Have you ever heard of Christianese? It’s a language spoken by Christians and understood by Christians that makes little or no sense to just about everyone else. It’s like slang for Christians. For example…
“I feel God calling me to…”
Translation: “I want to do something that you don’t want me to do, so I am pulling rank by saying that Jesus sent me a text but did not include you on the message, which means if you disagree with me, you are actually disagreeing with Jesus. Sorry pal.”
“The Lord laid it on my heart to talk to you about…”
Translation: “I’ve been waiting for this moment for months. I am now about to give you a piece of my mind and let you know how I really feel about you. Here goes!”
“I feel like I need to speak the truth in love here.”
Translation: “I am about to assault you. I will likely yell at you, make up horrible things about you, and ruin your life. I’ve already sent an email to all my friends and your friends letting them know that you are a dirty, good-for-nothing slimeball and I intend to post that on Facebook later this afternoon as well.”
(For more examples of Christianese at its best/worst, check out this hysterical video from Tripp & Tyler.)
There’s one particular piece of Christianese that bothers me more than most. It’s the use…or actually MISUSE…of one the most important words in all of Christianity – one that Jesus said should characterize the lives and mindsets of all His followers.
What’s the word? SERVANT
What is a servant? What do you think when you hear that word? The answer to this question will vary greatly depending on how much time you spend in church.
A non-church person (aka, a normal person) probably has an accurate view of what this word means. A servant is someone who serves (real deep huh?) – someone who is employed in the service of another. A servant is a nice way of saying “slave” or “hired hand.” The term is used repeatedly by Jesus to describe how we should view ourselves in relation to our Master and Maker in heaven (see Matthew 20:26, Mark 9:35, John 12:26).
That’s how a non-church person sees it. A CHURCH person though has a completely different view of it (unfortunately).
We’ve turned the word “servant” into the exact opposite of what it means. Many churches/Christians today use the word “servant” as a position of rank… a status of high class that can only be achieved by the elite. We say “I AM ASERVANT” with a sense of pride and a feeling of having achieved a higher status than all the normal, non-servant people out there.
That’s why we say things like:
“You can’t speak to me that way. I’m a SERVANT!” “I would love to help you but I can’t. I’m too busy. Why? Because I’m a SERVANT!” “You don’t know so-and-so? He’s one of the biggest SERVANTS at _____ church.”
(and fyi, “biggest” here is not referring to his size but rather to his status)
But is that what Jesus meant? Did He intend for the word “servant” to be about rank and class and status? Or is there a chance that we messed that one up?
Look at the words of St. Paul in Philippians 2:5-7 and you see if we’re using the word “servant” (or “bondservant” in this example) in the right way.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
He actually connected the expression “servant” with “no reputation” – the exact OPPOSITE of what we’ve done!
We’ve made being a “servant” something that you need to have for your reputation… to put on your spiritual resume… so that other “servants” will let us into their little “servant” clubs and do cool “servant” things and learn the secret “servant” handshake. Then we’ll know that we’ve officially arrived and made it in our little church circles!
As you can tell, I don’t necessarily agree with the modern definition.
That’s one of the reasons why I don’t advocate using the word “servant.” I’ve come to realize that we’ve done a real disservice to people (pun intended) by watering this word down. At STSA, we instead try to use the word “volunteer” when it comes to people involved in church ministry.
And I tell people, “I want you all to find a way to volunteer in the church. I think that’s super important and everyone should do it. But whether you volunteer at church or not, you need to have the mindset of a servant. Being a volunteer doesn’t make you a servant. HAVING A MIND AND AN ATTITUDE LIKE JESUS is what makes you a servant.”
Two questions to leave you with and I’d really love to hear your answers – both for the benefit of my blog readers and also for my own personal benefit.
How would you define a “servant” (brief as possible)? And who is the best example of a “servant” (other than Jesus of course) that you have seen or read about?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and learning.