One of the focuses of the Abbey program is teaching our students to become more Christ-like leaders. We do this by focusing their attention on the idea of being servant leaders. Christ’s entire ministry is predicated on His willingness to put on flesh. His work was a constant example of putting His own needs and desires secondary to serving those around Him. This model is most clearly seen in Christ’s washing His disciple’s feet, literally stooping to physically clean the filth from His followers.
To emphasize and clarify, we at the Abbey talk about servant leadership in the language of “pillars.” This language is borrowed from Worldview Academy, breaking down the big idea of servant leadership into the pillars of: meekness, attitude, empowerment, vision, and integrity. This final pillar, integrity, has commanded much of my own thinking in recent months.
Integrity is the quality of being whole, undivided. It carries the ideas of commitment, truthfulness, and steadfastness. It is a quality that we intuitively gravitate toward when we find it in a person, and we instinctively move from when we discover a deficiency. It is perhaps the most important of the five pillars as it allows those following us to be confident that our words, actions, and lives are unified in common purpose: pointing others toward Christ.
Yet integrity is hard. I have recently been reflecting on two great enemies of this particular virtue: entitlement and despair. Certainly, these are not the only two faults that can compromise our integrity, but I’m becoming persuaded that they may be the most insidious. We can be compromised by these and fail to realize a breach has even occurred.
Entitlement is a common concern in our culture. It’s so easy to look at the world around us and identify entitlement in the selfishness of people in the grocery store line who insist on going through the express checkout despite clearly having too many items. We see it in the protests on college campuses calling for “safe spaces,” or free tuition. We see it in a culture that seems to have abandoned the idea of gratitude and thankfulness in favor of assuming they deserve every good thing in this life.
But this problem of entitlement is not limited to those on the outside of the faith for us to cast our stones. It’s our problem too, inside the church, and it always has been. Think with me back to the gospels and how many times in Christ’s teaching He uses the imagery of a master relating to his servants to emphasize a point. Though this happens often, I want to draw your attention to Luke 17.
This chapter begins with Christ teaching His disciples about forgiveness, concluding with, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” We can all agree that this is difficult instruction.
The disciples then respond to this teaching with apparent piety asking Christ to, “increase our faith.” This seems like a righteous request, but look at how Christ responds. He says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
That sounds like a work environment in which I would struggle to be content. This is a hard instruction to swallow, in our culture that has grown to expect appreciation and praise for reaching the bare minimum requirements, but Christ seems to be saying that this is not a matter of faith, so much as faithfulness. Do we have the integrity to simply do what our master instructs when He says to forgive? Do we follow His word with the expectation of pats on the back for merely doing our jobs?
Another enemy of integrity is despair. Let’s say that we begin to practice integrity and move past our need for recognition and praise to faithfully execute the will of our master. And let’s say we do that for a day, a week, a year, a lifetime. Now let’s say in all that time we see zero results of our labor. No fruit for the time, effort, and works we pour out in the Master’s service.
Even if we are content to serve faithfully in the absence of praise we are not promised, results can be their own reward. Seeing the manifestation of God’s power and will being achieved through us is an invigorating experience and incredibly uplifting. Yet we are not promised even this. What we are promised is trouble, persecutions, difficulty, and hardships. Christ says in John 15:20, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
These difficulties can and will come even during faithful ministry, and it may be the case that our role in God’s plan is such that we never see fruit from our ministry. Consider the prophet Jeremiah, a servant who God directly tells the people he’s called to preach to, will not listen to him. Jeremiah’s role in God’s plan is to be the voice of truth to the nation of Israel and be ignored as evidence of Israel’s wandering from their God. Yet Jeremiah, and us, are called to faithfulness. We are called to integrity. No matter the appearances, no matter the results, no matter our disappointments we do not get to despair of our calling and fail to serve. We do not get to allow the present circumstances of our lives dictate our relationship to our master.
Both of these dangers to integrity are so difficult to root out of our lives. We are predisposed by sin to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and therefore feel slighted when not honored for being faithful. We are so easily blinded to the eternal scope of God’s plan, that we despair when we appear to fail or experience no success. Let us not be overcome! Let us serve, faithfully pointing others to Christ that they may know Him. Let us serve in a fashion that keeps our eyes fixed on the One who will one day say, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
- Micah Gibson