What if the Church Cared More About Serving Than Deserving?

What if the Church Cared More About Serving Than Deserving? April 10, 2023

In church, you can either serve or deserve. You can’t do both. Leaders who put themselves forward are generally troublemakers.

Punch, or the London Charivari. Old etching: Wealthy man in top hat look with disdain on poor family
Lemon, Mark, 1809-1870;Mayhew, Henry, 1812-1887;Taylor, Tom, 1817-1880;Brooks, Shirley, 1816-1874;Burnand, F. C. (Francis Cowley), 1836-1917;Seaman, Owen, 1861-1936, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

The best church leaders are the ones who initially say “no,” when you ask them to serve.  I always preferred those who felt that they didn’t deserve it and had to be convinced to say yes. This is far better than those who put themselves forward as leaders. I’ve met both kinds and probably so have you.


Two Types of Leaders

One type of church leader rises to power because they are influential. Either they step up and nominate themselves for positions of recognition, or their buddies drop their names in the hat. These were the popular kids in school—the mean girls on the cheerleading squad. Or the jocks with perfect teeth who bullied kids in the cafeteria. These are the rich kids who are used to getting everything because they deserve the best. Generally, when you ask these ones to take a church position, they quickly say “yes.” Inwardly, they’re thinking, “’Bout damn time.’”

The other type takes a position of service within the church and is eventually recognized as a leader. This is the grown-up nerd who got stuffed into the locker as a scrawny teen. Or the girl who developed compassion because of her physical challenge. These are the kids whose families struggled to make ends meet. They are like Moses, the reluctant leader who reminded God that he was a shepherd with a stammer. These servants usually say “no” when you invite them to a place of leadership. Often, they’ll tell you that they don’t deserve it.

I’ve seen both kinds of leaders in churches. By far, the best ones say “no,” and have to be convinced to say “yes.”  The biggest problems I’ve had in churches were always from those who put themselves forward.


A Fan of Low Self-Esteem?

It’s not that I’m a fan of low self-esteem. But I’ve noticed that the ones who say, “I’m not worthy” are generally too busy serving to waste much time occupying positions of power. On the flip side, the ones who like sitting on thrones usually don’t want to get their hands dirty, either. When it comes to choosing leaders, I always looked to those who were already serving, to give them a title. That’s so much better than finding people who want a title and asking them to lead.


Sons of Thunder

In Matthew 20 and Mark 10, we read about Jesus’ disciples James and John, the popular kids with the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” They asked for the kind of favor that only people with a sense of entitlement might expect. They wanted to be Jesus’ right-hand and left-hand men when he sat on his glorious throne. “You don’t know what you’re asking,” Jesus replied. He was about to undergo the kind of “baptism” (blood-bath) that only comes from putting yourself dead last, after everyone you’ve vowed to serve. None of his followers could be worthy of such positions unless they abandoned themselves completely. Little did they know that Jesus’ only throne would be a cross, and they certainly were not prepared for that. They were all about deserving, but Jesus was all about serving.


Deserving is De-Serving

All this leads me to ask: What if the church were more interested in serving than deserving? It’s not just individual church leaders that we find exalting themselves like James and John, desiring glory instead of self-sacrifice. Not just leaders, but entire churches take this stance when they focus more on their own comfort and position than the needs of the world around them…


  • When they clamber after influence in the community while God’s children starve, shiver, and overdose on their very doorstep…
  • When they ignore the historic and systemic racism that has dealt death for generations, all at the hands of respectable members of their own congregations…
  • When they insist that the church’s moral standards need to be codified into law for the nation, state, or community…
  • When the neighborhood “declines” around the church, so the congregation moves to a more affluent area of town…
  • When the church says it wants to be “the head, and not the tail.”


The entitled church puts itself forward like James and John. It acts like it deserves to lead, rather than serve the world with humility. You can either serve or deserve. You can’t do both. Because deserving is de-serving.


What if the Church Were More Interested in Serving than Deserving?

So, what would the world look like, if the church were more interested in serving than deserving?


  • The church would care less about gaining power, and more about sharing love…
  • It would exercise less control and exorcise more demons…
  • God’s people would learn that it’s more important to sit at a table with their enemies than to take a stand against them…
  • It would focus on shining light instead of cursing the darkness…
  • It would celebrate the image of God in all people, rather than forcing its image of God onto people.


Not to Be Served, But to Serve

For far too long, the church has been the locker room bully. The mean kid who excludes the Other who is equally precious to God. If we’re more interested in serving others than our own sense of deserving, we’ll actually lead people to Christ rather than beating them over the head with him. We’ll refuse a throne rather than seek one for ourselves. We’ll put others first, instead of putting ourselves forward. In short, we’ll live like Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.


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