Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The One Thing They Didn't (and Couldn't) Teach Me in Seminary

In seminary I was taught a lot of important things, and I use them every day in life and in ministry. I learned Bible, theology, preaching skills, ministry methods, and so much more. Seminary prepared me for pastoral ministry in countless ways.

However, there was one thing that seminary did not...and could not...teach me. You see, in my role as pastor I have had to do a lot of things that have nothing to do with Sunday morning services, visitation, and other "ministry" duties. Around the building I have cleaned toilets, wiped up vomit, mopped floors, and moved furniture. Out in the community I have spent long hours with people I barely knew, performed difficult funeral services that required hours of preparation, and counseled couples that wouldn't stop fighting even as I tried to interject quiet words of wisdom.

Many times over the years I have quipped, "They didn't teach me THAT in seminary!"

Indeed, that's true. Seminary trains pastors in very important ways, and I would encourage every future pastor to pursue seminary training. But there's the one thing seminary did not...and could not...teach: servanthood.

It's a sense of servanthood that causes me to care about things that are not in good repair in the church building. It's a sense of servanthood that causes me to get up in the middle of the night to be with someone in the emergency room. It's a sense of servanthood that fuels my joy even in the midst of a hard counseling session.

Seminary cannot teach servanthood because it's not something that can be learned in a classroom. We learn it as we grow in Christ and live for Him daily.

Servanthood is an attitude that every Christian should have. Jesus talked to His disciples about servanthood: "But Jesus called them to Him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many'" (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus modeled this kind of humility as He washed the feet of His disciples, and then told them to follow His example (see John 13:1-15, esp. v. 14-15). That is Jesus's model, and therefore it is my goal as His follower. Even more as a pastor, I want to live this life of servanthood.

Sadly, I have seen a few pastors who have lost their sense of servanthood. Quite frankly, it's easy to do. It's hard to maintain an attitude of God-honoring service. Servanthood can be inconvenient to my schedule and inconsiderate of my personal needs. But as a pastor, I especially want to serve even when it's hard. I cannot consider it beneath myself to do something grungy around the building. I cannot consider myself to be entitled to receive special gifts from church members. I want to be willing to set aside my study time to talk with someone who drops by to discuss a hardship they're facing. I want to be open to visit someone in the hospital even if it's my "day off." Yes, most people in the church never see these quiet hours of service, but our Lord does, and when we serve people in His name we are truly serving Him (see Matthew 25:40).

Fellow pastor, what about you and me? How's our sense of servanthood today? For that matter, I ask the same question to all my fellow Christian brothers and sisters: how are we doing in serving people today?