For Our Pastor To Be A True Servant Of God
Five Marks of a Servant Leader
All professing Christians agree that a Christian leader should be a servant leader. Jesus couldn’t be clearer:
“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25–26)
Where there’s not always agreement is how servant leadership should look in a given situation. Sometimes servant leaders wash others’ feet, so to speak (John 13:1–17), but other times they rebuke (Matthew 16:23), and even discipline (Matthew 18:15–20). Sometimes they serve at their own expense (1 Corinthians 9:7), but other times they issue strong imperatives (1 Corinthians 5:2; 11:16).
Wading into Muddy Waters
Other factors muddy the waters even more for us. To begin with, all Christian leaders have indwelling sin, which means even at the height of their maturity, they will still be defective servants. Add to this the fact that most leaders have not yet reached their height of maturity.
Add to this the fact that all Christian followers also have indwelling sin and most haven’t reached our height of maturity either.
Add to this the fact that different temperaments, experiences, giftings, and callings influence both how certain leaders tend to serve, and how certain followers tend to perceive that leadership — a leader’s genuine attempt to serve might be interpreted by a genuine follower as an attempt to “lord it over” them (2 Corinthians 1:24). And then there are wolfish, self-serving leaders who, while deceiving their followers, appear for a time to behave in ways similar to servant leaders.
“A servant leader sacrificially seeks the highest joy of those he serves.” So, determining whether or not a leader is acting from a heart of Christ service requires charitable, patient, humble discernment. It’s not simple. There’s no one-size-fits-all servant leader description.
The needs and contexts in the wider church are vast and varied, and require many different kinds of leaders and gifts. We must guard against our own unique biases when assessing leaders’ hearts.
Each of us is more or less drawn to certain kinds of leaders, but our preferences can be unreliable and even uncharitable standards.
Marks of a Servant Leader
Still, the New Testament instructs us to exercise due diligence in discerning a Christian leader’s fitness (see, for instance, 1 Timothy 3:1–13). What traits do we look for in a leader that suggest his fundamental orientation is Christ servanthood? This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are five fundamental indicators.
1. A servant leader seeks the glory of his Master
And his Master is not his reputation or his ministry constituency; it is God.
Jesus said, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18).
A Christ leader is a bondservant of Christ (Ephesians 6:6), and demonstrates over time that Christ — not public approval, position, or financial security — has his primary loyalty. In this he “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4).
2. A servant leader sacrificially seeks the highest joy of those he serves
This does not conflict with seeking the glory of his Master. Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant . . .
even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26, 28).
Whatever his temperament, gift mix, capacities, or sphere of influence, he will make necessary sacrifices in order to pursue people’s “progress and joy in the faith,” which results in the greater glory of God (Philippians 1:25; 2:9–11).
3. A servant leader will forgo his rights rather than obscure the gospel
“A servant leader’s identity and trust are not in his calling, but in his Christ.”
Paul said it this way: “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
What did this mean for him? It meant sometimes he abstained from certain foods and drinks, or refused financial support from those he served, or worked with his own hands to provide for himself, or went hungry, or dressed poorly, or was beaten, or was homeless, or endured disrespect inside and outside the church (1 Corinthians 4:11–13; 9:4–7). And he decided not to marry (1 Corinthians 9:5).
This all before he was martyred. Paul’s servant bar may have been set extraordinarily high, but all servant leaders will yield their rights if they believe more will be won to Christ as a result.
4. A servant leader is not preoccupied with personal visibility and recognition
John the Baptist, a servant leader sees himself as a “friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29), and is not preoccupied with the visibility of his own role.
He doesn’t view those with less visible roles as less significant, nor does he covet more visible roles as more significant (1 Corinthians 12:12–26).
He seeks to steward the role he’s received as best he can, and gladly leaves the role assignments to God (John 3:27).
5. A servant leader anticipates and graciously accepts the time for his decrease
All leaders serve only for a season. Some seasons are long, some short; some are abundant, some lean; some are recorded and recalled, most are not. But all seasons end. When John the Baptist recognized the ending of his season, he said, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29–30).
Sometimes a leader is the first to recognize his season’s end, sometimes others recognize it first, and sometimes God lets a season end unjustly for purposes a leader can’t understand at the time. But a servant leader graciously yields his role for the good of Christ’s cause, because his identity and trust are not in his calling, but in his Christ.
Be Gracious with Your Leaders
No earthly Christian leader is the perfect incarnation of these five fundamental marks of servanthood. Jesus alone bears that distinction. The vast majority of our leaders are imperfect servants trying to be faithful.
So, some of the greatest gifts we can give our leaders are 1) our explicit encouragement when we see any of these graces in them (loose our tongues), 2) our quiet patience with their stumbling (hold our tongues), and 3) our charitable judgment and gracious feedback regarding decisions that raise questions and concerns (bridle our tongues). And all three can be as easily applied in speaking about our leaders as in speaking to them.
“The vast majority of our leaders are imperfect servants trying to be faithful.”
If a leader needs help recognizing the ending of his season, let his faithful friends bring a loving, gracious, gentle, and patient encouragement, and if necessary, reproof.
But sometimes, Diotrephes (3 John 9), a leader’s sinful defects are too damaging, or Judas (Luke 6:16), they prove to be a wolf.
At that point a gracious response looks appropriate, godly, mature followers taking the servant initiative to rebuke (Matthew 16:23), and even discipline (Matthew 18:15–20).
We’ll know we’ve reached that point because, after a season of observation, it will become clear that these five marks are conspicuously missing in that leader.
