Servanthood as Worship
The Privilege of Life in a Local Church
“…forces us to rethink both the church and our relationship to her….I heartily recommend it.”
– Derek W. H. Thomas, Reformed Theological Seminary
“…a sustainable, practical vision for serving in the local church that is powered by grace…a mini theological education.”
– Justin Buzzard, pastor, San Francisco Bay Area
“To serve in humility can’t be God’s will for us all…could it?”
– Elyse Fitzpatrick, author, Because He Loves Me
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Description & Excerpts..SHARE..
Browse a Christian book website or bookstore and notice all there is for leaders and would-be leaders. There are studies of leaders, keys to leadership, and tips on becoming a leader. Books that promote servanthood tend to be about leadership. But how many books inspire us simply to serve one another?
The appeal of leadership has hijacked the biblical call to servanthood. As a result, we major on a role that will only ever be held by a few, and we largely ignore a role that ought to be held by every Christian. Whatever happened to servanthood?
Servanthood as Worship offers Christians a biblical understanding of their calling to serve in the church, motivated by the grace that is ours in the gospel. It has the potential to revitalize service teams in churches across the world, from church plants to established congregations.
About the Author
Nate Palmer and his wife, Steph, moved from San Diego to Dallas in 2005 to help plant Grace Church Frisco. They have three young kids who keep them humble. After being a management consultant for many years, Nate now works for the software firm SAP. He is currently pursuing his M.A in Religion online from Reformed Theological Seminary. Nate’s artictles have been published in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.
Table of Contents
1 – SERVICE: The Ministry of All Believers
2 – LINEAGE: Service began with God in Christ
3 – CONTEXT: The Local Church is our Base for Service
4 – GLORY: God’s Character and Works
5 – APPRECIATION: I Can Serve Because I Appreciate Who God Is, Who I Am,
and What He Has Done for Me
6 – ADORATION: I Can Serve as I Desire and Enjoy God’s Active Presence
7 – AFFECTION: I Can Serve Motivated by Love for the Saved and Unsaved
8 – SUBJECTION: I Can Serve Because I Do Not Belong to Myself
9 – PERSPECTIVE: Building the Church Eternal
10 – A Brief History of Service in the Church
Servanthood: The Ministry of All Believers
“Can you serve in the nursery this morning?” As you try to pick one of the more plausible excuses that have popped into your head, you secretly hope the pastor’s question was theoretical. You know you should say, “Sure, I will serve anywhere!” but you just can’t. The last place you want to be is with a bunch of screaming babies, having to change diapers and dodge spit-ups while your friends enjoy the sermon. Why you? Can’t someone else do it? You’re awakened by an obnoxious alarm clock. It’s 5:30 Sunday morning, and outside the rain is coming down in sheets. You must get up, but you don’t want to. This is what, the third week in a row? The thought of once again going to help set up the auditorium in the school where your church meets is paralyzing. Picking up the van, hauling the equipment into the building in the rain—you’ll need to bring extra clothes. You wonder if it is possible to catch the flu before it’s time to leave. Why you? Can’t someone else do it?
If these situations are at all familiar, I know how you feel. When I became a Christian at age 25, I was just so happy and energized by the wonder of my salvation that I didn’t mind serving on Sunday mornings. I enjoyed it. It seemed only natural that, as a new member, I would help with the chores. Doing odd jobs before church seemed like a way to pay for all the joy and benefit I was receiving. Plus, as part of a new church plant that met in a school, there were far more tasks than there were people to do them. Someone had to serve or we couldn’t “have” church. And so, week after week, I did my duty.
During those early months of my Christian walk, however, serving gradually became a mixed bag of emotions and competing motivations. What started out as a way to express my joy soon became, in my mind, a way to manage God. Like the volume knob on a car stereo, I could adjust God’s opinion of me by serving more. If I’d had a bad week, frequently giving in to temptation or not reading the Bible, I would just go to church early and serve. In my mind, the exchange rate was something like one act of service for one sin. God will have to like me again once he sees how hard I’m trying to make up for my failures. This form of atoning for sin was much easier than actually facing my problems and trying to work on them.
