Let’s Be Honest: No One Wants to Be a Servant to All

Many years ago, I served in an associate role alongside an interim pastor at a First Baptist Church in a far-off town.
We were going off to lunch in my vehicle one day, passing by in front of the church. The interim pastor pointed out the window as we pulled out and remarked, “Look at that garbage on the sidewalk. We need to get someone to pick that up.”
I put my foot on the brake and began to slow down.
“I’m happy to pull off. We could pick up the trash real fast,” I offered.
My colleague guffawed and waved me off saying, “And how would that look? The pastor of the First Baptist Church picking up garbage!”
Appearances matter. Don’t deny it. Who among us doesn’t wish to be regarded as the best or most important? Admit it, y’all. We all want to sit at the head of the table; whichever table that may be.
“Status is not a gift of the Spirit.”
With that opening salvo, Dr. Craig Hill goes about the work of challenging us about our desire to be at the top of the heap in his book, Servant of All: Status, Ambition and the Way of Jesus.
Status can be defined as one’s position of prominence or rank. It’s a limited commodity in our world. You can gain it. You can lose it. Status is valuable and can be traded for worldly treasures, admiration and potentially—if you play your cards right—power and control. “Power, wealth and physical attractiveness are common denominators of status,” Hill argues, “which are displayed in everything from job titles to clothing styles, food preferences to street addresses.”
We shouldn’t be surprised by the irony on display in social media. Many of us are aware that the way to post ‘updates’ about ourselves on Facebook is colloquially known as our ‘status.’ Oh yes, social media is to status as gasoline is to fire.
But then, Hill levels the boom on faithful followers of the Son of God when he posits: “Has anyone but Jesus lived with such utter disregard for social status?”
No, our insatiable desire to look good, accomplish much, and rule over the masses was not learned from Jesus. Think about it. Jesus himself rejects the temptation to be first and best. Rather, he relentlessly champions a Kingdom that values the least of these, and is best described as a Great Reversal. Jesus teaches parables that proclaim an upside-down values system. Furthermore, Jesus cautions us to not practice our piety for worldly reward. He condemns the hypocrites who like to be seen and heard. He rejects the idea that our material wealth is a sign of Divine blessing—surely a rebuke to proclaimers of a prosperity gospel. It’s clear, isn’t it? Jesus is not like us.
Jesus is, without question, a servant. “He showed no concern for his own standing, spending most of his days in the company of the socially insignificant and marginalized.”
Sadly, as history and our own personal experiences will yield, we do not live up to Jesus’ ideals, commandments and expectations. The disciples, of course, are prime evidence to this point, but we too are driven by own our ambitions to be ‘something’ in this world.
Hill will argue that it is not whether we will be ambitious for high-standing in the world, but rather toward what we are ambitious, and why.
To make his point, Hill states that we are to model our life after Jesus and that we are to be zealous and ambitious for the good of all, and not simply seek the good of the self or the individual.
I struggle with this. I am proud of my accomplishments, my pursuits and my post at the First Baptist Church of our fair town. I carefully craft my entries on social media to look clever, successful and admirable. And before you think that the interim pastor who didn’t want to be confused with a sidewalk custodian was some villain, consider the fact that I knew exactly what I was doing when I suggested that we stop to pick up the trash. Let me be clear. I was intent on shaming, not service.
What will be the guiding principle in our lives? Will it be what’s best for ourselves? Will it be our ruthless attempt to improve our own standing, and to garner the most praise, or get what we ourselves want? We’re not so different from Jesus’s own disciples who told the Son of God: “Hey. Do whatever we ask of you.”
We can choose to do this. It’s certainly the path of least resistance in our world. We can tread down that path. But when we do, we won’t look anything like Jesus.
Nope. Not one bit. And that prospect haunts and convicts me.
How about you?