/ servant leader / James Faris

If You Want to be a Servant-Leader...

As a pastor, I’m asked for counsel by young people contemplating their calling as they embark on education or as they enter the workforce. Inquiries also arise from people considering a career change. People long for meaningful, fulfilling work. Christians want to be servant-leaders, but they can feel frustrated in their quest.

In the dialogue, I pull questions from my tool bag including “What do you like to do?”...“What are you good at?”...“What do other people tell you you’re good at?”...“Who are your key mentors?”...“How have you grown?”...“What has your family, church, educational, community, and professional background equipped you to do?”...“What natural connections to people, places, industries, and organizations has the Lord given you?” and “How do you believe the Lord is calling you to seek his kingdom in your work?”

Along with those, the question that seems most helpful is, “Who are you/will you be serving?” Connected to that question are the queries, “What motivates you to serve them?” and “How will you serve them?”

The people most satisfied in their calling are the people who take the greatest delight in satisfying the needs of the ones they serve. Individuals who search foremost to satisfy their own sense of fulfillment in work struggle most to find it. Conversely, those who forget about themselves and simply ask “How can I serve the people near me?” tend to find fulfillment. Not surprisingly, they are usually highly sought after, especially as their reputation grows.

It’s not only true in our work. It’s true in the church and our other communities. If you feel like you don’t have a place in your local congregation, ask how you can serve. You might just find that God fashioned your hands to hold a broom or mop handle more than you knew. Or you may find that there are older saints who simply need a listening ear. Or a nursery full of children to be tended.

Learning to serve can be painful and is always humbling. In my senior year of high school, I was  elected president of our presbytery youth leadership team. We planned youth events throughout the year. The Winter Conference between Christmas and New Year was the annual highlight. The conference, held at a small campground and conference center near Lafayette, Indiana, went exceedingly well. Gentle Reformation’s own Barry York, who was my pastor at the time, spoke powerfully from Isaiah 40 with “Knowing God” as his topic. Lives were changed; it was a wonderful time.

On the last day, everyone started to help clean up. But, some had to leave early because their ride was leaving. Then, another carload had to go due to certain commitments that day. Personal deadlines loomed for various of the adult chaperones. Family holiday gatherings beckoned still others.

Before I knew it, I was left all alone. They all left. Every. Last. Person. Parts of the kitchen still needed to be cleaned, the floor had to be mopped, borrowed equipment needed to be returned, and various and sundry other wrap up assignments remained. I knew we had to return the camp in better shape than we had found it.

I grew angry within. How and why could all of these friends have abandoned me to all that work? Why hadn’t God set them straight and kept them there? As I flung the mop-head back and forth across the kitchen floor, the Lord met me with his word by his Spirit and brought conviction of sin. The words of Mark 10:45 echoed through the halls of my angry heart: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Some time earlier, Barry had organized a service project for the youth in our local congregation one Saturday. He shared devotions on Mark 10:45 with the group. That day, I was assigned to work with Barry and one other student in a bathroom of a rather dilapidated house where we scraped decaying wallpaper. After that, a fresh coat of paint would make the place a little more pleasant for a needy neighbor. As we scraped, Barry questioned us further on the meaning of our verse. “To whom was the ransom paid?”...“How did Jesus serve?”... “What does that mean for us?” and so on. Many months later at the campground, the truth of Mark 10:45 hit home afresh as I swabbed the filth from the kitchen floor.

I had wanted my friends at the conference to know God in his majesty as Isaiah 40 details with such splendorous imagery...to know the God “who sits above the circle of earth...who stretches out the heavens like a curtain.” And they did. Yet, what I so obviously needed to learn is that the greatness of our God is most remarkably seen in the splendor of his service in Christ. By mopping, God was giving me the honor of serving my fellow students. In serving, I experienced fellowship with Jesus who became greater in my eyes that day. It’s not a lesson we learn once and then move on; it’s a lesson I keep having to learn every day.

About a decade later, I heard Ligon Duncan sum up the lesson well at a conference. He described how the Lord called his people to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6 & 1 Peter 2:9). Our Lord identifies us that way because kings lead and priests serve, and he wants a nation of servant-leaders. Yes, it’s good to want to be a servant-leader. “But,” Duncan punctuated his oration, “if you want to be a servant-leader, then you’d better expect to be treated like a servant.”

There may be many components to finding your calling. But we’ll never find true satisfaction in it until we’re always serving and expecting to be treated like a servant.

James Faris

James Faris

Child of God. Husband to Elizabeth. Father of six. Pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ordained as a pastor in 2003.

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