The Inverted Pyramid of Servanthood

Quite a number of years ago at a conference of pastors in Arlington, Virginia, I had the privilege of hearing in person Dr. Richard C. Halverson, at that time Chaplain of the US Senate. He said that when he was a pastor, he refused to chart the organizational structure of the church because it would show people over and under each other, such as Pastor, officers, committee heads and members. He said, “A leader is a servant to servants, all of whom serve the supreme Servant” (My ACMC notes, 7-31-87). If we would recognize that we are servants to each other, live our daily lives as servants in the home, at our jobs, at school, in the church, we would have fewer problems and complaints and could accomplish far more that is valuable for God’s Kingdom.

Many people, Christians included, think, not of servanthood, but of the success and greatness of being at the top. For example, Christian parents encourage their sons or daughters to prepare for a job that pays high dollars, has all the benefits, with plenty of opportunity for advancement, if they don’t start at the top.

What’s wrong with that? It’s been going on for generations. In the New Testament, Matthew writes, “Then (Salome) the mother of (James and John) the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of (Jesus). And He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to Him, ‘Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left’” (Matthew 20:20-21). The idea, of course, offended the other 10 disciples, who also wanted the esteemed positions. Here was a teaching moment for Jesus to declare, “‘whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26b-28).

Jesus was teaching the concept of the Inverted Pyramid (not the journalistic writing style). The point of the pyramid at the bottom, symbolizes that the measure of true greatness is not how many people are serving under you, but how many people you are serving. We need this servant leadership pattern taught and applied especially in the church, first to leaders (not only to elected leaders, but also to those who exercise leadership), who then model it to others.

Why don’t more Christians become pastors, missionaries or enter other helping professions where the pay is low and the hours long? Maybe it’s the lure of the prestige, importance and success that society values, rather than a desire for the greatness that Jesus taught by word and example. How many Christian parents are willing to give their children in service to God? Instead, they hold on to their children, want to keep them close by and are afraid of being separated from them. The words and actions of many Christians teach that being a servant is too great a sacrifice and pass on to the next generation that the sole purpose of work is to make money rather than being a means of serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

Is our goal to be great in the eyes of the world or great in the eyes of God, to have the temporary wealth, prestige and success of the kingdom of the world (“prosperity gospel”) or the eternal rewards that come from being a servant in the Kingdom of God?

Jesus explained very plainly how to be great: “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant…. I am among you as the one who serves” (Mark 10:43; Luke 22:27). Jesus demonstrated very clearly in His actions how to be great. “Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded,” (John 13:5). “‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:45). The true measure of greatness is serving others in service to the “Supreme Servant.”

H. Milton Wilder
Missionary Pastoral Care

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