Jesus summarizes the purpose of his incarnation in Mark 10:45 when he says, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This profound and crucial statement, which weds the “Son of Man” title of Daniel 7:13–14 to the “suffering Servant” of Isaiah 52–53, and redefines what kind of Messiah-Savior our Lord would be, comes on the heels of James’s and John’s request that Jesus would give them seats on his right and left in Glory (verse 37). James and John are crystal clear in their intentions and goal: they want status, not service. They want the position of a king, not the calling of a slave. They want to be looked up to, honored, and revered. They wanted to be superstars, not servants.
Tragically, today, when it comes to the ministry, the standards and criteria for success are too often culled from the world, and not from the Word of God. To deny this is to play the ostrich, stick our head in the sand, and simply ignore the massive evidence that swirls around us. Allow me to share what I see.
Evangelicals have their cult-heroes and cult followings. This is true both inside and outside the local church. We have our groupies who pine after their “Christian rock stars.” Such stars are given almost infallible status, at least by their devoted fans, and if they are not careful, they may begin to believe what blogs, fans, and fellow superstars say.
Suddenly, the green monster of pride sneaks into their lives and an attitude of entitlement begins to transform a once gracious and humble servant into a hulk-like prima donna who less and less resembles the simple carpenter from Galilee. Subtly, over time, I convince myself that I deserve a six-figure salary. I deserve to live in a big home and drive an expensive car. I deserve to have people wait on me hand and foot and respond immediately to my every request. Furthermore, they can expect to receive a quick and painful tongue-lashing if they move too slowly or fail to meet my exalted expectations. Why, I may even fire them for not measuring up to my personal expectations.
I become too important and my time is too valuable to meet with common people, people who cannot help me further my agenda. I am too busy in “my ministry” to respond to letters, answer emails, return phone calls or schedule appointments. And amazingly, I become almost self-righteous in defending my lifestyle, all my perks, and my prideful behavior because what I do is valuable to the kingdom and I’ve earned the right to be treated as one of its kings.
I wish what I have written to this point was theoretical or at least hyperbolic. Sadly, it isn’t. As someone who has been in the Christian ministry for 35 years, and who battles daily the green monster of pride, I have seen and continue to see this superstar mentality and lifestyle far too often among a number of current day pastors. You see, I am now a seminary president who, if not careful, can get caught up in all of this “malarkey.” I am easily seduced by the sirens who feed a superstar mentality that knows nothing of the way of Jesus.
So, what biblical counsel and wisdom can help keep our heads out of the clouds and our feet on the ground where “real people” live? Let me offer one avenue of Scriptural exhortation that may help.
Keep continually before you the biblical model of leadership. We are not CEOs. We are not professionals. Brothers, we are shepherds — and under-shepherds at that. We are servant-leaders. First Peter 5:2 instructs us to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” The word “shepherd” is an imperative receiving the force of a command. Shepherds who follow in the footsteps of the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20), will love and lead their sheep. They will not drive them and use them and make ungodly carnal demands of them. They will continually remind themselves that they tend over “the flock of God” and not their own.
They also understand it is the “flock of God among you.” That means they live with their sheep, they spend time with their sheep, they know their sheep, they care for their sheep. I once heard a famous and well-known pastor brag about the fact he had never had a single meal in the home of one of his members nor had he ever invited any of his members into his home for one. When I asked him why, he simply responded, “I never wanted to get that close to any of my people.” Words cannot express how this broke my heart. It still grieves me to this day.
Brothers, we never have been and never will be superstars. We are lowly shepherds, servants of the “Great Shepherd of the sheep.” One day we will give him an account for the souls we are keeping watch over (Hebrews 13:17). May we by his grace and for his glory do so with joy and a clear conscience, serving him and his sheep “honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18).
"Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Supernatural in Ministry" is the theme of the Desiring God 2013 Conference for Pastors (February 4–6 in Minneapolis).
The forthcoming revised and expanded edition of John Piper's book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is now available for pre-order.
Other posts in this series:
- Brothers, Praise Somebody Other Than God, Sam Crabtree
- Brothers, Live a Visible, Exemplary, Everyday Life, Jeff Vanderstelt
- Brothers, Supernatural Does Not Mean Stupid, John Piper
- Brothers, the Ministry Is Supernatural, John Piper
- Brothers, Build a Gospel Culture, Ray Ortlund
- Brothers, We Are Not Sisters, Doug Wilson
- Brothers, Train Up the Next Generation, by Mike Bullmore
- Brothers, We Should Stink, by Thabiti Anyabwile
- Brothers, We Are Not Professors, by R. C. Sproul, Jr.