Servanthood: Our Christian Calling
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We love titles, even in Christian circles. Whether it is Pastor, President, Professor, or Pope, titles are common currency in the church’s vocabulary. Inherent within some of those titles is the concept of hierarchy, authority and very often, privilege. The obvious or unseen but well-known underbelly of titles is church politics.

A classic example of church and politics is the church of Rome. According to the Vatican yearbook the Pope has nine titles: “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff (Pontifex Maximus) of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.” (Incidentally, Pontifex Maximus was originally the high priest of the pagan mystery religion of Rome. It was held by the Roman Emperor himself as the chief priest of the Roman State Cult.)

Diakonos

Christ’s Example Image © Lars Justinen from GoodSalt.com

In stark contrast to all of that is the Apostle Paul’s favourite title,  “Paul a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle” (Romans 1:1).

Servant (diakonos) is a key word in the NT which nails down our calling and status as Christians and indeed is one of the biblical titles, par excellence, which all followers (disciples) of Jesus Christ, ought to carry with humility and dignity, not just as deacons and “deaconesses.” There is no Greek equivalent word for “deaconesses” in the New Testament since diakonos is both a masculine and a feminine noun.

Diakonos occurs 31 times in 29 verses in the Greek concordance of the KJV. It means someone who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master, a servant, attendant, minister – men and women alike.

In our church usage a deacon or “deaconess” carries out a number of duties and responsibilities assigned to him or to her by the laying on of hands. Those are listed in our latest church manual (2010 edition, pp 76 – 79).

In Acts 6 we read that seven men were set apart by the laying on of hands. I am intentionally avoiding the use of the word “ordination,” as there is no original word for “ordination” in the original languages of the New Testament.

The most important qualification of those seven men was being Holy Spirit-filled and having a good reputation within the church community. They were the crop of the crème spiritually speaking. Two of them went on to serve in amazing ways, Stephen and Phillip.

In Acts 7 we read of Stephen’s first and last sermon. He didn’t mince his words. He was not a crowd or congregation pleaser. No prosperity gospel, feel-good factor preacher. He was such a spirit-filled preacher that he drew a large crowd who, instead of saying  a loud “Amen” at the end of his powerful sermon, took him outside the city and stoned him to death.

One sermon and you are dead! Stephen’s servanthood came to an abrupt end, but his reward will never end.

His brief stint as a preacher shaped the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Let’s never underestimate the impact  a spirit-filled servant of the Lord – yes, a church member, a deacon turned evangelist – can make.

In Acts 8 we learn of Philip. He traveled up to Samaria and planted at least one church there. He was such a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus that God chose him to convert AND baptize an important Ethiopian official. An “ordinary” church member, a deacon, turned evangelist and soul winner, who baptizes. There are many scholars who believe this Ethiopian may have influenced the spread of Christianity in Africa.

Servanthood is what the church, its vitality, its growth, and its modus operandi  to carry out its mission to the world is all about. How beautifully this is illustrated and evidenced in the lives of New Testament deacons and deaconesses, the servants of Jesus Christ.

Servanthood in Our Time

Servanthood as exemplified by Paul and by Jesus Himself, when he knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet, is what makes the church of the living God the uniquely effective and vibrant Body of Christ.

When I went to SFTS (San Francisco Theological Seminary) in California to study for my D.Min., it took me a little while to get used to the seminary’s culture where they lived Paul’s words in a very practical way “… there is neither Jew, nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

We were all on same first-name basis – president, professors, office staff and students.  Men and women pastors and lecturers functioned as equals, serving one another. Quite a few of them were eminent scholars and theologians in their own rights who authored text books, wrote in encyclopedias and had doctorates from prestigious universities such as Harvard and Oxford.

Where this simple but beautiful spirit of equality prevails, that of servanthood thrives. We cannot afford to struggle with the dissonance of being servants of Jesus Christ and yet expect or even crave to be addressed by our respective titles.

Wherever I have served my church in different parts of the world, in any capacity, I have consistently asked to be called by my first name. There were times I was introduced as, “Pastor, Dr, President.” I would then stand, thank the brother or sister for their kind words of welcome and introduction and state that I preferred to be addressed by my first name only.

When nominating time comes around and the church elects its “officers,” at any level of the church organization, we would do well to remember that what we often call church office, with its respective titles, is actually a ministry gifted to us by the Holy Spirit, recognized and acknowledged by the church.

More importantly, no ministry is higher or more prestigious than another. At the foot of the cross where we all take our various mantles of servant leadership the ground is level.

The General Conference Presidency is not more important in God’s eyes than the servant ministry of the little old sister who visits her neighbour once a week to give her a Bible study in her home or takes her a loaf or freshly baked bread to show God’s love in her time of need.

If we fully embrace the biblical title of servants of Jesus Christ, at least three things will happen – we will eliminate politics, or power struggles, in our midst, we will rejoice and prayerfully support those who are asked to be servant leaders in any capacity, paid or unpaid, and we will make an impact on our world as was the case for servants Stephen, Philip, Paul, and others.

