Servantship For Ministers (Isaiah 49:7, Matthew 20:25-8)

The Sevant, by GC Meyers,
This is what the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, says to one who is despised, to one abhorred by people, to a servant of rulers:  “Kings will see and stand up, and princes will bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel—and He has chosen you.”
-Isaiah 49:7 (HCSB)

But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”.
-Matthew 20:25-8 (HCSB)


What does the word "servant" bring to your mind?  Here are some words that I equate with that word:
  • Low 
  • Takes orders
  • Obedience 
  • Not the boss 
  • Under orders  
In Isaiah 49, The Lord calls Israel "My Servant", but God is raising up a person to be "His Servant" who will fulfill everything he has ever desired for Israel.

The Lord's Servant will bring Israel into it's destiny.  The Lord's Servant will bring God's salvation to the whole earth.  All this is service to God.  The Servant serves God by letting God make him into the Agent of God's service.

Isaiah 49 contains one of the four sections in Isaiah, called "the servant songs".  As Christ followers, we can see Jesus described in these.

Jesus came as a servant, serving the Lord, bringing God's redemption to humanity, as service.  Jesus followers also serve the Lord and each other by carrying on Jesus' service.

Jesus is The Servant and his followers are going to be servants also.  This is God's plan.

When God calls his ministers today, he also calls them to be servants.  Jesus does not call people to be leaders, but he calls them to be servants.

Before Jesus calls you to serve, he calls you to be his disciple.  Is it possible to be a leader in the church, but not be a disciple of Jesus?

What do you call church leaders or church members who are not disciples?  Churchians?  Christians, "in name only"?

There is a Christian culture today, where we are indifferent to Jesus words.  He calls us each to be disciples and make disciples.  And if you have any ambition to lead, he calls you to serve and be like a slave.

It seems pretty clear and it seems to be ignored by a lot of leaders.

Christian ministry is incarnational.  The Son of God came into this world, as a man and as a servant, to serve.  Christ-inans, people who have Christ living in them, will be the same way: servants serving in servantship.

Everyone is called to discover their giftedness from God and give that gift, in a life of service, back to Him

In my previous post, I reflected on the issue of calling.  While Jesus does not call us to lead like the world does, but calls us to serve each other; he does have a destiny-calling-gift that each person carries, develops, unpacks, and gives back to God in a life of service.

The calling each one of us has is for our lives to be gifts, given back to God, in a life of service.  This is described in Romans 12:1-8:

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.

Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts:

If prophecy, use it according to the standard of one’s faith;

If service, in service;

If teaching, in teaching;

If exhorting, in exhortation;

Giving, with generosity;

Leading, with diligence;

Showing mercy, with cheerfulness.

There is a gift here called "service" and it means the same thing (servant) that Jesus said his not-like-the-gentile-rulers would be (Matt. 20:25-8).  We are all called to serve, rather than boss, lord over, control, or subordinate others.  But some people are wired by God to have a special gift of servant.

There is also a spiritual gift of "leading", mentioned here.  The word means manager, administrator, or ruler.  The same word is used in Paul's letter to Timothy, when he tells him that elders need to be people who lead their own families well first.  The same word is also used in 1 Thessalonians, describing the elders role in the church.  I'll get back to that.

The gift of leading that some people have, gives them a gifted ability to see the big picture, and assign resources to get a project done. These people are good organizers and have schedules, but don't over schedule. The gift of leading is not diametrically opposed to Jesus' call for all to be servants, but it is a gift to get things done with imperfect people graciously, happily working under pressure.  These gifted people are gifted to lead people to get projects done.  Noah, Joseph, Boaz, and Nehemiah are people in the Bible who might have had this God-given gift of management.

It is also interesting that the exhorters are the natural leaders (and also the natural evangelists), because they are the people connectors.

The idea that gifts of our life-calling, destiny, and design are given to us, to be given back as a gift of service is illustrated in Ephesians 4:8 and Psalm 68:18:

When He ascended on high,

He took prisoners into captivity;

He gave gifts to people.

-Eph. 4:8

You ascended to the heights,

Taking away captives;

You received gifts from people,

Even from the rebellious,

So that the Lord God might live there.

-Ps. 68:18

It seems that Paul took some liberties with Psalm 68, which scholars have tried to explain ever since.  But, I think that it perfectly illustrates that the gift in our life is a two-way street.  He gives it to us and we give it back to him.  

