Who aspires to be a slave? A pastor does. Or a pastor should.
This is what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
A bondservant or slave in the first century did not belong to himself but to someone else. He had either surrendered his personal autonomy, or it had been taken from him, so now his entire life was earmarked for labouring hard for the benefit of another. For Paul, this was a key aspect of his ministerial identity: he was a slave.
He even specifies to his congregation: we are “your servants.” He works for them—their spiritual well-being comes first. By his committed labours, he wants to see these sinners come to saving faith in Christ. This is how he spoke of his ministry already in his first letter (1 Cor 9:19),
Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.”
It’s beyond ironic then, that some in Corinth said this same Paul had a deficit of devotion to their church, a shortage of love that led to prickly pastoring. He wants them to see that he’d never seek to bully them but always to build them up. As a servant, he’d do anything for their spiritual strengthening.
Paul would sacrifice, suffer, even die, as long as it helped the Corinthians to keep their grip on the true gospel. This is what he says about his ministerial sufferings in 2 Corinthians 4, “All things are for your sakes” (v. 15). It was all to serve the church.
A pastor today hesitates. He wonders, “Am I really required by Jesus to be a slave, here in the 21st century? Am I to live as the servant of the congregation?”
This definitely doesn’t agree with our modern sensibilities. Labour laws probably prohibit putting “slave” into a pastor’s job description.
So why should anyone be willing to serve like this?
Notably, Paul says that he is the church’s servant “for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). Being a servant is basic to a pastor’s job description because this is exactly what Christ did—this is exactly who Christ was.
Though he was God Almighty, Christ “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). Christ esteemed others better than himself and looked not to his own interests but the interests of others. This humble service took Jesus all the way to death on an accursed cross.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5) means that this will be the character of true ministry and true Christian service. The mind of Christ informs a new model of ministry.
It teaches us that a true pastor is not akin to a tyrant wielding a Bible, exerting power over the people without love.
He is also not a sanctified celebrity, hungry for the congregation’s likes and compliments and recognition.
Neither is he an ecclesiastical CEO, looking to be materially enriched and served by his underlings.
If a pastor tries to please himself, he forgets whose servant he is. In fact, a selfish pastor subverts Christ’s gospel through his attitude and actions.
On the contrary, a true pastor is a slave of Christ. He is a servant wholly committed to the spiritual progress of the believers. A pastor should resolve to keep asking this single question throughout the varied duties of his ministry: “What can I do to help?” Serving with the mind of Christ, he can ask this constantly of the people in his care:
How can I help you in your grief?
How can I help you in your trouble?
How can I help you in your uncertainty?
How can I teach you?
How can I pray with you?
How can I encourage you?
Let me be of service, however I can.
This is entirely consistent with the model of ministry sketched by Peter,
“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3).
Who aspires to be a slave? Pastors do. Pastors should.
For Christ will use a willing and humble servant to accomplish much good in his church.
[Adapted from Weak Pastor, Strong Christ]