Since I became an active part of the Christ-following tribe, I’ve heard a certain line of thought repeated. It is usually uttered by someone who can be described as a ‘seasoned leader.’ A person that has been around the block a few times. The setting will usually be one of reminiscence. It might go something like this:
“When I was younger I can remember how I served. I packed out chairs, helped with setting things up and I even cleaned some toilets (the toilet one is regularly mentioned).”
The person will then convey that they’ve put in the hard yards and that it is now someone else’s opportunity to take over. The speaker has graduated from menial acts of servanthood. If younger people are around, they will then be told that it is now their turn to serve and to start at the bottom.
When I hear thinking like this articulated I always wonder if it is still part of the shape of Jesus’ example. Personally I can’t imagine Jesus taking this line of thought with his disciples. Jesus as our example is the one who entered Jerusalem on a donkey and then washed his disciples’ feet.
Speaking of the donkey. I’m alarmed at how many of my colleagues in ministry forgot that Jesus chose this lowly creature as his mode of transportation. Jesus didn’t enter on a war horse. What do we do when ministers (a softer word than servant) insist on flying first class to their destinations so that they can be ‘fresh’ to speak the word? Can you imagine Jesus saying to his disciples, “Listen boys, in a few days I’ll be crucified so I need to be fresh – please get me better transportation, something that won’t drain my energy.” It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?
I don’t think we graduate or retire from servanthood. If we do, then we’ve left the journey with Jesus and exchanged it for one of comfort and entitlement. We (especially pastors) are also called to continue this journey. We cannot outsource our servanthood. Yet we can so easily think that we’re teaching so-and-so to serve and so by definition we’re serving through them, a kind of servanthood by proxy.
At one point, Jesus’ disciples also engaged in the kind of thinking that wants to graduate and retire or outsource serving. Luke gives us a window into this conversation:
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22.24-26
Since I’ve been in ministry, I’ve usually been the youngest on the teams where I’ve served. Younger people usually get nominated for menial tasks for no other reason than being the youngest. So I find it interesting that now that I’m becoming a bit older, Jesus reminds me to continue with the attitude of being the youngest. It is in this continual engagement on the downward journey that we become freed from our ever present egoistic desires to be in front. I hope that the above mentioned speech won’t come out of my mouth. That my life will speak of serving with a glad heart because the One I follow left me this pattern to follow.