After a few months I had completely flipped salvation upside down. I was managing God and serving myself instead of managing my responsibilities and serving God. I had rewritten the rule book to put myself in charge. I had exchanged Christ’s service on the cross for the merit of my serving in the church.
As serving became a tedious process of self-justification, it took a toll on my affections for God and the church. It became harder and harder to show up. Hooking up audio cables became pure monotony. Every Sunday I would do the same thing and nobody ever thanked me or acknowledged my effort. No one seemed to care that I got up insanely early to haul heavy stuff around, only to have to change out of my completely sweaty shirt. Everyone else enjoyed their weekends while I toiled. It didn’t seem fair. I actually began to dread Sundays. The whole concept of serving became thankless and meaningless, a colossal waste of time and—let’s not forget—talent. I constantly asked myself, Why me? Can’t someone else do it?
It was at this point in my life that I became addicted to a drug: leadership. I saw that maybe there really was an upside to serving. Eventually the church leaders will notice, right? Isn’t it those who are faithful in the small things who are given greater responsibilities? Servanthood took on a useful new role—a springboard to leadership in the church—and mysteriously my vigor for serving returned. Sure, I was subtle about it, but now all those audio cables were a means to a new end. Once you’re already using your serving (you imagine) to manage God, how much easier to use it to manipulate men? As I served to gain attention, the church leadership would see my works and evaluate me for some important position. Serving as a vehicle to advance my personal ambitions? Let it rain!
In a few short months, my attitude toward serving had gone from thrilled to ambivalent to resentful to selfishly ambitious. Why the roller coaster ride? Largely because I had no clear idea what the Bible teaches about serving. I didn’t know, from God’s perspective, why I was doing it. So I did it for my own reasons.
I know that some churches have essentially zero expectations that members will pitch in to help. Other churches have enough resources that there is little or no need for the average member to serve in practical ways. But a great many churches follow the biblical model, which values servanthood in itself. Are you in a church like that? Then at some point you will definitely struggle with serving. You probably have already. Service, of course, can come in many forms—building maintenance, children’s ministry, worship music, local outreach, tech support, missions trips, and a hundred others—but if you don’t really know why you are called to serve in the church of Jesus Christ, your attitude will be as unstable and unhealthy as mine was.
In this book, I want to provide the theological framework that Christians need to understand what serving in the local church is really all about. When we are informed by a biblical understanding of service, it changes everything. The first thing we need to see is that service is inescapable. Literally.
Do you realize that serving is a constant activity? It’s like breathing. There is never a moment when we are not serving someone. None of us are ever on the sidelines, waiting to get into the game of servanthood. Since birth, every one of us has been actively serving.
Most of the time we are simply serving ourselves—pouring our energy and hope for happiness into the nurture of our own desires. But at each moment, we are serving either the desires of our flesh or the desires of God. As Paul Tripp states, “Each of our lives is shaped by the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self.”
The conflict is that we don’t want to be subservient to anyone else’s wants and needs. Not even God’s. This poses a problem for, as Jesus points out, we cannot obey both God and our own interests at the same time: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). Either we labor for God or for an entirely different master. This isn’t always the kind of servanthood I want to embrace. Often I prefer my own kingdom—the one where I am the object of worship and I get to define servanthood (usually as me serving me and others serving me). We always serve who we see as the king of our kingdom. That’s why servanthood and worship are essentially the same thing.
But biblical service requires that we prefer others over ourselves, that we sacrifice willingly, giving time and energy that could have been used for personal benefit to benefit others. Biblical service calls us to direct our focus outward. In this we imitate Christ, who served others to the point of death. As I will emphasize throughout this book, serving God as a grateful response to the gospel is the calling of every Christian.
The Vision and the Need
All healthy churches, regardless of size or resources, seek to integrate their members into the life of the church through service. These churches see servanthood as both biblical and essential to church life. There are a lot of established evangelical churches that take this view, and new ones are started every day. Approximately 4,000 churches are planted each year in the United States alone. Many of these new churches are started through networks like Acts 29, which saw overall attendance double in 2009 while planting 55 churches.
