The Pastor as a Servant


By: J. T. Pugh

People lead according to their motivation, drive, and response under various conditions. The incentives that motivate the average leader of the world to lead people are vastly different from the principles of true Christianity. Usually “power” is the thing so greatly desired by the average leader of the world. Power can exist in the form of money, popularity, fear, or accepted policy.

The tremendous force that impelled our Lord to take His place among humans was love. The same force must motivate a minister of the gospel. Love always places itself at the disposal of the cause or the people loved. Love serves. Thus true Christianity stands in stark contradiction to worldly motivations that cause people to aspire to leadership.

The true principle of leadership that Jesus Christ showed to us is servanthood. The apostles in time came to recognize the supremacy of this principle and to espouse it in all of their leadership in the church. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

Jesus taught a lateral love that was not possible outside the practice of servanthood. “He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:16).

Servanthood is not optional. It is the true law of Christ.

One of the tasks of a servant is to bear burdens, to carry loads. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)

James 2:8 says, “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.” Jesus said that loving our neighbour was the second most important commandment (Mark 12:28-31). It is greater “than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).

One of the greatest drives of the flesh is to have preeminence. “Ye shall be as gods” was the compelling factor that at last brought Adam and Eve down (Genesis 3:5). Peter thought it necessary to warn ministers not to be “lords over God’s heritage” (I Peter 5:3).

Jesus explained the proper role of leaders in the church: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-27). The word minister literally means a servant.

There came a time when the church at Philippi needed a pastor. Though Paul desperately wanted Timothy by his side, he sent him to the Philippian church. The reason was simple: that church did not need a “Gentile prince.” It was in need of a minister, a servant. Thus Paul wrote, “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:19-21).

What a wonderful thing to say about any preacher: “He will naturally care for you.” What was the beginning of this selfless lifestyle that characterized Timothy? The answer is that for some length of time he lived with a tremendous example.

Timothy came under the influence of Paul’s great life about A.D. 45. Paul was on his first missionary journey and came to Lystra, Timothy’s home town. Timothy witnessed a ministry that was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He saw a lame man healed before his eyes.

When he saw something even more impressive. When the population of the citysought to fall down and worship Paul and Silas, he saw men who did not seek glory but who almost frantically declared, “We are men like yourselves.” (See Acts 14.) He also witnessed selfless commitment. After being stoned, left for dead, and then miraculously healed and perhaps raised from the dead out from under the rock pile, Paul did not flee from his sheep. He rose up and went back into the city. No doubt the fate of the Lystran church and of this young convert hung upon such selfless acts as he witnessed that day. They all saw “a minister” go to death and back for the sake of the church. Paul was an example of the devoted love of the Great Shepherd, who “loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).

Jesus stressed the importance of all Christians and especially leaders espousing and living out the principle of servanthood by Himself assuming that role. After stating that leaders were to be servants, He said, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Philippians 2:7 explains that Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”

It would probably amaze every one of us if we knew how much time, consciously or unconsciously, we spend in attempting to make a reputation for ourselves. Jesus was not fettered with this non-growth motive. He walked among the people of this earth completely free from selfish ambition.

This concept of greatness confused the Jews and caused most of them to miss the identity of the Messiah altogether. To this day it is impossible for members of the Jewish religion to fully explain Isaiah 53. The words of this prophecy march in stately tread straight to the Cross. Word by word, step by step, it drums out the funeral march of a certain slave. It does not give His name, but from the vantage point of history we know who He was. We recognize “the man of sorrows.” We know about the stripes for our healing. We know who was silent in judgment, and who bore all our iniquities. This passage, however, identifies Him simply as “my righteous servant” (Isaiah 53:11).

For this reason, Judas received exactly thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus. According to Exodus 21:32, if a slave died on the horns of a neighbor’s ox, the neighbor owed thirty pieces of silver to the one who had lost the servant. If Jesus had been held hostage as a king, the ransom for Him would have been vastly more. But He was simply sold as a slave. This role was His by choice. It was to be the foundational principle of an entirely new culture that was to grace this world: the principle of servanthood. If a pastor has not espoused the principle of servanthood, it is very doubtful that he will lastingly do very much for God. In many instances service is the only thing that a pastor can offer. His being a servant is often the only thing that will save a floundering church. When a man is called to preach the gospel, he is called to be a servant.

(The above material appeared in the April–June, 1992 issue of the Forward Magazine.)
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