For the past 30 years or so, we’ve heard a lot about leading in Christian circles. It seems the more we’ve adopted the ways of self-styled leaders, we’ve reaped the results of power-domination, influence-peddling, and an individualistic-rights-driven faith.
When we look at Jesus, he warns against this kind of leadership. Matthew 20:25-28 reads, “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first – must first be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus doesn’t call us to leadership at the top, he calls us to serve. I would say, in Christ’s opinion, being a leader is simply being a servant with more responsibility. This passage of warning, follows a parable Jesus taught on working on the vineyard. You should read it here, Matthew 20:1-16. Then he points to his own death. Only to be asked for favors of power and honor, by the Mom of two of the disciples. You can read this here, Matthew 20:17-26.
If you read the whole chapter, you get the picture that the call to leadership is the call to serve. But serving is hard. It goes against our natural desires. It requires a real move of the Spirit of God, to equip, direct, protect and motivate us to give beyond ourselves, for the sake of the eternal kingdom. Below, I’ve listed 5 servant-killers and 5 servant-builders below.
These are the motivations and actions that will defeat us as we strive for a life that serves and honors Christ.
- Desire for Self-Rule. “I’ll do this for God my way.”
This is the desire to be in control of our own destinies. Even if we’re trying to accomplish big things for God, often we want to be the designer of those things. We want to set the terms of our involvement. “Lord, let me do this, but don’t ask me to do that,” we pray. This back and forth, limiting God and his right to rule, will wear us out, because we will find that God doesn’t yield to our wills, but waits until we come around to his.
- Personal fulfillment. “What will I get out of this?”
Our flesh is driven by the desire for personal fulfillment. We want what we want because we believe it will enhance our sense of self. This becomes a key factor in when and where we’ll serve. We will do what makes us feel good, instead of doing what is good. The two do not always coincide.
- Unworthy Expectations. “That isn’t fair.”
We usually come to any work we do with expectations. Some of those just don’t fit the description of serving. If you read the parable above, you’ll see the workers complaining that their pay wasn’t fair because they worked longer and harder than the others. The farmer informs them that fairness isn’t the issue. Grace is. By grace, we are invited to serve.
- Comparisons. “Compared to them, I’m doing great.”
Comparisons can completely defeat us. In the parable above, those standing in line compared themselves with others who came later in the day. That just led to disappointment. Later in the passage, Jesus tells us he is the model. If we’re going to compare, we need to measure ourselves against him. He went to the cross with selfless love. This is real serving.
- Selfish Ambition. “If I work hard, surely God will bless me… more.”
Two disciples, with the help of their mom, angled for the honored positions of sitting on the right and left of Jesus on his throne in the eternal kingdom. They had this idea that they could win their way to the top of the discipleship heap. They worked hard, they were faithful. They were willing to endure whatever came, or so they thought. The desire for significance got in the way of their service. No longer were they in it for others. They saw service as a way to get ahead. It hindered their relationship with the other disciples.
On the other hand, if we can embrace serving God’s ways, his Spirit will bear much fruit in and through us. There are 5 commitments we can make that will grow us, as faithful servants of Christ.
- Remember the Lordship of Jesus. “He is Lord and I am not.”
We serve at the pleasure of the King. He is Lord. He is God, I am not. I have to let go of the desire to design my own service. This is his work, we’ve just been invited to join him.
- Grasp Kingdom Purposes. “Focus on what God wants to accomplish.”
From the parable above, we are reminded that God’s purpose is the harvest. He even tells us in Luke 10, to pray for workers to help gather the harvest. The harvest is people, people who are being gathered into a community of Christ-worshippers.
How is this harvesting done? It’s done by proclaiming Christ, by those who love God, love their neighbor, love one another and love their enemy.
- Adopt Kingdom Values. “Doing God’s work God’s way, with God’s heart.”
We need to continually renew our desire for Kingdom values. What does God value? People! He loves all creation, but he made us in his image, so we could return that love. To faithfully serve, we must see people as God sees them – loved and lost.
If we’re going to serve people well, we must do so in truth, beauty and goodness. These 3 essential characteristics describe God’s being and God’s ways.
- Align Ourselves with Christ. “His path is our path.”
We may think that Jesus went to the cross so we didn’t have to. But we are called to a cross-shaped life. Jesus expected his disciples to “take up their crosses daily.” Paul reminds us our suffering is part of Christ’s suffering. If we are going to be faithful in our service, we will need to continually align ourselves with Christ’s way. He came as the suffering servant. He calls us to the same path.
- Leave Personal Results in God’s hands. 1 Corinthians 3:7-9
“God gives the growth/increase.” This is what Paul reminds Christ’s servant of in 1 Corinthians 3. Part of giving up control is giving up control of the outcomes. We are doing a spiritual work. And Father, Son and Spirit, produce the results. When we try to manufacture results, we get tempted to find other ways of making things turn out like we think they should.
In the end, Christ is our leader. We are invited to serve. If we serve well, no matter what position we possess, we will hear, “well done, good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your Master.” There will be no higher honor.