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Servanthood: Our Christian Calling — 19 Comments

  1. Claude,

    Your post made me smile. I have a dual career. I am a route courier. Everything that I deliver is of a critical nature. And it must make it to the destination regardless of the weather. I drive 140 - 350 miles/day. I remember that I had to deliver surgical tools for a major back operation that morning after I just drove 180 miles on my route. I drove an additional 120 miles but I made it, by God's traveling mercies, well before the deadline.

    I also teach General Education courses online to adults. Many had me destined to teach the more advanced students. However, I am glad that God did not have that in mind. General Education courses are foundational. Without these courses, students can forget going to complete their degrees. Thus, my role is of a critical nature similar to that of being a courier.

    I am glad that God has given me the ability to be execute college professor and courier servanthood simultaneously. Another benefit is adventure.

    God bless,

    David

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    • I can empathise and identify, to some extent, with your comment. The Lord must have assigned you with a special traffic angel to keep you safe on the road as you clock in those thousands of miles. More significantly you seem to be enjoying your two-pronged servanthood ministry/calling that pays the bills. Blessings to you brother David.

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      • Yes, Claude,

        The Lord has assigned me a special traffic angel or angels.

        I have been blessed to avoid a head-on collision when the driving conditions involved a pitch black night with misty rain and dense fog.

        Just this past summer, the Lord blessed me with delay. I was able to avoid a tornado that struck a town on my route.

        God enabled me last winter to drive through five changes of the weather within about 110 miles. The weather varied from thunderstorms to sleet/freezing rain to a lake-effect snowstorm.

        The Lord empowered me to deliver some blood one night for a surgery the following morning. I had to drive through a driving snowstorm for about one-third of the 120 mile trip.

        Recently, God gave me "x-ray" vision. I drove through dense fog for the majority of 40 miles.

        When we ask God for traveling mercies, that is a serious request that should not be taken lightly.

        David

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        • David, Shabat Shalom! You definitely have material for a book there! I can fully identify with you having driven literally hundreds of thousand of miles in a dozen countries over the past 40 years and coming face to face with death, time and again, yet still alive today and in one piece, is nothing less than God's miraculous interventions. Like you, He had and still has a work for me to do ( I am driving for six hours today to go and preach in another town), and HIs special traffic angel has never failed me, not even once. What more powerful evidence of a loving and protecting God's existence is there?!

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  2. Claude, thank you so much for these thoughts that are so appropriate in terms of the great controversy Which we are studying this week.

    The battle ground of this controversy is in the hearts and minds of men and women. The arch deceiver aspired to sit on the throne of the universe, and he still successfully persuades much of mankind that they need to be "kings" and "queens" of one sort or another. Certainly few aspire to be "servants." And yet this is the principle of the heavenly Kingdom that Christ illustrated in His own life. He became a servant of servants, even though He could rightfully claim the throne of the universe, right beside His father. (See Phil. 2:3-8)

    We get to choose the side we support in this war of the kingdoms--the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan. If we choose Christ's Kingdom, we also choose to be servants--first being submissive to Christ, then being servants to one another. A desire to rule and control, on the other hand, demonstrates that the one who so desires is still a subject of the kingdom of Satan.

    Christ said we could not serve two masters. We are either on His side, as servants, or we are on Satan's side as rulers and controllers. This is true for the ordinary Christian as well as for leaders at all levels of even God's church. Satan has planted his 5th columnists in all sorts of unsuspected places. But Christ still knocks at each heart's door--whether lay person or leader--asking, "Will you let Me in and let Me be Lord, so that I can teach you to be a servant as I am a Servant?"

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    • Inge, your points are well taken. There is so much more one could say about this sensitive topic. I'd like to add my penny's worth regarding the saying of Jesus that we cannot serve two masters. I quote from the book I published in Cairo in May 1994, "Seventh-day Adventist missionary finance: Towards the Financial Self-Support of the seventh-day day Adventist church in Egypt." (pp 1&2). Jesus said: " No servant can serve two two Masters. Either he will hate the one, and love the other, or be attentive to the one, and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and money" (New American Bible, Luke 16:13). Another version reads: “you cannot serve both God and money" (NIV). Strictly speaking, one can serve two masters by dividing time between them. But the Greek word here is stronger than "serve". It is to be " a slave to" (Greek NT: "doulouein"). It demands total allegiance. A person can share his/her time, never his/her allegiance. You cannot split your soul. Christ is really saying that all manner of wealth: money, property, and possessions can easily pose as a deity that demands our life and death devotion in the same way as God does (Interpreter's Bible, Vol VII, 1959:33). Mammon is thus "personified as a rival Lord" (The International Biblical Commentary, Vol I, 1988:643). Sadly, money has sometime been used in the Christian church throughout history, including our own, to control and “lord it over God's people", rather than being a means of exemplifying the spirit of servant hood.