Regardless of a church’s age or size, a biblical vision for serving is vital to building a healthy church. Who are the servants in a particular church actually serving? What are their motivations? Are they more interested in serving God’s purposes or their own? Many churches succeed or fail on the answers to such questions.
Given the number of existing churches, plus the explosive growth in the creation of new churches, there is a huge need for people to serve, and serve for the right reasons. John Stott wonders when Christians will recover “the ministry of all believers” where every Christian exercises their gifts in ministry to others.
Serving in the church is not just the privilege of the few. It is the call of every Christian’s life. Paul writes, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:4-7). While roles may be formal or informal, creative or mundane, physical or intellectual, the goal is the same: to glorify God and magnify the gospel to the benefit of others.
Each of us have been given gifts, and each of us are called to use our gifts as a light before men. When biblical, gospel-centered service in Christ’s name is present at the center of a local church, it forms a brilliant nucleus radiating out into a dark world. This brilliance is something the church must recover. That recovery starts with a theological foundation of servanthood. The purpose of this book is to present a biblical vision of service so that believers from all sorts of churches can say along with Joshua, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
endorsements & reviews..SHARE..
“In an age where the church can be likened to Cinderella – beautiful, but largely ignored and forgotten – Nate Palmer’s brief book forces us to rethink both the church and our relationship to her. In an age where egocentrism ensures we sing, ‘O say, can you see – what’s in it for me?’ on a weekly basis, Palmer forces us to say instead, ‘How can I best serve the church?’ Looking at the needs of others rather than one’s own is possibly the most serious deficiency in the church today. Reading this book will help redress the deficiency. I heartily recommend it."
– Derek W.H. Thomas, Richards Professor of Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson); Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS
“Think of these pages as a handbook. Put this handbook into the hands of your people and you will give them a sustainable, practical vision for serving in the local church that is powered by grace. Along the way, they will also pick up a mini theological education."
– Justin Buzzard, pastor, San Francisco Bay Area; author, Buzzard Blog
“In our media-crazed, me-first culture, the art of the basin and the towel has been shoved off onto those who get paid to serve – certainly a call to serve in humility can’t be God’s will for all of us, or could it? In this helpful little book, Nate Palmer gets at the heart of our resistance and portrays our dear Savior’s humiliation in his acts of service for us – not only as our example but also as our righteousness. I strongly recommend this book."
– Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of Because He Loves Me
A five-star review from Goodreads.
Such a great read. Water for the soul! It is amazing in our christian walk how we can take the simplest of things and get it turned around. The best part of this book, was the foundation was built on the condition of my heart, what are my motives, whom am I really serving (the King or myself), and why am I serving (for the sake of the gospel). The last part of the book was the work of the holy spirit. Something that I have never comtemplated was Jesus as a Prohpet, (reveals the will of God to us for our salvation by his word and spirit), A priest, (christ offeres himself as a sacrifice) and King (Christ brings us under his power and defends us). Christ continues to serve mankind from heaven by fulfilling each of these positions. This book is a great resource for anyone who is serving, has served and wants to serve. If you lose focus, the gospel centered message will bring you back. If you grow weary, the message of the cross will strengthen you. If you don’t know where to start, it teaches how God is glorified when we appreciate God’s glorious character and works, adores his presence, and share God’s affection towards his people, and subjects itselt to his will.
If your church is looking for a way to encourage your members to serve without guilt, manipulation, but with a heart after God, this is a great resource. Gospel centered, trinity friendly, cross exalting.
– Jeanie Brown Schwagerman on Goodreads
The book I wish I had written.
Nate Palmer’s Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church is the book I wish I had written. Over the last year, I have read several books (the stack still towering over my desk) on discipleship, ecclesiology, missiology, and church leadership. I often found myself quoting helpful passages from these books in counseling sessions, except I would reword them—extrapolating the “leadership” lingo and replacing it with “everyday christian” sentiments—since many of the young men and women I was advising were simply not called to formal positions of leadership in the local church.
Eventually, I decided to muster up the discipline to begin writing a book proposal or a series of blog posts on the joys and responsibilities of the everyday church member. As providence would have it, this is when Nate Palmer dropped his new book in my lap (virtually—via e-mail). By the end of the first chapter, I found myself confessing to friends that his book is much better than the one I was writing in my head.
