Servants, But Special Servants: Ministry Under the New Covenant -- By: Thomas N. Smith

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:3 (Summer 1997)
Article: Servants, But Special Servants: Ministry Under the New Covenant
Author: Thomas N. Smith

Servants, But Special Servants: Ministry Under the New Covenant

Thomas N. Smith

I once had a deacon in my church who always called me “Chief.” From my first day on the job, his designation for me was always Chief. Now, I had been a pastor before and a preacher before I was a pastor, but I never had the experience of being called Chief. I enjoyed it. It touched something in me. It gave me such a sense of well-being and healthy self-esteem. I always looked forward toward phone calls and visits with my friend, and part of the reason lay in the fact that I could expect him to address me as his Chief.

One day, while the two of us were together, my friend indicated that he needed to check on something at home and asked me if we might drop by. When we pulled into the drive I noticed the local lawn-and-garden man working in the flower beds. When my friend got out of the car, the gardener spoke to him, and my friend and deacon replied, in a tone that could be heard all over the neighborhood, “How ya’ doin’, Chief?” I couldn’t believe it! Indeed, I was certain for a moment that there must have been some mistake. I was my friend’s pastor. I was my deacon’s leader. I was the Chief! Only an embarrassed modesty kept me from inquiring of my deacon-friend about this breakdown in self-expression. Of course, I only had to be on the job for a few more weeks before I realized that my friend called everybody Chief.

I think it would be fair to say that I learned a few things from this experience. My understanding of myself, of social dynamics, and of language was profoundly extended by this. The fact is, and Jesus told us so in Matthew 23:7ff., we love to be called Chief. Second, some people increase their own popularity by addressing us like this. Third, language is devalued by such indiscriminate use. If everybody is the chief, then no one is.

We shall return to the issues of personal understanding

and social dynamics later. Let us consider the issue of word devaluation at this point. This is particularly pertinent in any discussion of “ministry” in the Christian church at the end of the twentieth century. This is so because the word “ministry” has come to be applied to every aspect of activity and action of Christians inside and outside the church. John N. Collins speaks to this contemporary ethos:

In their authentically modern way churches are increasingly speaking of a common call to ministry that does not depend on ordination: “for everybody”—to use the words of an Anglican Working Party on the theology of laity— “bishops, priests, and laity toge...

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