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December 1, 2021
March 21, 2024

Set, Serve, Send: Leading as a Servant

As pastors we have really strange jobs.

Last week, I preached a sermon to a room with a few hundred people in attendance while a few thousand tuned in online, that’s a strange dynamic. After the sermon, I had the joy of talking with a woman who was in tears at her newfound faith in Christ’s grace. Later in the week I had a neighbor ask me to perform a funeral for his dad who he hadn’t seen in 15 years. After the funeral I received an irate email from a church member who was blowing me up for not offering an afternoon small group in his neighborhood.

Serving sheep can be exhausting and exhilarating, tedious and amazing all at the same time. And if we aren’t paying attention, our ministry motives can drift from serving the sheep to using the sheep to serve us.

Paul David Tripp, in his book LEAD drops this wisdom bomb,

“As a leader, you are not called to mastery; you’re called to servanthood. The master who called you didn’t live the entitled life of a master but the life of a suffering servant. Every moment of his life, from the straw piercing his infant skin to the nails piercing his hands and feet, your master suffered… self focused leadership results in demotivating discontentment, desire for control, and a loss of joy all of which is an indicator of a fundamental misunderstanding of the position and lifestyle to which you have been called.”

I wonder if you have felt any of these marks of being a self focused leader?

  • A self focused leader sees church members not as people to be loved but as pawns to be used.
  • A self focused leader loves to be right and uses theology to bully or manipulate.
  • A self focused leader will be jealous of anyone who is seen as more gifted in an area of their gifting or diminish the gifting of someone with a different gift than theirs.
  • A self focused leader will be continually frustrated with church members because they won’t serve in their ministry.
  • A self focused leader will have a pattern of complaining about ministry and members because of an heir of entitlement.

Do you remember what Jesus said in Mark 10:45? He told His disciples that His purpose was NOT to be served but to serve and to give his life away for many.

Now, that’s an extremely counter-cultural purpose statement. To serve others means to not look at people as commodities or dollar signs. It means encouraging not exploiting, it means blessing people not using them, it means living your life in such a way that helps others thrive and live with the joy that God brings. That’s what drove Jesus.

How can we serve like Jesus?

Let me offer a simple framework for pastoral service.

Setting the Table

Imagine going to a restaurant with no tables or chairs or plates or cups. You just stand near the kitchen and they put soup into your hands, that would be a terrible experience. You see, before you walk into a restaurant someone has already set the table. They put out the napkins, filled the salt and pepper, and cleaned the silverware. All of these are unseen things that we only notice if they are not done.

In ministry, setting the table is serving without notice. This includes all of the behind the scenes things that are done in the church (setting up chairs, tuning the sound system, scheduling the HVAC) so that people can meet with God. If you had no chairs, no audio amplification, no air conditioning could God still move? Of course, but serving sets the stage for us to hear from God, to commune with one another.

So leader, your role may be up front, or it may be setting up a chair, it may be setting the table so that people can eat. Some of your roles are exclusively behind the scenes and some of you love that and some of you despise it.

Can I let you in on a little ministry secret. Most of your ministry is setting the table. It is the proverbial iceberg beneath the surface. It is writing messages, it is planning calendars, it is google docs and sheets and slides, it is praying alone in your room, it is reading not to teach but to learn and love, it is, “Hey pastor, can I talk to you for a second?”

On the heaviest teaching or preaching week, I’ll preach two sermons, teach a class or two, and maybe lead a large meeting. That’s a busy week but will only add up to about 2.5 hours on stage and something like 43 hours off the stage.

What’s the point? Most of your work and prayer and ministry is spent setting tables so that people can meet with Jesus.

Serving the Table

Once the table is set, now it’s time to eat.

IHOP had a commercial that boasted that people who ate at the IHOP would “come hungry and leave happy.”

Serving the table includes the informal conversations, coffees, texts and the more formal meetings, services, and gatherings. When we meet with people, either formally or informally, we want them to come hungry for God and leave filled. We want them to taste and see that the Lord is good. We want them to be well fed, reminded of the goodness of God, thankful for the grace of God and sharpened in their calling from God to lead, to work, or to love their neighbors. Our role isn’t to shame them but to serve them.

This isn’t just planning services, it is serving people, better said planning services that serve people.

Have you ever cooked a special meal for someone only to have them eat it in 5 minutes? I mean you marinated for hours, you got the charcoal up to the right temp, you sautéed and seasoned and researched the perfect pairing and everyone comes in and vacuums in the meal and within 5 minutes of sitting down the food is gone and the dirty plates are in the sink?

We want our people to enjoy the meal, but do we want them to enjoy the meal because we worked hard to prepare it and we want to be recognized? Or do we want them to enjoy it because we want them to enjoy the giver of life?

There are weeks where I prepare a sermon for 25 hours and someone afterward will say, “Man, that opening story sure was funny” or (and I quote) “Hey pastor, that sermon wasn’t too bad, I didn’t even get in my normal Sunday morning nap.” Thanks, I guess?

Serving the table means that you give them your gifting. Pastor, your gifting isn’t for you, it is for them (1 Peter 4:10). Give it to them with joy.

Sending the Table

Ministry isn’t only a meal. Fill them up and send them out (Mark 3:14). If our people only sit and learn and enjoy the worship service, we’ve only made half disciples.  So after they have been served and fed, now it is time for them to go serve and feed others.

And what happens after people have gone out and served and worked all week? They get hungry again, and so the table needs to be reset & re-served and they need to be re- sent. That’s the calling, so keep serving.

How can you grow as a servant leader? Here are a few ways:

  • Servant leaders share their giftedness and resources, they don’t hoard them.
  • Servant leaders are disciples makers not attention seekers.
  • Servant leaders rejoice in the success of others instead of looking for others to applaud them.
  • Servant leaders are willing to lead and be led.
  • Servant leaders are self forgetful, they don’t tie every conversation and decision to themselves.

Yes, ministry is a strange job, but it is an incredible calling.

So leader, go serve for “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”

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Matt Blackwell
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