Servanthood as Worship is, quite simply, a call to biblical servanthood in the life of a local church. Unfortunately, this is a seldom-touched subject in the Christian publishing sphere….
Having read few books dealing with a biblical view of servanthood for the everyday local church member, it was a challenge and a blessing to me to read Servanthood as Worship. The challenge came through Palmer’s transparent humility, admitting his own self-serving misuses of ministry and service. He confesses this right out of the gate in chapter one, and I found myself confronted on the pages with him.
I was blessed to find so much Bible and so much gospel on literally every page. Palmer offers little of his own wisdom and much of the Bible’s. This is refreshing, and it might be the main reason I kept self-reflecting on the thoughts and intentions of my own heart regarding servanthood (Hebrews 4:12). Palmer reminds readers that, ultimately, servanthood is not merit-driven nor leadership-driven nor purpose-driven nor even people-driven. Ultimately, it is gospel-driven. Biblical servanthood begins and finishes in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ and exists for him and his bride, the Church.
Biblical servanthood is empowered by the gospel, driven by the gospel, and sustained by the gospel, for the joy of all peoples and to the glory of God. What a helpful exhortation.
I recommend this book if you—like me—are an average person who needs a practical and biblical vision of servanthood. Prayerfully read this book, and it will serve both you and your church well. Just be sure to apply generously.
If you are a pastor or elder at your church, you may want to keep a box of Servanthood as Worship on hand for your members.
– Chris Poblete, thegospelforOC.com
A must-read, whether you’re looking to develop a theology of service, you’re someone in danger of burning out in your service, or a pastor looking for something to help inspire service in your church.
It’s Saturday night and you’ve just enjoyed a great night out. You get ready for bed, your head hits the pillow and you realize:
“Oh man, I’m on set up tomorrow. Ugh…”
I know that there have been times that I’ve felt that way. When I’ve volunteered to serve and can remember when I used to enjoy it… but now, I wish I could call in sick. Nate Palmer understands this—he’s been there. And in Servanthood as Worship, he seeks to help readers develop a theology of service that will bring joy to others (and ourselves) and glory to God.
Palmer’s view of servanthood is inspiring. He roots servanthood firmly in the gospel—that our service flows from Christ coming as a servant on our behalf. “As Christians, our standing with God—our very salvation—does not depend on whether we serve, but that Christ first served us… . All our service for God begins and ends with service from God,” he writes (p. 15). This is a shift that many of us—myself included—desperately need. Too often our view of service comes out of this place of trying to earn standing before God and men.
We put on a happy face and we work hard until we burn out.
The funny thing is, it seems like we’re being set up for this to happen, doesn’t it? I remember at one church hearing about how 20 percent of the people at a church were doing 80 percent of the work. As part of that so-called 20 percent, that puts a lot of pressure on you, because if you need a respite, there’s no one to fill the gap. The burden of duty leads to bitterness… and people don’t even realize it.
Instead, we need to embrace service as what it actually is—worship. To see it as an outward evidence of our inward transformation.
Once we grasp this truth, it changes our view of service in the church. Then, when facing a surprise request to serve in the nursery, or to perform some unglamorous task, our response can be quite different. We are less likely to think, How is this helping me? Instead, we are more likely to respond with a heart of God-centered service. (p. 43)
In other words, when we see our service in this way, we begin to realize that it’s about glorifying God and not ourselves. So practically, how do we develop this attitude?
Palmer writes that glorifying God consists of four things:
- Appreciation—we serve because we appreciate who God is and what He has done for us
- Adoration—we serve because we adore and desire His active presence
- Affection—we serve motivated by love for believers and non believers alike
- Subjection—we serve because we are not our own
In all of this, Palmer is careful to note just how instrumental the Holy Spirit is in glorifying God and in our service to Him. We can only cultivate attitudes of appreciation, adoration, affection and subjection because of the active presence and work of the Holy Spirit. He gives us affection for God and others. He applies the work of salvation. He gives us new desires. I wonder just how much our attitude toward service would change if we grasped this perspective?
