Are you being served? – part 6

The one true test of your leadership can be found in this simple question: “Are you being served?” If you are being served, you are not serving Jesus Christ. Servants are not to be served. Servants exist to serve. If you are not serving Jesus Christ, you are not being a leader in Jesus’s estimation. You are not extending the kingdom of God either. So, are you a servant of Jesus Christ or are you being served?

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving”.

(NIV, Colossians 4:3)

You may get your own coffee and open your own doors, but are you being served by a group of people who are below you? Do they look to you as their leader or to Christ? Are they working for your kingdom and your ideas or God’s kingdom and God’s plans? Do they do your menial tasks? Are you the guy in the spotlight at the end of the week? Did a large group of people work hard so that your name is on the ministry? Do people look to you as their spiritual guide? Are you an important influential person? Do you pastor a group of pastors who are over thousands of people in a network of congregations?

The fallen nature desires to be looked up to and trusted by others. It makes us feel important. The truth is that being a pastor has nothing to do with exercising authority over others. Being a pastor does not mean you have the authority to tell your sheep what to do. Being a pastor is simple, you protect and heal God’s people. You pastor people and point them to Christ. Christ does the leading and guiding. The sheep are guided to green pastures and it is Jesus who is the one true pastor who guides us there. You, the pastor on this earth, are simply protecting those under his covering. Pastors point the sheep to Christ. And even what you offer the sheep is not your spiritual mantle or covering that provides protection and guidance to the sheep, it’s his. You point the sheep to the one true leader of the body Jesus Christ.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep”.

(NIV, John 10:11)

When I was a boy, my grandfather owned a small sheep ranch in South Texas. My grandmother died and I was sent to keep my grandfather company during the long hot summers. If it anything you can learn about sheep is that they only need one guide. They have some very strong natural instincts that help them get pretty much everything else they need. A few Great Pyrenees dogs will keep watch over a flock of about one hundred sheep all day long. The sheep will even come home in the evening to their barn. But first, the shepherd has to lead the way before all this happens. He has to be the first to open the gate and lead the flock to a pasture a quarter-mile away. He can do this a handful of times and then sheep learn the way. The dogs do not lead but follow behind and protect. This is a good example of how the Church should function. Jesus is the shepherd and opens the gate and shows the way a few times, teaching us sheep where to go. The dogs (pastors) protect from predators and follow the sheep now that they know the way.

The problem we have today in the church is that people want to lead others. The problem is that we think that we are capable of being leaders. We want to be in charge of people and we want to be responsible for how people turn out in life. The reality is that people don’t make very good leaders. Very few understand how to lead correctly. There are not many of us that can say like Paul did, “imitate me.” God’s children need a guide, in the beginning, pointing us to the true source of life. Then the rest of the time we should know how to get to that source when we don’t know what is right and wrong. The pastors protect us and God guides and puts in us the natural instinct to know how to get home (the Holy Spirit). When humans try to lead and guide we get in God’s way. When we try to lead and guide instead of protecting and healing, we are modeling an incorrect example. We can teach and preach Jesus’ teaching and this points people to the true guide. But when we lead and guide, people will naturally start to look to us. Here is where we get off track. Once people start to look to us, we start to enjoy this. Even if we are not aware of it, it happens. When we humans want to lead and guide, it turns to a desire to be above others and have them look up to us and trust in us. When the situation is out of control, we are exercising authority and being served, just like the worldly leadership structure functions. In the end, the glory goes to us, the Holy Spirit is offended, Christ is diminished and sin enters in. People should not be imitating us, they should be imitating Christ. Be very careful to interpret the words of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 4:16) through the teaching and life of Christ. The pastor protects us from behind when we graze and he heals our wounds. The teacher points us to teaching that is not his but Christ’s. An apostle is one sent away to extend the message. The prophet is one who brings a direct word from the Lord and repairs broken foundations. The evangelist looks for new fields and then teaches the body how to establish the kingdom of God there. There are other roles that extend, establish, build and strengthen the body of Christ. The rest of us normal saints are given more honor and are considered equal to the other roles because, without us, there would be very little extending and building of the body.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

(NIV, 1 Peter 5:1)

In this passage, Peter teaches that we need to be “serving” willingly as overseers not for money, but eager to “serve” mentioned again. He mentions serving two times. Servants do not have a desire to lead and be looked up to. They are not waiting till the day when they will be in leadership above others so that they can just lead and no longer have to serve. They are not here to be served by those they oversee either, “not lording it over”. Here he is mentioning exactly what Christ taught the disciples (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42; Luke 22:25). Here is the definition of lord it over: To dominate someone, to direct and control someone, domineer over, act arrogantly toward, to act in a domineering or superior manner toward others, to behave as if you are better than someone else and therefore having the right to tell them what to do. In their minds, they are leaders because they know more than others do, and feel qualified to tell others what to do. If you find yourself frequently telling others what to do, you might be domineering. Domineering means, tending too often to tell people what to do, often trying to control the behavior of others, inclined to exercise arbitrary and overbearing control over others. A keyword here is arbitrary which means not restrained or limited in the exercise of power. Worldly leaders are too willing to lead and not too happy about serving. They are waiting on the day when they no longer have to serve in the lowly, dirty unseen tasks.

