Make me a servant, Lord–but, an “executive” servant, if you don’t mind.

Something inside us pastors tends to love impressive offices with nice furnishings.

We have to constantly work against this lust for the trappings of the ministry while neglecting the ministry itself.

The front page of Monday, August 26, 2013’s The New Orleans Advocate tells of LSU’s new president Dr. King Alexander’s way of introducing himself to students.  He’s helping them move into the dorms.

In the photo on the front page he’s wearing a t-shirt and ball cap and loaded down with boxes and bags.  Looking anything but presidential.  (Don’t you know he had fun with that!  “No, really, I am the president of the university.  Really! My name? It’s King.”)

Okie dokie.

I will say that in my quarter-century in Louisiana, this guy is unlike any chief executive LSU has ever had.

What makes this special is a conversation I had later in the day with a minister friend concerning a church he once served as a staff member.

“The pastor talked a great game,” he said. “He sounds a lot like (a well known radio preacher) who is his mentor.  Just listening to him preach, you would think this is one great pastor, someone I can really relate to.”

You would be wrong, he said.

“Outside the pulpit, the pastor’s only interests are his hobbies.  People are way down the list of his concerns. Only those who can help his ministry get the time of day from him.”

As a result of this pastor’s disinterest in actually touching people, something interesting has happened.

His leadership has become just like him.

My friend said, “The lay leaders have also become executive servants.”

Executive servants?

“Yeah. Telling others to go serve, but not doing it themselves.”

Given a choice, instead of becoming like Jesus, they became like the pastor.

I don’t find executives anywhere in the Lord’s plan for the Kingdom. Only children. Laborers. Servants.

“…Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of the world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end; and during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot…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, laid aside His garments, and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. Then, He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet….” (John 13:1-5)

Jesus Christ is the gold standard of servanthood.

He who would be like Jesus will get out of his office, leaving behind his desk (with its never-ending pile of notes clamoring for action “now!”), don his work clothes, and look around for someone to serve.

A pastor said to me, “Our deacons have a ministry to the widows of the congregation. I tell them they should know what the inside of the widow’s house looks like–whether it needs repairs–and how much tread is on the tires of her car.” That pastor, incidentally, is right in there beside his people fixing holes in roofs, repairing screen doors and broken steps.

That is servitude.

The pastor added, “Once in a while, we encourage the single mothers and the widows to bring their cars to the church for a free oil change, which our men provide.”

“If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15).

“Well, Lord, I’m so busy with all the administrative details of ministry.  Articles to write, phone calls to return, email, study for sermons and lessons, staff meetings to lead. There’s just no time to get out and actually serve people.”

Having pastored SBC churches for decades and then serving for a time as a denominational worker, I can say without fear of contradiction if you cannot leave the office until you see to all the administrative details, you may as well have a bed installed. It never ends. Sometimes, you just have to make the tough call and go.

People always find time to do whatever is important to them.  Always.

I  do and you do too.

If obedience to Christ is important, then we will serve. If people are important to us, we will serve. If disciplining ourselves is important–bringing our rebellious heart into captivity–then we will serve. But if the highest good in our lives is a golf game or an article written or a trip to see the grandchildren, we will do that. We do whatever we truly want to do.

“A slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).

I can hear someone now: “I have earned the right to this.  They owe me.”

Not good.

When we start claiming privileges Jesus never claimed for Himself, we are in trouble.  When we no longer have the time or interest to do the things Jesus commanded, our discipleship is in question and our preaching begins to degenerate into something hollow and fake.

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

The blessings of Heaven are not given to those who lock themselves in the study for endless hours turning out perfect sermons, nor to those who sit in the pews for years unending to absorb them.  God’s blessings are not promised to those who hear the Word, believe it, like it, teach it, study it, memorize it, defend it, spread it, explain it, debate it, or purchase it.  Only to those who “do it.”

We recall our Lord saying the wise man, the one who “built his house upon a rock” that withstood the storms was the one who “hears my word and does it.”

The blessing is in the doing.

“But prove yourselves to be doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

Here’s a question we might profitably spend an hour reflecting on: “How do hearers of God’s word delude themselves?”  There must be a hundred answers to that question, but toward the top would be: “When they hear a good sermon or Bible study, they tend to think they have done something, when all they have done is to hear about it.”

Go serve, pastor.  Go serve, church leader.

Earn your stripes.

Oh, and one more thing.  Do not tell anyone what you did.  Don’t take along a photographer “just in case” the Advocate wants to run a story about you on its front page!  And do not–repeat, DO NOT–use your acts of servanthood as sermon illustrations.  If you do, you are tooting your own horn and nothing good comes of it.

If someone else sees  you and tells another person, well and good.  We’re not suggesting you go in disguise or pass yourself off as someone other than who you are.  Just don’t tell people your name is (ahem) “DOCTOR McKeever from the Baptist Church.”  Please!

Finally, may I give you the absolutely best parable on servanthood?  It’s Luke 17:7-10, and you may look it up in your own Bible.  This is found nowhere else in the Word, and there is nothing even close to it anywhere else. It deserves a few hours (weeks?) of reflection, servant of God.

“When you have done all the things which I have commanded you, say (to yourself), ‘I am only an unworthy servant; I have just done my job” (Luke 17:10, my paraphrase).

Note please that our Lord did not say we should say those things to others (“Tim, great job on the youth musical, but you are an unworthy servant and you just did your duty”–no!) nor did He say that the Father feels this way toward us. In fact, Scripture teaches that He will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many.”

However, we should say these words to ourselves: “I am an unworthy servant, just doing my duty.” Do that and you will head off ten thousand ego problems (the craving for attention and appreciation is enormous, a bottomless pit) in yourself.

Never forget, pastor, the way you can tell you have a servant heart is how you react when treated like a servant.

Have fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 thought on “Make me a servant, Lord–but, an “executive” servant, if you don’t mind.

  1. The former president of the college I went to did this as well. I went to Crown College of Saint Bonifacius, MN (a CMA college). Dr. Gary Benedict would come out every year at the beginning of the year to greet each student arriving for the new school year. This man was ALWAYS friendly, ALWAYS caring, and his memory was a steel trap. I attended from the fall of 01 to the spring of 04 before I was deployed. In that time he was selected as the President of the denomination and left for Colorado. Now, I was never a “prominent” student. I didn’t participate in dozens of extra-curicular activities, I didn’t do sports (except cross country which, as far as I’m concerned, “running” does not get to called a “sport”), I didn’t do praise and worship teams, or anything like that. My professors knew me (quite well) but outside of the classroom there was no reason for anyone to have ANY idea who I was. So, three years later after I’ve returned from the world’s biggest kitty litter box and I’m finishing up my degree, I’m sitting in a local Asian restaurant just enjoying a meal. I look over and here Dr. Benedict comes in as he was in town to speak at the college. He walks over to me, shakes my hand and says, “Phil right? Tell me how things are going” and talked to me for about 10 minutes showing genuine interest in my life. THAT (among some of the other things I mentioned), to me, spoke volumes about the compassion and care of that man. After talking to me MAYBE half a dozen times over a three year period, he remembered who I was four laters later at some random siting in a restaurant.

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