11 May 2023

A “servant heart.”

SERVANT HEART 'sərv.ənt hɑrt noun. Or servant’s heart: The humble attitude one expects to find in someone who is beneath them.

One of the complements we Christians pay one another is to describe someone as having a “servant heart” or “servant’s heart.” Meaning they’re happy to serve.

Ever been to a restaurant where the service was just fantastic? Your waiter was immediately available when you wanted her, and stepped away whenever you didn’t. She took your orders, and made useful suggestions to make your meal better. She brought you everything you wanted—sometimes before you even knew you wanted it!—and brought extra, just in case. She kept the drinks filled and plates cleared. And, believe it or not, wasn’t doing this for a tip (though you absolutely should tip such people), but because she wanted you to have a good time, and was happy to do whatever it took to create it.

Or perhaps you’ve been to a store where the clerks show you just what you’re looking for, offer you a discount you weren’t expecting, and accomodate all your needs and then some. Or hired a contractor and she finished the job early, under budget, using the best materials, expertly done. Or a housecleaner who does likewise.

And these people don’t undermine you, don’t say horrible things about you when your back is turned, don’t grumble the whole time about how they hate their jobs, don’t do shoddy work or try to slip you a defective product, and don’t demand extra pay or extra tips or five-star reviews regardless of how lousy a job they did. I’ve seen way too many people who expect praise for the least amount of effort, who are clearly not meant to be in the service industry… but unfortunately they lack the humility to do anything else, which is why there are way too many of ’em in the service industry. But enough about them.

Jesus taught his Twelve, and all the rest of us Christians, this:

Mark 10.42-45 NLT
42B “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If you wanna be great in God’s kingdom, it doesn’t work like the world’s kingdoms—with people jockeying for position, and making their subjects show them honor. That, Jesus says, is not for us. It’s not the leadership style he himself models. Our Lord came to serve humanity. Still does. And when he rules the world in person, he’s still gonna be that way; don’t get any weird ideas that everything Jesus teaches goes out the window once he’s in power. He’s still gonna be our example of the very best of servants.

So it’s a trait every Christian needs to develop, and it’s valid and high praise when someone in the church already has that trait.

Mostly because it’s all too rare.

I’ve worked in the service industry, off and on, my whole life. I strove to keep customers happy. My bosses likewise. My coworkers… well, some did and some most definitely didn’t.

The servant-heart attitude exists, but it’s hard to find sometimes! You find it either in a person who truly loves their service job (and yeah, they actually do exist; weird, huh?), or someone who could take or leave the job, but they’re Christian, so they’re doing the servant-heart thing as best they can. They’re gonna treat others like they’d want to be served, and be gracious despite some pretty graceless behavior.

Problem is, people in our culture don’t wanna be servants. They want to be served. They think of servants as underlings, not people just like themselves who have simply taken on servant duties. They think of service jobs as beneath them—“I would never be a waiter, or a clerk, or a janitor.” Not because they don’t like the work, which is totally understandable: They don’t like the position. They think they’re better than others. It’s a pride thing.

I’ve heard preachers claim that Jesus’s servant-heart teachings have substantially changed western culture, and as a result our culture sees leadership as service, rather than just lording over others and bossing them around. Whenever they say this, I keep thinking, “Man have you never read a history book.” Or even looked around our f---ed-up world and noticed how people behave. Plenty of people get into leadership specifically so they can lord over others. Lookit the pastors and bishops who never, ever visit the needy in their communities and churches, ’cause they figure they’re far too busy being “the CEOs” of their churches, and hand off all the servile duties to their “armor bearers” and underlings. Lookit the people whose minds are blown whenever the pope, or some important church or civic leader, intentionally chooses to wash feet.

For some Christians, “servant heart” isn’t even a complement: It’s condescending. “Yeah, we can always trust him to do all the grunt work in the church, ’cause he’s got a servant heart. Which is great for me, because it means I don’t have to do the grunt work. He lives for this stuff. But now I’m freed up to do greater things.”

Incidentally, Jesus doesn’t consider them greater things. He’s more interested in the grunt work, and in the correct, fruitful attitudes of the people who do the work that needs to be done for the sake of the whole.

Servant hearts in the world.

A servant heart is meant to be part of every Christian’s lifestyle. It’s meant to be practiced everywhere. At work, doing your job. At home, doing your chores. (I admit I suck at that one. For me, home’s supposed to be rest, not more work.) Like Jesus says, if you wanna be great in his kingdom, being a servant is part of the package.

Which is why we tend to see churches mention, and praise, the servant hearts of the people who serve our churches. We compliment one another on all the hard work we put into our ministries, and because we minister with a good attitude (or are at least really good at hiding our bad attitudes) we’re praised for these servant hearts.

Unfortunately most of the reason we praise one another for it, is because we honestly don’t see enough of it. Every Christian is supposed to minister, yet only 20 percent of the people in any given church do 80 percent of the work. (The pastors usually do the other 20 percent. Or they simply don’t have time to, which is why it goes undone.) So because so few Christians step up and minister, church leadership really, really appreciate the faithful few who put in the time. Pastors especially; you do realize in most churches the pastors clean the bathrooms, and they’re so happy when someone else offers to do it instead!

Or take another instance. Whenever one of the wealthier members of the church takes out the trash, or sweeps a floor, or hands out communion wafers, or does some other ministry in the church, no matter how small, people praise them for their humility. And yeah, they are being humble. But all of us Christians are supposed to be humble. I’m not saying don’t praise them; I’m saying it shouldn’t surprise us to see “upper-class” people doing “lower-class” work. This behavior supposed to be normal in God’s kingdom. The fact it isn’t, means not as many people as should, are really striving to enter the kingdom. A lot of wealthy people think they grace us plenty with their very presence. Well, if they don’t minister, their presence means nothing. If we honor them for their presence alone, we’re rubbish. Jm 2.1-7

The servant heart should be the commonplace, standard, expected attitude of every Christian. If we don’t find it—if people can’t be bothered to produce the fruit of humility and grace, inside the church at least—we’re suffering a drought of fruitfulness, and the fake Christians have taken over. God help us.

But we need to find the servant heart attitude, not just in the church, but outside it. Christians everywhere, whether we’re in a service job or not, need to display this quality. It speaks volumes about the Lord we claim to serve.

When people are helpful, they’re universally held up to be good people. Everybody recognizes helpful or useful to be the same as good and valuable. And if we Christians would simply be as useful as Christ’s servant heart would have us be, the world would see us as the most valuable people they have. But we aren’t, so they don’t.

So let’s solve that problem, shall we? Adopt the heart of a servant. In everything. In every place. Be the servant of all. Be great in God’s kingdom.