In this article, Three-self pastor Chen Shengfeng reflects on the pastor’s identity as a servant. Faced with an increasingly self-centered culture, he reflects on the temptation to seek value in one’s identity as a leader rather than to heed Jesus’ call to “unworthy” servant leadership.
“Unworthy Servant”—the Image of the Servant Leader
When thinking about the definition of pastors this morning, I remembered two Bible passages, both from Jesus’ parables:
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come at once and recline at table”? Will he not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink”? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” (Luke 17:7-10)
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:45-51)
Both passages talk about servants. In the first passage Jesus defines the servant—before his master, the servant is a servant who serves willingly and does not seek rewards. The second passage shows us the image of a wicked servant who, though he has the office of a servant leader, was declared guilty for his unfaithfulness.
Here we see two different images of servants, one is an “unworthy servant,” the other is a “servant leader.” I believe that no matter who a pastor is, he hopes to be a leader, because leaders enjoy wonderful prestige. Even in the smallest, most insignificant circles, being respected, being called “leader” is a great feeling. Therefore, it is not hard for us to imagine why there are always people in the church who want to be “leaders,” to enjoy “leadership,” even only as a small group leader.
On the other hand, probably nobody wants to be called an “unworthy servant,” especially in this age of efficiency. Everybody is busy “adding value” to themselves, making themselves more “valuable.” Even if the input and output of this “value” is never balanced, even if in the end all we gain is the “value of being used,” we continue seeking room for “self-improvement.” In the church, of course we do not wish to be set-aside or neglected. We hope to be appreciated by “leaders,” to be cultivated as “talent.”
In reflecting on our desire to seek after “value,” “being appreciated,” “becoming talent,” and even becoming a “leader,” it is not hard to discover something that probably everyone shares—nobody wants to be a “servant.” We want to be our own masters, to be a “leader” who can order the world about.
However, in the two parables above, Jesus clearly defines our position whether we are willing to accept it or not—namely, that of a servant. A master’s standard for the servant is not his talent or leadership abilities, but his faithfulness. In the parable of the “unworthy servant,” this faithfulness means offering all our heart and not seeking our own gain. In the parable of the “servant leader,” it means being similarly faithful in the face of the master and behind his back. It certainly is not doing one thing before him and another behind his back.
Of course, we can diligently seek to serve better. The Lord may allow us to become “servant leaders,” to become part of teams serving the Lord and expanding his kingdom. But we need to understand clearly our identity and definition, and not stray even a hair from it. We are the Lord Jesus’ “unworthy servants.” Our calling comes from the Lord, and the only object of our service is Jesus. The office we hold is “according to God’s will.” Just as Paul declared, “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1). He also reminds us, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed. . .” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Image Credit: shanghaistoneman from Pixabay
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