This blog is adapted from an article first published in 1997 in the RTS Reformed Quarterly. While the article was originally aimed at church leaders, it contains wisdom for us all even 20 years later.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” – II Corinthians 4:5
Think carefully of the challenge to servanthood of the apostle Paul. We do not score well in the apostle’s prescription when it comes to preaching ourselves as servants.
First, we score low on servanthood in general. We have no problem with “leadership.” We use words like “CEO”, “president,” “director,” “leader,” “point man,” “pioneer,” and there is nothing inherently wrong with such words. But the danger lies in the fact that these terms exist in exclusion from the concept and the vocabulary of “servanthood.”
Second, we score even worse on a second matter far beyond the general concept of servanthood. That is Paul’s call to “preach ourselves as servants.” Imagine standing before any body of Christ and proclaiming, with all the declarative authority of every other doctrine you have ever preached, the following: “I am your number one foot-washing, toilet-plunging, trash-cleaning, floor-scrubbing, diaper-changing spiritual janitor.”
Ask yourself: Have we wielded our Reformed convictions about God’s total control in a manipulative way so that we can maintain our own control? Though it is foolish to try such a thing, I have. And I have lots of company.
We do not score well in the apostle’s prescription when it comes to preaching ourselves as servants.”
But there is a third way in which Paul’s call to “preach ourselves as servants” is carefully avoided. The church to whom Paul wrote this letter was the church that suffered from drunkenness and overeating at the Lord’s table; unabated incest that was marked by proud proclamation instead of broken repentance; the abuse of the revealed propositional truth of God mediated through the gifts of the Holy Spirit in supernatural wonder. We might, on a good day, consider ourselves servants of a church like Rome but rarely if ever the servant of a church like the one at Corinth. We would find a reason to be “called” elsewhere. We would quickly feel “a peace in our hearts” about going to a place with more amenable circumstances and fewer broken and twisted views of the Gospel and of life. Servanthood requires a level of humility and brokenness that is not conducive to self-promotion, self-protection, or self-presentation.
So where do we begin to rightly respond to the biblical data that seems to be so effectively edited from our thinking and practice?
First, I believe that the Scripture would challenge us to redefine leadership from a servanthood posture and wrestle through the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation with the implication of beginning a leadership style that runs to the back of the line instead of the front.
Second, we must ask that God give us the gift of repentance, and that it be profound and deep when it comes to having lived for many years from the vantage point of autocracy instead of servanthood. The manner of our teaching, preaching, and modeling has been more in accord with an organizational CEO than with the Kingdom picture of servanthood. Until we wash our tears with Christ-like repentance, we will not advance in the area of servanthood.
Third, we must return to the old ways of pastors who understood this. When we read of the Puritans and see how they chose to visit individuals in their congregations and not to distance themselves, we should follow their model. We tend to move from the individual to the crowd, and the radical shift it will require of us to move from the crowd to the individual will seem at first completely counter intuitive. I suspect we will feel we are petting the organizational cat from the tail to the neck and we will feel her back bristle and rise beneath our hand. But we must admit the Scripture is right and yield to servanthood.
As I look for an example of servanthood, I cannot miss the momentum accompanying the life of service chosen by Mother Teresa. What would happen if someone had the lifestyle of Mother Teresa and the theology of John Calvin? And does not the theology of Calvin better undergird and found a lifestyle of servanthood? Is that not the necessary corollary to truly believing in a sovereign God? I think it is!