The test of true Christian leadership is found in this question; are you being served?

Most modern Christian concepts about leadership have been so slightly altered over time that we don’t realize that we have taken over the leading in place of the Lord. You might see the true attitude of your heart when someone challenges your authority. Don’t you see that it is your authority and not Christ’s that is the problem in your life? If you feel challenged or threatened or angry when people oppose your authority, it is in fact your authority that you are operating in and not Christ’s. You might blow up or become offended that someone would challenge your authority. I have seen people cry tears of rage when their control of the situation is removed. You will see the true attitude of your own heart when your sheep go astray. You cannot understand why they will not follow you, after all, you are their leader, or at least in your mind you are? Are you being served by the people? Is it your will that has to be served? Do you pray “Our Father who is in heaven, Your will be done, Your Kingdom come?” Getting your way is you being served. If you learn to manipulate those around you to get your way, you are being served. If you react arrogantly when people challenge your authority, you are wanting to be served.

Some people don’t care about getting their way, they just want to be on the show stage of life. They want to be admired and praised. Something else is being served here. Their egos are being served or stroked. So, are your followers looking to you as their spiritual guide? Are they depending on you? Are they depending on your sermons or teaching? Are they overly impressed with you? Are they enthralled with you? All this is an easy trap to fall into. Our fallen nature desires all these things and sometimes it is not that easy to see them in ourselves. It is possible that we don’t realize when we have become overly important in our own minds. The question becomes, “are you being served?” You are being served when you are no longer pointing people to Christ. You are pointing them to you. You are pointing them to your years of experience. You are pointing them to the number of years you have in ministry. You are pointing them to your education or the letters after your name. The role of a true pastor is to protect the people along the way to the source of food and water, which in our case is the person of Christ. The Holy Spirit will guide the people just fine. Christ leads us by his Spirit to his life that is in God the Father. If people are depending on you, counting on you, relying on you, believing in you, what happens when you disappoint them? What happens when you get influenza? What happens when you fail? You fail them and they become disillusioned with Christ. It shouldn’t be this way but it is what typically happens. People’s eyes are on you and not on Christ. It’s ironic because it is Christ who they should have been trusting in, to begin with. This is a typical reaction of sheep who follow an imperfect shepherd into dry pastures and predator zones.

More and more people are becoming disillusioned with church leadership. Why is this so prevalent if our human ability to lead and guide is so good? Our leadership and guidance is not so good because it’s ours. It is the world’s guidance, covered in false humility. They are disillusioned because they are looking to worldly church leadership as their source. Church leadership is trying to be that source for them and it’s not working. So the question to you is this: Are you being served? Are they trusting in you? Are you being looked to? Are you getting your way? Are you getting praised? Are you getting more followers on social networks? Are you now in a position to pastor because you paid the price and got your education? It’s interesting that once you’ve got your bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Then you get your masters and that just isn’t quite enough. Once you get a Ph.D., then you get to be called “doctor”. The only ones that seem to care are other people with Ph.D.’s. Then you have a new problem, those in the small club of Ph.D.’s start to count how many you have. Are people following your education? If so, you are being served. You got your letters and now you are getting the respect you deserve because of all the years and dollars you invested into those letters. If you are in the right church, you also get to wear a long flowing robe (Mark 12:38). If people serve you because of something you have done, be it your position or education, you are leading people astray. If people serve you because of your position or education, they are serving you, not Christ. But Christ is the only true leader here. He is our rock and our salvation. We are not worthy enough to stoop down and untie the sandals of the one true leader (Luke 3:16).

It is typical of the fallen human nature to follow after men. It is human nature to want leadership from another physical human being here on the earth that we can see, touch, rely on, and follow. Those people who rely on and admire their leaders are also part of the problem. They are creating in the leader an unnatural desire to be relied on and admired. The blame is on both parties. The follower is making it happen. The leader is allowing it to happen. The leader is accepting praise, admiration, and trust the followers give. It’s a vicious circle. People are relying on the leader and the leader is wanting to feel fulfillment in the fact that people are relying on him. This cycle continues over and over until one or both parties fail. Pride and haughtiness are characteristics that appear before people go down the path to destruction and fall into sin (Proverbs 16:18). The leader gives out instructions and commands and the more he is followed, the more he wants power and more followers. The people follow and acknowledge the leader’s power so they are complices in the continuation of his hunger for more. They add fuel to the fire when they recommend others to follow the leader.