Despite how joyfully we can serve, sometimes it feels… well it feels kind of futile, doesn’t it? The world’s not getting any better. No matter how much we accomplish, there’s always more to do. Does it really matter?
Yes, writes Palmer as he concludes the book. “[S]erving the church is of tremendous eternal significance” (p. 89). He continues:
Serving now helps to prepare us for heaven later, where we will serve God around his throne forever. Moreover, it builds and strengthens the body of Christ on earth. These eternal truths inform and motivate our temporal work. All Christians will benefit from the eternal nature of the church. It is our astonishing privilege to help build now what God will perfect and sustain forever.
That perspective—looking to what will be accomplished when Christ comes again to usher in the new heavens and the new earth—that’s the only thing that can lift a weary servant’s heart, as he or she longs to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Servanthood as Worship keeps readers focused on the true reward of service. It’s not about pride or the approval of man. Servanthood—true, biblical servanthood—is about glorifying God. That’s the perspective we all desperately need.
Servanthood as Worship is a must-read, whether you’re looking to develop a theology of service, you’re someone in danger of burning out in your service, or a pastor looking for something to help inspire service in your church. For all of these, Servanthood as Worship offers challenging insights and powerful inspiration.
– Aaron Armstrong, bloggingtheologically.com
This is an important book. Here are a few reasons why I’m thrilled to recommend it to you.
I don’t like to serve. It’s just that simple. Serving is inconvenient and uncomfortable. Serving leaves me depleted, empty. Serving requires a strength of head, heart, and hands that I don’t possess.
That’s the battle I experience when I’m asked to serve … my me-first heart wars against the you-first heart that God’s Spirit is working to form in me (Galatians 5:16). But it’s a battle the Spirit is destined to win because it’s a battle for the glory of God, a battle for the worship of the true and living God (Isaiah 42:8). The reason my flesh hates to serve is because serving exposes my idols of convenience and comfort. Serving empties me of myself so that I might be filled to overflow with the strength of head, heart, and hands that only Jesus possesses but shares with me. My flesh hates to serve because it hates to give up its own glory, it loves self-worship.
The battle I fight may also be the battle that will keep you from reading Nate Palmer’s Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church. For people like me who don’t like serving, the title of this book might be as inviting as a book called Flossing as a Way of Life might be to people who hate to floss their teeth (I confess that I’m one of those too). A bold title indeed, but Palmer knows something about God’s people that we tend to forget: we are made to serve because we are made to “glorify God and magnify the gospel to the benefit of others” (page 12). The true hearts of those who have been made new creations by the power of the gospel and the Spirit will be drawn to this topic because they know that since Christ has served them with His life they are compelled to serve Him with theirs (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Ephesians 2:10).
This is an important book. Here are a few reasons why I’m thrilled to recommend it to you:
- Palmer has served the Church well by packing a rich biblical theology of service into a small package. He draws from a wealth of Scripture, sound doctrine, and the writings of past and present Bible-soaked teachers to inform our heads, inspire our hearts, and incline our hands to serve.
- Palmer focuses on the local church as the context for Christian service. In an age where we are tempted to be consumer Christians who shop around to find the church that “fits us” and “meets our needs,” this book reminds us that we are to focus on how God would use us to build up the body of Christ, not on “what’s in it for me.” As one who is employed by a church, I, too, needed my own attitude adjusted by this gospel-soaked call to service.
- Palmer avoids using “shoulds” and “ought tos” to motivate us to serve. He keeps the focus on Jesus as He is offered to us in the gospel, the One who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This book is about Gospel-driven, not guilt-driven service. A friend of mine often says “If you want the fruit of redemption, preach redemption.” Service to God and others is a fruit of redemption, and so Palmer preaches redemption on every page.
CruciformPress is proving to be a trustworthy source for gospel-centered reading that serves the body of Christ well. This book is quite different than the first two releases, but it holds true to its publisher’s aim to offer resources that are “Short. Clear. Concise. Helpful. Inspiring. Gospel-focused.”
Thank you Nate and CruciformPress for your service to Christ and us.
– Jimmy Davis, cruciformlife.wordpress.com