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  3. Claude,
    Your comments are really inspiring. Have you ever wondered if as a people of the Kingdom we believe what we preach? Can we stop peraching? NO. But if each one of us can purposed in our hearts that we will live as true servants of Christ then we will make a difference

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  4. Others first, no matter our position and talents. If we all put that into practice, what a change we'd see.
    Thanks for sharing. We have had pastors who insist on being called
    Pastor. I respect the education they have but I prefer a first name basis...especially now when we are around 60 yrs. old.

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    • Indeed yes, Jane! Although someone once said to me, "If you cannot put yourself first, how can you help others!". They seem to forget what Christ did. Where would you and I be today if He had done that.Pastors how insist on being called Pastor might do well to prayerfully ponder over their reason(s) for doing so. If I am a pastor I don't need to be called one in order to be one. Pastor means shepherd. How would s/he feel if her/his members would start calling her/him by her/his biblical role in the Body of Christ? And what does a shepherd do...?

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  5. My dearest brother Claude,
    Thank you so much for this article! It has re-affirmed the message give to us recently in a town hall meeting by our conference president Dean Coridan. It seems so often that our church leaders, especially those whom we have elected, nominated, or who have been chosen by the churches to serve have lost the concept of being exactly that, servants. Dean really brought this to light in our town hall meeting a few weeks ago. It is so refreshing to see that someone in his elected position truly adheres to this concept! As Dean described this idea, it extends to those "officials" even up to very "highest offices"of our church! They, just as we members of the local churches, are all equal servants of God! I hope and pray this biblical truth spreads like a wild-fire to those whom still believe that elected officials should be served rather than are to be servants themselves!
    Again, thank you so much for re-exposing this vital biblical truth!

    Sincerely your brother in Christ
    Michael Lopez

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    • Perhaps we need to remind ourselves - and maybe our leaders - that in reality each person is called by God to a position, even if it is the nominating committee or session who seems to make the decision. In our church authority lies with the church as a whole, and is delegated 'upwards' to where it can be best used for the good of the whole church. The Pope's title "servant of the servants of God" is one we should all strive to live up to.

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      • Is is not sad when our political mindset obscures that fact Kevin, and even after having fervently prayed over the nominating process, there are those who are grieved by the results, and in some cases, will even stop attending church because they were not entirely satisfied with the results.

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    • Hi Michael, my one and only son is also a Michael, a good biblical name Thanks for your kind words of affirmation. The Holy Spirit is surely at work when He connects His people around the world with the same thoughts and values that make us authentic followers of Jesus. When it comes to any elected position in the church, all the way to the GC President, it's not about popularity, pomp and prestige, but servant leadership.

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    • Praise the Lord brother Kenneth that the Holy Spirit is stirring you to action. It's time to graduate from pew warmer to heart seeker for Jesus. Just be sure to not throw the baby out with the bath water"! In this instance you can have your cake and eat it. Go to church and work for the Lord. The church is the Body of Christ organised for service, we don't attend church or church service. Utilise your Holy Spirit giftedness to build up the church and make a difference in your community, and let us know how you are getting along.

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  6. While I understand your line of argument I cannot fully agree. You have to be careful in not promoting a personal preference as a standard to follow. There are many cultures around the world including my own where addressing persons on a first name basis is a no-no. Respect is shown to elders( an elder may simply be one who is older than you or one who holds certain offices). The terms pastor, deacon, teacher are not terms which denote worship, adulation or undue adoration and are perfectly fine to use to address our fellow brethren. We address our school teachers as "Teacher Jane" for example and would not dream of saying just "Jane". It would be total disrespect. What I think is unnecessary is having to call my pastor "Dr. Morris" for example. If he wants to have a PhD to serve the church better that's fine but he should not insist on being conferred with a worldly title/honour that sets him apart intellectually in the church setting. He is still a pastor/shepherd to the flock, the biblical title bestowed to his office. Pastors and other church officers should still be respected. In fact, as church members we do not even call each other by first names. We address everyone as "Sister this" and "Brother that" so we have no problem with "Pastor this" or "Deacon that" either. This way no one feels inferior or superior to each other. WE are a happy family of believers. GOD BLESS!

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    • First let me refer back to how Paul calls himself, "Paul a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle” (Romans 1:1). Would our members respect our pastors or church leaders if they were to stand in front of the congregation and state at the beginning of their sermon, " Good morning Church, I am Jack, John, Judith, etc, a servant of Jesus Christ"! When did you last hear that in any of our churches? I am a third generation 7th day Adventist, we never heard it said. Would our members have less respect for him/her? Your point is very well taken that it is, at the end of the day, a cultural matter. Culture changes when new ideas emerge, are embraced by enough people and given sufficient time to become the new culture. My mother has 7 adult children, 14 grand children, and 10 great grandchildren. Apart from mum, dad and granny, we all call ourselves by our first names, from the 2 year old to the 70 year old respectfully.Would you call your pastor Dr if his doctorate was in Ministry! Anyhow my whole article was about one point, and one only, the biblical teaching of servanthood. How each person translates and applies that in the context of their own culture is their right and privilege. Shabat shalom!

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