Reforming the Deacons (10): “How to Tell a Servant When You See One”

If to be a deacon means to serve, and if it really matters the quality of the person chosen to serve the congregation, then someone in church leadership must be able to recognize a servant when they see one.

Otherwise, you may end up with a lot of men in your deacon body who want to do anything in the world except serve.

Which, as you think of it, is a perfect description of a thousand deacon groups: a lot of men who want to do many things, none of them being to serve.

Now, before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…. (John 13:1)

You will recognize that as the opening of the Upper Room passage where the Lord washes the feet of His disciples, the ultimate act of servitude. In this one verse, we find a number of insights as to the traits of a great servant.

Jesus could serve because He knew the correct time. For years Jesus had repeatedly announced, “My time is not yet.” But no longer. Now, the time has arrived, and He had to act quickly. There was so much to say and so little opportunity to say it. In taking up the towel to serve, the Lord gave the disciples an object lesson they would never forget.

Jesus could serve because He knew His destination. The Lord knew full well that within a matter of a couple of days He would be reporting in with the Heavenly Father. He was not confused, not in doubt, not fearful and not insecure. Confidence is so empowering.

Jesus could serve because He loved. The Lord had no need to dominate these men in that Upper Room, felt no need to keep reminding them how wonderful He was, and certainly saw no need for them to get down and serve Him. Out of an overwhelming, everlasting love, He got the towel and served them. Love overcomes objections, and empowers the servant.

And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. (John 13:2-4)

More reasons why Jesus was able to serve the disciples….

The devil was on the job and on schedule. Your enemy, the devil, is walking to and fro as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). In case you didn’t know that, there is no time to delay.

I hope you have noticed that Satan is alive and well on Planet Earth these days. The time is critical and God’s people must be at their best and strongest.

The Father had equipped Jesus for all that He was asking of Him God did not send Jesus on this greatest of all missions without providing all that would be required of Him. “The Father had given all things into His hands.” He wants for nothing more. He lacks nothing else. He will be able to do all the Father asks, whether great or small.

Tomorrow, Jesus would go to the cross and take the sins of humanity upon Him. Tonight, He would first wash the disciples’ feet.

Jesus knew who He was and had nothing to prove. The primary reason people will not serve is insecurity: not know who we are, we always feel we have to prove ourselves. The last thing we want is someone overlooking us, thinking down upon us. We crave recognition, long to hear our name called, thrill to be chosen in elections.

Anyone requiring proof of our sinful, self-centered souls, need look no further.

Jesus knew where He came from and where He was going. This is the secret of His steadfast self-confidence and self-esteem. Jesus knew that He had come from the center of the universe, Heaven’s Throne Room, and that shortly He would be back there with the Father in unimaginable glory. The last thing He needed and lusted for was the puny accolades earth had to offer. Therefore, He was able to serve in the lowliest ways.

So, what then does a servant look like? How can we recognize one when we see him?

1. A Kingdom servant is not insecure, but knows who he/she is in Christ.

The Christlike servant has no identity crisis and no esteem confusion. A servant does not need a vote from anyone to know he/she is “somebody” in Jesus Christ and “nobody” as far as the world is concerned. And he’s fine with that.

2. A Kingdom servant is always ready, eager to find ways to give and to bless.

In the church, you may even notice he/she does not even wait to be asked, but sees a need and jumps in. The rest of us are amazed at such faithfulness, such humility, and such sweet willingness. Where, we wonder, does God get such people? They seem to be a breed apart.

3. A Kingdom servant will take the lowliest job which no one else wants.

A need is announced with quite a price to be paid, and silence prevails. No one wants that job with so much demanded and so little in return. That’s because there are no servant-hearted in the room. The man/woman with a servant heart eagerly jumps up and volunteers for the worst task, the lowliest job, the most thankless assignment. Why? I don’t know exactly, only that it’s true.

By the way, these are not abstract principles. I have specific deacons in mind for each point. They are all treasures to everyone who knows them. It can be said of them what Hebrews 11 says of some saints of old: “Wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God.”

4. A Kingdom servant will have the greatest attitude throughout.

Because his heart is in the right place (“hid with God in Christ” is how Paul put it), the servant-hearted will enjoy working with those troublesome 9-year-old boys or cleaning the nursery after an accident or remaining behind following the church dinner to clean. Listen closely and you will hear them singing.

They are such treasures.

5. A Kingdom servant will expect nothing in return.

When you decide to give them recognition or bestow an award on them, you will have to sneak around and surprise them since this is the last thing they want. The award will embarrass them. They live by the mantra given by our Lord in Luke 17:10, a great word for all servants in the Kingdom: “I am only an unworthy servant; I have only done my job.”

Now, find a few people like this and make them deacons. (Which is to say, find some already serving and enable them to serve in greater ways.)

Bottom line: the next time your church announces openings for deacons–remember, the word means servants!–look around and see who’s serving already. Those who serve well in lowly areas, do so sweetly, and prefer to remain in the background, these are the ones you are looking for.

Through such servants the Kingdom of God moves forward. By such servants great churches are built.

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