Before Church 10/20/2019
by Elizabeth Stone
But Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you, But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ~Matthew 20:25-28
Mrs. Zebedee wants prime seats for her sons in eternity. But in order to occupy Heaven, to have honor and position in Heaven, we must be able to drink the cup Christ drank, and be appointed to that position by the Father. Christian leadership is not based on the worldly cut-throat competition for achievement, nor is it based on human authority and rule, but on the upside-down paradigm of leadership that Jesus established and lived out before us: sacrificial servanthood. Being first in the community of believers means to humbly take up our position as last, as slave and servant to the LORD and to His church; to follow in Christ’s footsteps, coming to serve, giving up our lives for others.
Orientation at seminary found me sitting with a young man who wore a snazzy fedora, set at a jaunty angle (which he didn’t remove indoors). We shared a table with two professors, both men, and this newbie talked exclusively to them, talking about his goal of starting a mega church; he was going to do great things for Jesus. I thought about my two small churches in West Virginia, and the soul-draining work of walking with my people as I strove to complete my education and my ordination. And it occurred to me that this young man despised the day of small things, that he was determined to have personal glory, missing the whole point Jesus was making here: to be great in God’s Kingdom is to dedicate one’s life to servanthood, and the greatest leaders are the ones who humbly serve others.
What does this mean practically? It means that Christian leaders take on a job that will tax all their energies of life, learning, and compassion. It means to be passionate about salvation, as Christ was, to always be seeking to save others, and to save them for their spiritual good. It means to humbly take on tasks that forward the passion Christ has for souls, to listen, to ask people what they need, to help them, to touch the them, to bring the healing of God into their souls as well as their lives. This means to be last in the eyes of the world so as to be first in God’s. It means to share in Christ’s sufferings, the betrayal, the false and unjust testimonies and trials, the unjust condemnation and sentencing, the mockery, beatings, punishment from the world, so that we may also share in the joy of His resurrection (Philippians 3:7-11) It means that we stop, we don’t pass by the people shouting for help, nor the people whose voices are hoarse and weak from crying out. We silence those trying to exclude them, we help them and by Jesus’ power to heal them, and we invite them to also follow Jesus.
November is the time churches in my denomination select elders to rule the congregation. What attributes are we looking for in leaders? Are the people chosen to lead the people who know what it is like to be in the trenches with God’s people, to serve the least of these, the ones who often are overlooked? Because to occupy Heaven, we must take up cross, and follow Him. The best leaders in the church are the ones who have a history of serving others.