When I was the pastor of a church plant in Palmerston North, NZ, one of our regular duties was the set-up on Friday night and pack-down on Sabbath afternoon after church had finished. As we were a small church, there weren’t many hands to help and because of this, I usually was there every Friday night to help set up. Suffice to say I now have a greater appreciation for cable management and sound technicians! Sometimes, the school we hired from would accidentally double-book another event on the same night. When that happened, we would need to wait for the event to end before we could begin setting up for church. When you need to set up sound equipment for a full band AND 100 chairs, not to mention decorations, it can be stressful!
I remember one night we had been double-booked once again. The rest of my team had other commitments, so it was left to me to do the set-up alone after the group had left at 9:30. If you’ve never experienced setting up for church on a Friday night in the middle of a Palmy winter, let’s just say I don’t recommend it.
Servant leadership is a concept often bandied about in church circles. More recently, thanks to the work of thought leaders like Simon Sinek (particularly with his book Leaders Eat Last), it has become “in vogue” for the business community. In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek says rather profoundly: “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” To me, this is the heart of servant leadership. The image that most often resonates for Christians is of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. This act of humble service was reserved for the servant class of the day. Though some of us might yawn at the modern communion service, for Jesus’ disciples, this act was shocking. The act of a rabbi humbling Himself to perform a servant’s obligation challenged their view of hierarchy and authority. For this and His ultimate act of humility on the Cross, God exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him “the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV).
As I was grumbling to myself that Friday evening, alone in that hall, I was suddenly struck by a thought. I realised how insignificant my discomfort was compared to that endured by Jesus. I realised my priorities were all wrong. Following Jesus isn’t about honour and recognition—it’s about serving people and God. The Lord I serve didn’t come to be served—rather, “to serve others, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT). Where I had once aspired to a “worldly” standard of success, I realised that real ministry often happens in the moments that aren’t recognised. From that point on my perspective changed. I began to let go of my ego’s need to be validated, honoured, praised. I still have a lot of work to do but when I’m tempted to play by the rules of the world, I can’t help but return to the enrapturing image of Jesus the servant Leader. The One who, “though He was God, didn’t think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up his divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6,7 NLT). May we be transformed by this God and follow in His footsteps.
Jesse Herford is associate editor, Signs of the Times.