I’m wondering if you ever have moments like I do.
Moments where you feel a little jealous about what somebody else has.
And, I’m not talking about cars and houses.
I’m talking about ministry here.
You see the church down the street’s new building.
Or, you hear about the church across town’s budget or youth room.
Or, maybe it’s a little more personal than that.
You watch another preacher on YouTube and you are blown away with their skill and polish and you have that moment,
“Why them and not me?”
Or, maybe you feel the opposite.
Maybe it’s not envy.
Maybe it’s pride.
If I could be vulnerable for a moment.
I serve at a pretty big church and sometimes I experience a twinge of pride when other church leaders across my town or across the country ask how big my church is.
When I answer, I can see the “wow” in their face.
Suddenly they look at me totally different, as if, based on the size of my church, I somehow have all the answers.
These are very real emotions in ministry.
Envy and pride. They hit all of us at unexpected moments and left unchecked, they can wreak havoc in our hearts and in our churches.
No seriously, these emotions will kill our joy, and grow something dangerous in our souls. We can’t live here.
So what do we do?
I’ve been studying 1 Corinthians for months in preparation for a nine-week sermon series we are currently preaching through. In 1st century Corinth, envy and pride were a very real thing.
Roman Corinth was the place you went if you wanted to climb.
It was desolate for around a hundred years until Julius Caesar ordered the city to be rebuilt.
There was no landed aristocracy.
Unlike the established cities in the empire, Corinth was new and the possibilities were endless because of the strategic location on the isthmus.
Think 1800s America.
Poor immigrants could rise to Rockefeller status.
This was 1st century Corinth.
When Paul visited, many came to faith and a Jesus community was established.
However, the new believers had a terrible time shaking off the culture of Corinth.
The envy and pride that drove their social and economic climbing had infiltrated the church.
And so, you have the issues of divisions, special knowledge, “we’re with Apollos”, no “we’re with Cephas” mentality and all the rest that we find in 1 Corinthians.
As Paul engages this conversation, he describes an appropriate attitude for leaders in the church and toward leaders in the church.
Here’s what he wrote:
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.
1 Corinthians 4:1
I love the word he uses for “servants.”
It’s not the usual word he uses, it’s a word that originally referred to the slaves who manned the oars in the lower level of a galley.
You might call them under-rowers or galley slaves.
I wonder if Paul chose this word deliberately because Corinth had two important harbors, one on the Adriatic and one on the Aegean.
Here’s a picture I took of what remains of one of these harbors.
If memory serves, it’s Cenchreae:
There was also something called the diolkos between them—a rail system by which ships were hauled across the isthmus.
Below is a picture that I took of a video we shot on what remains of the diolkos.
PS…I’m not in the picture, that’s our videographer and senior pastor.
Back to the word Paul chose for servant.
The mentality of Corinth was,
“I want to be the captain of the ship. Actually, forget that, I want to own the ship. Actually, you know what? I want to own a fleet of ships!”
And Paul is like,
“You’ve got it all wrong. We’re the servants. The goal isn’t to climb the ladder. It’s actually to descend the ladder, into the bottom of the ship and serve.”
I find this reminder to be helpful when I think about my role as a leader.
It’s not about how much power, influence and rank I can accumulate.
It’s not about how high I can climb.
It’s about how I serve.
There’s a second word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 4 that helps frame the attitude of a leader.
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
1 Corinthians 4:2
If I’m understanding the original language correctly here, the idea of being entrusted and given trust refers to a steward.
This is an image that would have really worked in Corinth.
A wealthy household had a head servant or slave who served as the steward of the household.
Think Joseph and Potiphar’s house.
This steward had authority in the household—authority over all the other servants and slaves, likely over the resources of the household, but at the end of the day, the steward is subject to the authority of the head of the household—to the master.
All the money, all the household resources…it all belongs to the master, not to the steward.
Any resources, responsibilities or authority that the steward has are not actually his or hers.
It is all through the master.
This is exactly how it works for leadership in the church. You and I have authority.
I am a bunch of people’s boss. You might be too.
You might have a bunch of volunteers under your authority.
You may have an entire church looking to you as their leader.
And, you and I have authority over resources—all the money that our people give, the buildings we own, etc.
But, none of this belongs to us.
Let’s take it one step further, the talents I have—to preach, to lead, to organize…none of these are mine.
I am the steward of these gifts.
They all belong to the master—Jesus.
So, here’s what I’m working on right now. The envy I experience and the pride I feel—they are real emotions but wow are they out of alignment with what God is calling me toward as a leader.
The leaders and churches I’m jealous of—they are simply stewards too.
God, in His wisdom, allocated some resources to them and some to me.
We are all stewards.
And the stuff I am proud of—it’s not mine.
It’s all His.
I’m a steward.
I have a feeling that if we could get our minds and hearts around these two images from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church—under-rowers and stewards, it would save us a lot of heartache.
It would lead to a greater sense of contentment and joy in ministry.
And, I think it would lead to greater potential for collaboration between our churches.
Look at Paul’s attitude as he reflects on this reality:
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
Paul is like,
“I kind of don’t care what you, they or even I think of me. What I care about is what God thinks of my stewardship.”
That’s freedom! He’s free from envy and pride because he understands his and their role—stewards who are responsible to Him.
This is my focus in this season. I hope this has been encouraging for you as you seek to lead in your churches.