Christian Leaders Or Christ’s Servants?

In a previous post I put forth the question, Is Leadership A Healthy Christian Aim? I argued that “serve” not “lead” is the overwhelming Biblical ideal for the believer.  Yet “serve” is trampled in the Christian marketplace by the ever-pervasive call and challenge to become, to shape, or to produce “leaders.”Well, Steven,” one might contend, “of course we mean, ‘servant leaders.”

Then why not just call them servants?

Words are important.  With them, we codify thought, shape perception, and engender action.  Professor Richard F. Taflinger explains:

Each word has two definitions, the denotative and the connotative. The denotative meaning is basically the dictionary meaning, the one that almost anyone can understand who speaks or desires to speak the language.  However, of greater importance, particularly in advertising, is the connotative definition, the definition each individual conjures up in their mind in response to hearing or reading the word . . . Why is this difference between the denotative and connotative definitions of words of such importance? It is because the greatest impact of words comes from using the connotative meanings to affect the audience’s emotional response.

When the call to lead or to produce leaders is heralded, are we conscious of the connotative definition in the minds of our hearers . . . even when we nuance “leader” with “servant” as in “servant-leadership?”  Are we OK with the following connotations?

  • ‘Lead’ connotes a superior position rather than a servant posture
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘conquest’ rather than ‘submission’
  • ‘Lead’ connotes success as ‘number of followers’ or ‘size of influence’ rather than success as ‘faithfulness’
  • ‘Lead’ focuses on ‘what you have’ (to offer) rather than on ‘Who’ or ‘what’ has you
  • ‘Lead’ connotes ‘be’ or ‘do’ some great thing rather than ‘belong to’ or ‘participate’ in God’s great thing
  • ‘Lead’ lends itself more to an “it’s about me” paradigm than  “it’s about you” thinking

What are we teaching our people, especially the young, when we call them to be leaders?

Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods:

Modern society . . . puts great pressure on individuals to prove their worth through personal achievement.  It is not enough to be a good citizen or family member.  You must win, be on top, to show you are the best . . . David Brooks’ book On Paradise Drive describes what he calls ‘the professionalization of childhood.’  From the earliest of years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything . . . the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated. (p. 79)

Are we unintentionally but no less responsibly contributing to the idol of success?  Why not just call ourselves servants? The apostles seemed quite content with that:

  • Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Ro. 1.1)
  • For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor. 4.5)
  • Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1.1)
  • Just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant (Col. 1.7)
  • If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6)
  • Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant (Heb. 3.5)
  • James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jas. 1.1)

Oh God.  Captivate us with You that we may be small and rejoice that we know you and are honored just to be in the service of the King.


Glorifying The Football Instead Of The Quarterback

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”  (1 Corinthians 3:5-7, ESV)

We’ve been studying 1 Corinthians in the high school Bible class that I teach.  Today we discussed how the Corinthian Christians were dividing into factions based on their preference for a particular pastor or teacher.  As we looked at the verses I’ve quoted above, the following illustration came to mind:

The Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions to beat the Seattle Seahawks 38 to 17 on Sunday.  How silly would it sound for the fans to say, “Wow!  That football was awesome!  What an amazing piece of pigskin!  Did you see how it got into the end zone?  Did you see how it flew through the air and skillfully avoided being intercepted?  Let’s put that football in a glass case and give it a spot in the ring of honor!”

Of course it’s silly.  The football is nothing but an instrument in the hands of a skilled quarterback.  The quarterback did the work and the football, submissive to the quarterback’s will, gets caught up in a moment of glory.  So, the football is nothing, but the quarterback who made the pass is the one who deserves the glory.

Sometimes in the Kingdom we give too much credit to God’s instruments and not enough to the God who uses them.  We give them celebrity status as if they have done all the work.  We fight with one another over which instrument of God is better than the other.  (Hint: it’s usually the instrument that I happen to follow.)  It’s akin to starting a fan club for the football and ignoring the football player.

Now, it is true that some footballs get put in glass cases and are given places of honor in the homes of the player who used them to execute glorious plays in big games.  But it’s the player that used the ball that gets to choose which ones he will honor.

Similarly, some football fans will give a ball a place of honor in their home.  However, it’s not the ball that they revere but the player.  They honor what the player has done with that ball or they honor the player’s name written on the ball.

As we look at the church in America today, it’s clear that many of us have given way too much glory to footballs.  No matter what size the church, God’s people are prone to divide over which church leader they follow.  We are far too likely to love our leaders more than our Lord.  (And we church leaders encourage it.)

It’s as absurd as having a ticker tape victory parade for a piece of leather.

Just a thought.

The Most Frightening Words Ever Spoken By Jesus

“I am among you as the one who serves.” Luke 22:27b

This could be considered the statement that defines Jesus’ ministry.  His “mission statement,” if you will.

To me, these are the most frightening words ever spoken by Jesus.

Why do they scare me so?

Because He expects these same words to be the defining statement of my life as well.

[See Luke 22:24-27, Mark 10:35-45; Matthew 20:20-28; John 13:1-17]

My Identity Motivates My Ministry

Ligon Duncan III on how who we are in Christ impacts what we do for Christ:

“…God comes to Joseph with guidance from the angel.  Notice what the angel calls him, “the son of David.”  Joseph was a humble man, a carpenter.  He was not a great land magnate, or a great merchant.  He was not a famed man in his community.  He did not hold public office.  He was not some sort of nobility; yet the angel says, “Joseph, remember who you are.  You are the son of David.”  Before God calls us to obey, before he calls us to a great task, he reminds us who we are in him. Although Joseph may not have been impressive in the eyes of the world, to God he was a son of David, the man after God’s own heart;  Joseph was a descendant of the great precursor of the messianic king.  He was the son of David.”

from Chapter Four of  Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, edited by Nancy Guthrie, page 52.

“Before God calls us to obey, before he calls us to a great task, he reminds us who we are in him.”  This is the point I try to make in an article I recently wrote about being sons and servants of God.