6 Traits of a Pastor in Awe of God
What traits does the awe of God produce in the heart of a pastor that are vital for an effective, God-honoring, and productive ministry? Here is a list of six.
There is nothing standing without defense before the awesome glory of God to put you in your place, correct a distorted view of yourself, yank you functional arrogance, and take the winds the sails of your self-righteousness.
In the face of his glory I am left naked with no glory whatsoever left to hold before myself or anyone else. As long as I am comparing myself to others I can always find someone whose existence seems to make me look righteous by comparison.
But if I compare my filthy rags to the pure and forever unstained linen of God’s righteousness, I want to run and hide in heart-breaking shame.
This is what happened to Isaiah, recorded in chapter six.He stands before the awesome throne of God’s glory and says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) Isaiah is not speaking in formal religious hyperbole here.
He is not trying to ingratiate himself with God by being oh so humble. No, he learns that only in light of the awesome glory and holiness of God do you see an accurate view of yourself and the depth of your need for the rescue only a God of glorious grace can provide.
Somewhere along the way in ministry too many pastors have forgotten who they are. They have a bloated, distorted, grandiose view of themselves that renders them largely unapproachable and allows them to justify things they think, desire, say, and do that simply are not biblically justifiable. I have been there and at times fall back there again.
At these times I need to be rescued from me. When you are too much in awe of you, you’re set up to be a self-righteous, controlling, over-confident, judgmental, unfalteringly opinionated ecclesiastical autocrat.
You unwittingly build a kingdom whose throne will be inhabited by you, no matter how much you convince yourself that you do it all for the glory of God.
The humility that only awe of God can produce in my heart produces pastoral tenderness toward people who need the same grace. No one gives grace better than a person who is deeply persuaded that he needs it himself and receives it from Christ.
This tenderness makes me gracious, gentle, patient, understanding, and hopeful in the face of others’ sin, while never compromising God’s holy call.It protects me from deadly assessments , “I can’t believe you would do such a thing,” which tell me I’m essentially different from everyone else. It’s hard to bring the gospel to people when you’re looking down your nose at them.
Facing others’ sin, awe-inspired tenderness frees me from being an agent of condemnation or from asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish and motivates me to be a tool of that grace.
No matter what is or isn’t working in my ministry, no matter what difficulties I am facing, no matter what battles I am fighting, the expansive glory of God gives me reason to get up in the morning and do what I have been gifted and called to do with enthusiasm, courage, and confidence. My joy isn’t handcuffed to circumstances or relationships.
My heart isn’t yanked wherever they go. I have reason for joy because I am a chosen child and a conscripted servant of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the great Creator, the Savior, the Sovereign, the Victor, the One who reigns and will reign forever. He is my Father, my Savior, and my Boss. He is ever near and ever faithful.
My passion for ministry does not come from how I am being received. It flows the reality that I have been received by him. I’m not enthusiastic because people me, but because he has accepted and sent me. I’m not passionate because ministry is glorious, but because God is eternally and unchangeably glorious.
So I preach, teach, counsel, lead, and serve with a gospel passion that inspires and ignites the same in the people around me.
Confidence, that inner sense of well-being and capability, comes from knowing the One I serve. He is my confidence and ability. He will not call me to a task unless he has enabled me to do it. He has more zeal for the health of his church than I ever will.
No one has more interest in the use of my gifts than the One who gave them. No one has more zeal for his glory than he does. He is ever-present and ever-willing. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is boundless in love and glorious in grace.He does not change; he is faithful forever. His word will not cease to be true. His power to save will never be exhausted. His rule will not run out. He will never be conquered by one greater than himself.
I can do what I have been called to do with confidence, not because of who I am, but because he is my Father, and he is glorious in every way.
Ministry isn’t always glorious. Sometimes your naïve expectations have proven to be just that—-naïve. Sometimes it’s going to take more than ministry success and the appreciation of people to pull you bed to fulfill your calling.
Sometimes you won’t much see much fruit as the result of your labors and won’t have much hope of seeing a harvest anytime soon. Sometimes you will think you have been betrayed and feel alone.
So your discipline must be rooted in something deeper than a horizontal assessment of how things appear to be going. I am more and more persuaded in my own life that sturdy self-discipline, the kind that is essential in pastoral ministry, is rooted in worship.
The awesome glory of God’s existence, character, plan, presence, promises, and grace gives me reason to work hard and not give up, no matter whether we are in a “good” season or one that is stormy.
Finally, as I face my weaknesses and the messiness of the local church, what gives me rest of heart? Glory gives you rest. It is the knowledge that nothing is too hard for the God whom you serve. It is the surety that all things are possible with him. It is knowing, with Abraham, that the one who made all those promises is faithful.
There may seem to be many horizontal reasons to be anxious, but I will not let my heart be captured by worry or fear, because the God of inestimable glory who sent me has made this promise: “I will be with you.” I don’t have to play games with myself.
I don’t have to deny or minimize reality in order to feel okay, because he has invaded my existence with his glory, and I can rest even in the brokenness between the “already” and the “not yet.”
Getting Your Awe Back
I don’t have a set of strategies for you in conclusion. But I counsel you to run now, run quickly, to your Father of awesome glory. Confess the offense of your boredom. Plead for eyes opened to the 360-degree, 24/7 display of glory to which you have been blind.
Determine to spend a certain portion of every day in meditating on his glory. Cry out for the help of others. And remind yourself to be thankful for Jesus, who offers you his grace even at those moments when grace isn’t nearly as gloriously valuable to you as it should be.