“As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widow’s houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely”.

(NIV, Mark 12:38-40)

The fact is, the carnal nature wants to be followed. We carnal human beings want attention. We like recognition. We have the desire to get on a stage and perform, be it a stage with wood floors inside a church building or a stage of one’s and zero’s in cyberspace (Acts 12:21-24). We want to control and guide the outcome of others, be it from a podium in the university or from the dining room table. Our fallen inclinations are always against the Spirit. When we increase, he decreases (John 3:30). The beginning of all division in the Church starts here: One person starts following someone other than Christ. Or, some person starts leading another away from Christ. If we follow after a man or woman, he or she is tempted to let us follow them. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment and so are they. We will be disappointed when the leader fails us or the leader will be disappointed in his or her followers when they follow someone else. Christ is the real leader here and he promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He will be faithful, we will not. Worldly leadership will always disappoint and fail you because you follow the wrong person. People want to be following the right person. People want to follow someone who has large numbers following them, and the larger the numbers the better the person is in their mind. It’s a competition.

The wealthiest people in the world don’t compete for material possessions. It’s about power, prestige, influence, and how many billions you have. In the realm of social media, it’s about how many connected followers you have. In Hollywood, it’s about how many fans you have and how many headlines you get. Worldly leadership is all about big influence and big business. It is very important to those who have a worldly mentality who you follow: Political parties, sports teams, modern philosophies, worthy causes, money markets,  and megachurch pastors. It is important also to the carnal Christian which church you go to, who your pastor is, and what denomination (theological branch) you come from. It’s also a competition. Human beings are born with the fallen desire to compete and win. Read the story of Caine and Able (Genesis 4:1-24). Competition is in our fallen nature and has to come into submission to Christ and be put to death (Romans chapter 6 & 8). The fact that this nature inside us is fallen, means that it desires itself to be lifted up and elevated above God. It must be crucified in Christ (Galatians 2:20, 21) brought down and killed. The fact that our fallen nature has shaped and influenced our mentality of leadership, requires that we turn to another mentality, the mind of Christ (Romans 12:1-3).

Worldly leadership is created by the carnal desires of people who want to lead and by the carnal desires of the people who want to follow them. Being admired leads to self-admiration. Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Another word for this is megalomania. One symptom of a narcissistic personality is that the person feels entitlement: Narcissists have an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply is considered an attack on their superiority, and the perpetrator is considered a difficult person. If you receive praise and admiration it will eventually make you insane. Insanity is when your brain does not function correctly. You do not perceive reality correctly. The reality is that we are all people on the same level. All people have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). When we think too highly of ourselves it leads to mental illness. It leads to abnormal behavior. Pride goes before destruction. If you are mentally unstable you will begin to destroy your life and others. Humans are not capable of being leaders of the masses. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is only one who is able to lead the church and he is God incarnate, now risen and ascended. We must follow him only.

Again I ask, are you being served? Is your ego being served? Is your pride being served? Are you the bigshot? Are you the founder of your ministry? Are you the Christian rock star with your name in lights? Are you secretly giving in to all this love and admiration and covering over it with false humility? When I was a new believer I had the opportunity to be involved in a local body that had about twenty-five pastors. Two times a week we all met in a prayer room to talk about the problems they were having. The problems that were discussed were mainly related to pastoral care and churches. Those three years of meetings with pastors taught me a lot about worldly Christian leadership. I could not have learned all that I did from books in classrooms. I was part of a church planting ministry and learned about the worldly Christian leadership structure. I learned about contentions, jealousy, strife, hatred, competition, and all kinds of division over material things, especially church buildings.

Being a part of a group of carnal pastors helped me see the reality of worldly Christian leadership. Not all the pastors in that group were carnal but many were. It was a real eye-opener. One of the main causes of division in that group was over their buildings. Many of the buildings were being built while I was part of that ministry. Some pastors got a building built before others. Some got a building and others did not. Some got a bigger building than others. One building was even robbed from one pastor by another pastor. They are a great cause of jealousy, status, pride, power, and fighting over ownership. So what do we do if we are caught up in the world’s ways of leadership? What do you do if your Christian groups are filled with boasting about men? What do you do if you are in situations where there is a lot of pride in your doctrine? Christ is your only hope! He is your model. He is not only the savior of your soul, he is the savior of your church congregation, ministry, and your way of leadership.