Serving outside my gifting might equal more authentic service and sacrifice than, say, when I "sacrifice" my time to write an article or preach. I love these things and they hardly seem like a sacrifice (work, yes; a labor of love, yes, but not a sacrifice). They really are a sacrifice at some level, and if I do them with the right motive they are God-honoring sacrifices, but I'm not sure these easy kind of sacrifices are what Jesus had in mind when he said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:25-28; also see Mk 10:44-45, Lk 12:37, and 22:25-26).
Servanthood takes place anytime I'm serving for the glory of God, and extreme servanthood (e.g., willful slavery) takes place when I'm working outside my gift set or delight. What about when I'm helping someone move, or hauling out garbage, or cleaning up a stranger's vomit? Those are unpleasant--not so easy to do because they smash my pride and truly require a sacrifice of time and status.
A leader, say, a pastor who reads servant verses and thinks, "I serve my people by preaching to them" is correct, but perhaps he isn't being a servant to his people in the fullest capacity when functioning that way. (Yet it may still be the wisest use of his time and gifts, e.g. Acts 6:2-3) Rather, he's an extreme servant when he goes beyond what he gets paid to do, like when he sees the lady carrying boxes into the church kitchen and he stops studying to help her. He's sacrificing and serving the most when he takes the plunger in hand and fixes the toilet himself. He's serving in the extreme sense of the word when he helps paint the church or someone else's house, takes out the trash, or sweeps the floor.
Should pastors or other busy Christian leaders waste valuable time being janitors? Yes and no. Yes, most every leader can learn something significant when doing a lowly task. If nothing else, he appreciates those who do it on a daily basis. No, he has to draw reasonable boundaries or else he'll fail at this paid duties (again, see Acts 6:2-3). But he must never feel that certain kinds of work are beneath him. He stands ready to "be your slave" just as the guy who gets paid to clean floors and scrub toilets.
Won't disgruntled members or employees use concepts like extreme servanthood to side track pastors and employers or else accuse them of not serving enough? Probably so because that's what disgruntled people do. Thus, disgruntled people need to ask themselves how long it has been since they humbled themselves and served someone else, not serving in such a way to put others in their debt, but to genuinely help others. (Unfortunately, disgruntled people rarely see themselves as disgruntled, so they fail to ask these critical questions of themselves.) All of us have to guard against wrongly judging others--"he's serving but not 'extremely serving' like I am." We don't need a caste system of servanthood that we impose on others. This distinction between regular servanthood and extreme servanthood is a distinction likely warranted by "slave" in Mt 20:27, but this distinction is for our own soul searching.
Is it wrong for us to enjoy our gift set? Does true servanthood only happen when it's no fun at all? We don't have to be miserable before we're serving in the regular sense or in the extreme sense of servanthood. Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." True joy bubbles from our heart when we delight in God, but we occasionally need to ask ourselves hard questions: Are we living out the truth of Jesus' teaching on servanthood? Do we ever take on lowly tasks?
None of this truth diminishes a servant-leader's responsibility to still lead. In fact, true servanthood prepares him for true leadership. Unfortunately, our Christian subculture has tended to drop the leadership aspect out of the servant-leader model perhaps because our larger culture and subculture aren't comfortable with any type of authority. (This reluctance to leadership and authority is what I address in my article Too Much Talk About Servant Leadership.) Leaders must lead and every believer must serve, leader or not.
Jesus shed light on servanthood and humility when he talked about children. "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3-4). What did Jesus mean by "humbles himself like this child"? Anyone who has spent time with children knows they don't win contests in self-sacrifice and humility. John Piper gets the point of this illustration: "...Jesus' demand was devastating. Jesus knew that children were not models for imitation in his day.... His demand is that we end our love affair with power and status and self-sufficiency and rights and control" (What Jesus Demands From the World, 131). Piper goes on to explain the heart of this Mt 18:3-4 passage: "The point is that we not love being stronger or more intelligent or richer than others--that our joy does not reside in a feeling of superiority. The point is that we not begrudge the absence of recognition if the world does not value what Jesus calls us to do. We must not fret over being thought lowly and even foolish by worldly standards. Instead we must 'believe' in Jesus the way a child believes. We must find our security and meaning and joy in Jesus and all that our heavenly Father is for us in him" (132).
The good news is this--Jesus has set believers free from the bondage of sin that we might glorify God by serving others no matter the cost. We can be good news to others when we demonstrate Jesus' servant heart. Service that springs from the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection will help move others one step closer to praising God for how glorious he truly is (Mt 5:16). So if you're a busy leader, don't spend too much time washing windows, but do occasionally use a squeegee to serve someone else.
See other articles:
Too Much Talk About Servant Leadership
In Honor of Pastors: Learning How to Follow Your Leader