Every Christian comes under some kind of Christian ministry in his or her life-time. Some come under quite different models of leadership over the years, and have formed either positive or negative views about ministers of the Gospel. Jonathan Lamb, from Langham Partnership in the UK, received the results of a survey conducted in American churches about people’s expectations of their pastor. The results indicated that most people regarded their pastor as a servant of the church.
It isn’t any wonder that people should express their expectations in this way, considering everything that has been said over the years about Christian ministry needing to be characterised by a spirit of servanthood.
Yes, we have needed a change from the days when a pastor was expected to do everything around the place, and was criticised if he didn’t. Over the last few decades we have also ‘discovered’ the importance of gifts in the life of the church. Or, were we pushed into discovering them because the outside world was already changing its management structures so that the load of responsibility was more widely shared? Did we simply tag along with this trend finding a biblical justification for the changes in the church? After all, Paul wrote about the use of gifts in the Christian church nearly two thousand years ago.
What the church has needed is to explore afresh the biblical significance of ‘servanthood’. What does the Bible mean when it talks about being a servant? If we look at the question historically, we find the concept of the servant of the Lord deeply embedded in Hebrew history and Old Testament literature. Yet, the present day understanding which seems to be influencing a vast percentage of the Christian church comes from its Greek roots; an understanding that came hundreds of years after the Christian church was introduced to the biblical concept of ‘servant of the Lord’.
If we pursue the Old Testament concept and its development, leading to the most comprehensive presentation of it in the Servant passages of Isaiah 40-66, we cannot avoid certain conclusions. Jesus confirmed this pattern, clarified and amplified it through His life, ministry, death and resurrection. It was this pattern the apostle Paul adopted in his ministry among the Gentiles of his day. What was the main thrust of this model of servanthood that is validated by both Testaments of the Christian Bible?
Every summary has its drawbacks, but it can be expressed this way:
- The role of the servant of the Lord is to bring people who are within the orbit of the Christian church to a growing and maturing experience of Jesus Christ, and
- To equip them to be more effective witnesses for Christ in the way they live and are able to share their faith with others, wherever they live and work.
Christian pastors and leader have the responsibility in their churches to work towards these ends. The structures and organisation of the church all need to ensure that everyone is working in the same direction, and towards the same goals.
The goals and the process needed to achieve these goals are described in the servant passages of Isaiah, and illustrated in the life of Christ. Paul knew what it was to walk in the footsteps of his Lord and Master as he exercised his ministry. He spoke in ways that seem foreign to us in our day. He said,
I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The biblical model of ministry communicates a concept of servanthood that challenges the ‘visions of splendour’ that some churches have of themselves and their ministries. The Russian version of my book on “Christian Ministry: a biblical basis”, Христиансое служение: библейское основание, has been used as the text in my lectures at the Odessa Theological Seminary, and will again be used this year at the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Armenia.