And the church has always had rebels, even very gifted rebels.

The Leadership Cult (1) in The Church

Over the past 35+ years there has been a boom of leadership training and technologies in the church.  Robert Geenleaf is credited with beginning the modern servant leadership movement in 1970, when he published, "The Servant As Leader".  At some point, someone coined the term, "servant-leadership".  Many books were written and conferences were held.  This all spilled over into church culture.

Jesus never called us to be leaders nor servant-leaders.  He called us to be servants, disciples, and disciple-makers.  He also never called us to run the church like the non-redeemed people run things.  

There are a couple of NT verses that might seem to indicate a command and control leadership in the church.  The first one I will mention is 1 Thessalonians 5:12.  In the HCSB, it isn't too controversial:

Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you.

I love the way they translate this verse.  You've got the culture of honor motif and the leading from beside or among idea.  Both of these are good, and I think, right.  But, if you go with the King James, NASB, ESV, NKJV or NET Bibles; you read the word "over", as in "are over you".  The problem of that translation is that it gives the idea of rank, hierarchy, and top-down bossing.

What I think this verse really means is that this person is working with you, watching over you.  We watch over children or babies and a dance instructor watches and walks around and among the couples at their dance class and instructs them.  An over-watcher (over-seer) is a function and a role that a person has, who is among (not over) the people (1 Peter 5:3).

The bigger picture in 1 Thess. 5 is "body life".  Fellow Christians, who are not necessarily the "leaders" in that place are to encourage one another, and the leaders mentioned are not necessarily elders, which I find interesting, because this illustrates that leadership is a function and role that pops up, when needed.

For example, if there was a personal emergency and someone took action, whether turning off the water main if a pipe burst, or rendering c.p.r. to someone, that would be leading as a function and a role, but not necessarily from an office.

Let's zoom out on this passage:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.

Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

-1 Thess. 5:11-14

Everyone encourages everyone (vs. 11) and everyone warns those who are irresponsible (vs. 14).  We are completely wrong if we think that it is someone else's responsibility to warn the irresponsible person (admonish the unruly or warn the idle) .

The other controversial verse that seems to teach that leadership is hierarchical or bossy, is Hebrews 13:17, and the HCSB translates it in a way, as many do, that confuses how Jesus shaped leadership works:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

Command and control, hierarchical leadership is affirmed here, right?  Nope.  A better translation would be "follow".  Leaders need to be followers of Christ.  We can follow people who are following Christ.  In fact Paul says that in 1 Corinthians 11:1.

The "obey" word, Πείθεσθε (Peithesthe) means "follow" or "listen to".  The Greek Lexicon BDAG says it means, "to be won over as the result of persuasion"(2).We are never called to obey people.  We are not called to have authority over people either.  But we gain moral authority through authenticity and agape love.  Then, we might be able to persuade.

We are called to obey God and obey God's word.  Leaders Servants call us to obey God.  It is a whole different idea for brothers or sisters to call us to obey them.  That's a serious abuse and misunderstanding of this scripture.

We are all called to mutual submission.  Leadership (servantship) in the church is more accountable and transparent than leadership in the world.  There is plurality of leadership, consensus in decision making, the headship of Christ, and the empowering presence of the Spirit of God.

Any church that says you must "obey" the leadership, is a church you should run from, and get a copy of "Toxic Faith" by Stephen Arterburn, or "Healing Spiritual Abuse", by Ken Blue.  But we should listen to and follow the leaders servants that are among us, who are following Jesus and themselves led by God's Spirit.

Called To Ministry (Servantship)

All Christians are called to ministry.  Some people are fond of pointing to Ephesians, chapter 4 to show ministries, but it actually says these are "equippers" or "trainers".  You might have a personal trainer at the gym, or your workplace might send you out for special training to a class led by a trainer.  That person equips you to do the work (better).

There are people who are gifted and function in a training role, in the church.  They are listed in Ephesians 4.  They are not "the ministers", but are trainers for the rest of us to be ministers.

It is confusing when we call pastors or teachers or evangelists or prophets or apostles "ministers" or "ministries"; because this passage teaches that they (these 5 functional offices) are trainers or equippers, for the rest of the church, who are to be the ministers.

The saints (that is everyone) do the ministry (service).  Some pastors get this and see themselves as equippers.  The problem is when the pastor sees himself as clergy and the people in the chairs or pews as the laity.  Unless the clergy/laity divide is thrown out, the people will not do the ministry, but say something like, "we pay him to do it".

