Humble Leadership Serves
When I was a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, the senior pastor, Greg Gilbert, once asked during a Sunday evening service, “Who would like to preach the evening devotional sometime?” A few dozen eager male hands go up. Pregnant pause. Then, “Which of you are currently serving in the nursery or children’s ministry?” Many hands drop to a low soundtrack of laughter.
Jesus’s warnings to the Pharisees are harrowing reading for the aspiring pastor:
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:5–12)
The antidote to hypocrisy is humility. What good deeds do you do that are seen by few or none? When did you last volunteer for a menial task? Which title means more to you, “brother,” which you are, or “pastor,” which you hope to be? Is being a servant your idea of greatness?
One of the best things an aspiring pastor can do is serve outside the spotlight. Give elderly members rides to church. Serve in the nursery. Teach children’s Sunday school. Volunteer to serve food at, and clean up after, the wedding reception of a couple of church members you barely know.
Everybody wants to be a servant until they get treated like one. Pastors not only are servants; they get treated like servants. Prepare yourself now for both the work and its reception by serving others. The best preparation for the spiritual trials of the spotlight is serving cheerfully in the shadows.
The church I help lead is overflowing with men who aspire to be pastors. In assessing these brothers, one question our elders regularly ask is whether a man serves in ways that do not evidently advance his ministry ambitions. What about you? If I audited the categories of your church involvement, would “something in it for you” appear in each?
One of the best things an aspiring pastor can do is serve outside the spotlight.
Are you as eager to spend time with a lonely, introverted church member on the margins as you are to hang out with your senior pastor? An aspiration to lead can easily develop a calculating, mercenary streak. Scan your heart for signs of such subtle, cancerous pride, and operate before it can metastasize.
When the sons of Zebedee asked Jesus for glory, he promised them suffering instead: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38). Unlike rulers of the Gentiles, leaders in the church are to be not lords but servants, not striving to be first but making ourselves slaves (Mark 10:42–44). To ask one of a child’s favorite questions, “Why should I?” Just keep reading: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The reason the eternal Son of God became incarnate was to serve you by giving his life for you.
I know more than one pastor who, in the early years of his ministry, not only preached every Sunday, but cleaned the church’s toilets just as often. Why not clean some now?
Pursue godliness. Pursue godliness more than you pursue position or publicity or prestige. Pursue godliness more than you pursue the pulpit. Pursue godliness more than you pursue others’ recognition of your godliness. Pursue godliness when no one is looking and no one cares. Pursue godliness when it seems like godliness is not getting you where you want to go.
Making the biblical qualifications [of a leader] your compass puts pressure on your character, where it belongs, and takes pressure off your circumstances, where it doesn’t. What do you care more about, repentance or recognition? If the latter, stay away from the pulpit. If you are not godly out of the spotlight, you will never be godly in it.
This article is adapted from The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring.
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