoral ministry. In fact, that is the core value of all true church ministries. Paul was often down, but never out. He later defended the ministry of the Cross which he and his co-workers were engaged in against the many different accusations hurled at them. He wrote:
We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well-known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Cor. 6:3-10).
Pastor Dan was learning more lessons in humility and of seeing things from a heavenly perspective. Pastoring was indeed hard and challenging, but nothing compared to what he might be called to do for Christ. His ministry in Christ was difficult but relatively easy compared to Paul’s and others like Paul who gave all their lives for Jesus in service to his Church.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:3, was not claiming that the antagonists (and he had many) were not offended. They chose to take offense, unreasonably and sinfully so. What Paul was saying was that no matter what his enemies were saying, he had a clear conscience because from God’s assessment of things his ministry was not offensive. From this passage, Daniel was beginning to really grasp the nature, the core of a true servant’s ministry. A far cry from what so many want of a pastor’s service!
All Christians are Called to Serve
Lest any Christian conclude that only Jesus and his ordained pastors are servants who humbly serve, we have seen that this call to Cross-centered, Gospel-possessed ministry applies to all true believers. Many within the church seek power, position or praise. The ones who seek to obtain it the most are the ones who are the least in Christ’s estimate (Mark 10:43, 44). These also tend to be the most obnoxious and abusive. It is time God’s people recognize such arrogant evil for what it is and call for genuine repentance or for excommunication.
All of God’s people, regardless of their position in life or in the church are called to serve God for his glory (Exod. 7:15; 8:1; 9:1, 13; 23:25; Deut. 10:12; Josh. 24:14; 1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 34:33; Rom. 7:6; 12:11; 1 Cor. 15:58; Eph. 6:7). We are all called to serve God:
- in love with all our hearts and all our souls (Deut. 10:12)
- with sincerity and truth (Josh. 24:14)
- with fear and trembling (Ps. 2:11)
- with gladness and singing (Ps. 100:2)
- with goodwill toward others (Eph. 6:7)
- with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28)
- with humility (Matt. 10:42; 25:23, 37, 47; Mark 9:41; John 12:3; Acts 20:18-19)
- and with joy (Ps. 40:8; Ps. 100:2; Luke 10:17)
In Christ, we are also called to use the liberty we have to serve others (Gal. 5:13). In fact, if we are truly the Lord’s then we will serve others (John 13:14; 2 Cor. 4:5; Gal. 5:13; Phil. 2:3-8). Pastor Dan recognized the importance of self-sacrificial service for the good of the Body of Christ and therefore, taught new members how biblical service is manifested through the New Testament’s one-another commands:
1. God’s people serve when they demonstrate true love and Christian community with one another (John 13:34-35; 15:12; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 1:5). They do this when they:
* By admonishing one another. To admonish means to train by word through reproof. (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 10:11; Eph. 6:4; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Tit. 3:10)
* By teaching one another in God’s Word (Deut. 6:4-9; Col. 3:16; Heb. 5:11-14)
* By exhorting and encouraging one another in Christ (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11)
* By edifying or building up one another (Acts 20:32; Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 4:12-13; 1 Thess. 5:11)
* God’s people serve by sharing the Truth of God’s Word with one another.
2. God’s people serve by praying for others in the church. Indeed, God commands it of his servants (Acts 13:1-3; Jas. 5:15; Eph. 6:18-19; I Tim. 2:1-4). We see examples in Jesus’ prayer for his own (John 17), Paul’s prayers for believers (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-19; Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 1:9-12; 2:2-3; I Thess. 3:10-13; 2 Thess. 1:11-12).
* Seek the good welfare of others (Rom. 15:2), this is a self-giving, sacrificial demonstration of the goodness and grace of God.
* Refuse to have ill will toward anyone (Rom. 13:8-10).
* Seek to do good to all people, but especially toward those that are of the household of the faith (Gal. 6:10 cp. 1 Cor. 13; Col. 3:12).
* Show authentic affection to one another (Rom. 12:10; 16:16; 1 Cor. 13; 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet. 5:14).
3. God’s people serve because they have Christ’s servant’s attitude (Rom. 12:10; Eph.5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).
* Servants will practice hospitality toward one another (Rom. 15:7; I Pet. 4:9).
* Christ-like servants will care about the needs of others (1 Cor. 12:25; Gal. 6:2).
* God’s servants will exercise spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11ff; 1 Pet. 4:10).
* Believers will serve each other with humility, gentleness, patience, and bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2).
* Christ’s people will submit to one another in the fear of the Lord (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).
* God’s servants will build each other up (1 Thess.5:11).
* His servants will forgive each other in Christ (Col. 3:13).
* God’s people will serve by finding ways to stir each other up to love and do good works (Heb. 10:24).
4. Servants of Christ, among other things, will be careful:
* Not to condemn others in Christ about matters of personal conscience (Rom. 14:13).
* Not to destroy the character of others (Gal. 5:14, 15, 26), nor speak evil against others (Jas. 4:11-5:9).
* Not to lie to one another (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9).
* Not to allow bitterness, wrath, anger, angry shouting, blasphemy or slander and malice to be expressed toward one another (Eph. 4:31).
* Not to sue one another in a secular court of law (1 Cor. 6:7).
The things God put Dan through to teach him that he was first and foremost God’s servant were potent and difficult lessons. Nevertheless, he was grateful to the Lord for them. As he drove home from the hospital that sultry morning he was able to ruminate upon the week’s crises, but more importantly, upon God’s tutorials. Wearied physically and emotionally, it did not stifle that sense of liberty that was welling up within him – a true liberty to serve God’s people in God’s way.
The question that loomed over him was whether this particular church was willing to change according to a more biblical model of servanthood or if not, should he exert his energies in another church.
(c) D. Thomas Owsley