We are all called to be in the ministry, and the call comes, "ready or not".  We need to be serving, have a life of ministry (service), following in the footsteps of our master (The Servant).

The Moses Model and Sovereign Vessels

God sometimes has leaders servants who are like Moses, who are viceroys endowed with exceptional authority for a special assignment.  Paul was one of these (Acts 9:19) and Paul saw himself as a slave of Jesus.  If you dig into Paul's writings, you will find authority and deep humility.

An interesting point is that while God can and does call a person to lead like a Moses autocrat, that person is also called to humility and meekness, because that is the call of Christ to all and the Bible says that Moses himself was the most humble or meekest man on the earth (Num. 12:3).   And Moses also has elders serve with him (Exodus 3, 12, 24; Numbers 11

Ambition is not a bad thing.  Lust for power and a desire to control are not good.  If someone desires to be in a role of responsibility, in the church (1 Tim. 3:1), that is a good thing, if they are in Christ in their life.  In the church, there is one chief, senior, or lead leader (1 Pet. 5:4) who is Christ.  The corporate chart is "flat".  There is Christ at the top, and then all the rest of us.

The senior (lead) pastor or ruling elder (first among equals) is not in the New Testament.  Leadership is plural, not singular.  We have elders (plural) and the equippers in Ephesians 4 are plural (pastors, etc.).  When a church is new, there may be a point-person or persons who are functional elders in it while the future elders are emerging.

Titles?  Father, Doctor, Teacher, Pastor, Apostle, etc? No!

Some have said, "titles entitle".  Jesus actually told us to not call anyone by a title, like "teacher" or "father": (Matt.  23:8-9).  But we LOVE titles today.  Doctor and pastor are the ones we hear a lot.  Many times, christian leaders who are called or call themselves "doctor" have not even earned the doctorate (it is honorary) or they got it from a "diploma mill".

Jesus told us to call each other by our given names or brother or sister, period.  Your gift, gifting, calling, destiny, dream, or office is functional and a role.  We don't even call people leaders (Matt. 23:10).  You are a leader, because you lead.  It is a function.  It describes you.

Leadership is functional and organic, not positional and hierarchical

If a building is on fire, someone might find the way out and usher others to the door and make sure everyone gets out.  That is a leader.  He or she did that because of who they are, not because of a name tag or stripes on their shoulder.

Leaders, overseers, or elders, do what they do (lead, oversee, and manage) in the church, from among and not over the flock (1 Pet. 5:3).  The role of leadership is to be in and among- supporting, encouraging and leading.  You oversee from beside and among, not over (Matt. 20:26 & 1 Pet. 5:3).

Do you feel called to ministry, or the calling to be a minister?  We should all answer "yes".  Serving and servanthood is at the core of following Christ.  There is no "two tier system" in the New Testament.  We are all ministers or servants of Christ.

We are mistaken if we see ministry as a job.  Ministry is a life.  If you really run with the call, towards God, then you get to be a slave.  But, you are also a son or daughter; and you get to be both, in paradox.

Jesus came as a servant, serving the Lord, bringing God's redemption to humanity, as service.  Jesus followers also serve the Lord and each other by carrying on Jesus' service.

Jesus is The Servant and his followers are going to be servants also.  This is God's plan.

When God calls his ministers today, he also calls them to be servants.  Jesus does not call people to be leaders, but he calls them to be servants.

I will close with a verse from Psalm 31:

Show Your favor to Your servant; save me by Your faithful love.

-Psalm 31:16

The artwork above is by GC Meyers.
1. The Leadership Cult, by Mark Galli.
2. Obey and Submit? (Hebrews 13:17), Alan Knox.
-Listen here to Lance Ford talk about how Jesus is at odds with much of the leadership culture in the church today.
-Lance Ford's book: Unleader: Reimagining Leadership
-Robert Coleman: What Planters Can Learn From Jesus' Discipleship Method
-Free Ebook: Revisiting The Master Plan of Evangelism: Why Jesus’ Discipleship Method Is Still the Best Today
-Winfield Bevins succinct summary notes of Coleman's Master Plan For Evangelism book, How Jesus Made Disciples
-Coleman's handout from an address he gave on Jesus' Method of Evangelizing
-Where Would Jesus Lead, by Gary Goodell