In light of recent events and meditations on Jesus’ humility, you have been challenged to re-evaluate your understanding and practice of “ministry.” Quite simply, you’re moving from a model of “help” to a model of “service.” In your life and ministry, you unintentionally equated the two actions. You never gave their distinctions much thought. Help and service looked the same to you.
In not understanding their distinction, you’d get frustrated when your “help” was rejected and angry when your help was not appreciated. You were confused when good Christian people did not respond to the help you thought they were asking for. You assumed people to whom you were ministering actually wanted to be helped. Some did. Many did not.
You thought you were serving people by trying to help them. This mindset created expectations of outcomes which were often frustrated. Most troublesome to you was that this whole process was out of your control. And, how you despise not being in control. All of this could have been avoided if you’d practiced true “service.” Ministry as fixing people’s problems is no ministry at all. It is an attempt at spiritualizing or “biblicizing” your control issues.
As a consequence, when your expectations went unmet you often wondered if ministry was worth it. Discouragement lurked around many conversations, sermons, and meetings. Often, you felt like a failure so you’d resign yourself to doing ministry better which often meant reading some kind of Christian self-help book or attending a seminar. But, becoming a better minister didn’t change anything. New methods weren’t the answer. You needed a fundamental reality check accompanied by greater participation in the life of Christ. Simply, you needed to see yourself as a servant and learn to abide in Christ in ways hitherto unknown.
Let’s see if distinctions can be made between helping and serving…
Definitions: to make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or financial or material aid; improve (a situation or problem); assist (someone) to put on or take off (a garment); relieve the symptoms of (an ailment). (New Oxford American Dictionary)
Helping implies, and the definitions support, that there are results or outcomes in the person or situation being helped. Helping implies an expectation on the part of the one helping and outcomes on the one being helped. Cause and effect. I do this for you, you respond accordingly.
Definitions: to perform duties or services for (another person or an organization); provide with a product or service; present (food or drink) to someone; attend to. (New Oxford American Dictionary)
Serving implies, and the definitions support, that there are no outcomes expected. Something is provided and that’s the end of it. True service needs no response from the one served.
Therefore, a “servant” is a person who performs duties for others. They are servants not for the recognition, praise, thanks, or prestige…nor for the impact they may have on the ones they serve. They are content and pleased to serve. Period.
So, now you come to St. Paul’s challenge to you which you’ve been pondering for over two years…
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each one of you look…also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who…made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant… (Philippians 2.3-7).
You are being challenged to serve people not to help them…to be a servant like Jesus. This sounds so unchristian. Yet, it is so Jesus.
As a true servant, perhaps Jesus never got frustrated, confused, or angry with others because he was not on earth to help people but to serve them. He came not to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20.28). Having taken the form of a servant, he served…plain and simple. He humbly gave himself to others with (if any) outcomes known only to Him.
So, how can you learn to be this kind of person – a self-emptying servant? This passage helps you on your way…
- Stop competing – “do nothing from rivalry or conceit.” The Christian life and ministry is not a competition – who can be the best Christian, know the Bible best, worship with the deepest emotion, do the grandest miracles, help the most people. Comparing yourself to others is sin. You are not better than anyone. As an athlete, you’ve competed your whole life. But now, on the path of humility, repent of your deep-seated selfishness and desire for recognition and praise.
- Treat all people as more significant than you – “count others more significant than yourselves.” Honor the image of God in everyone. See your own faults and do not treat others with contempt.
- Take a sincere interest in the interests of others – “look to the interests of others.” Stop talking about yourself, your issues, your stuff. Ask questions. Listen. Show that you care about them and their stuff. Refrain from turning the conversation on to yourself (you do this more than you think). Serve by being attentive to what matters to others.
- BECOME a servant as you learn to serve – “take the form of a servant” (like Jesus). Learn (it takes a lifetime) to quietly, purposefully, thoughtfully, humbly, and lovingly care for others. Dispense with outcomes…let go of your expectations. Reject a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Let your service be enough.
The path of true, “Jesus-like” humility consists of service like this. You fear this path because your pride, bolstered by years of adulation, refuses to deflate. Ask the Triune God to grant grace to sustain you and love to carry you. Come to Jesus every day (and whenever needed) and learn gentleness, humility, and true service.