Servanthood or Friendship? Can You Have it Both Ways?

It would seem that servant-friendship is as much an oxymoron as servant-leadership, which is, in itself a creation of 70's corporate America. The UMC has really majored in this metaphor. Servanthood has dominated much of the denominational literature related to discerning and defining the call to ordained ministry. Of course, Jesus teaches his disciples- followers- to be servants of one another. But in a world that no longer recognizes slavery as it existed and functioned in the first century, we miss the the power of the image that Jesus used.

The gist of Jesus' teaching, as I see it in Luke 22:24 ff, is intended to diffuse power distinctions instead of reinforcing them. Ironically, we seem to use the word servanthhood to make more distinctions among us. In our ego-driven world, it is not long before we are at the game of determining who the best servant is.

Like alot of things in church and religion these days, the call to servanthood is often used on others. We bring the word out when we want. It is a very risky thing to surrender yourself to the Holy Spirit, because it means death and resurrection. And this is the missing piece: we cannot copy Jesus, but we can be obedient to the Christ in us and love the Christ in others.

That's why I am drawn to basic friendship as the healthiest model or metaphor for ordained ministry. If we had to describe what it could be or should be, I like friendship because it is much more personal. Friendship with each other and with Jesus seems to be the direction of the last Gospel, when Jesus calls his disciples friends, in direct contrast to being slaves. (John 15:15)

So if you can't have it both ways, here's my vote for FRIENDSHIP as the better way to describe what the pastoral role can be, perhaps is meant to be. Not that friendships with parishioners can or should ever take the place of friendships with peers. Remember, we are talking friendship as metaphor. The Celtic Christians, who talked about the soul friend (St. Bridget) and not the spiritual director, understood the importance of walking together (St. Aidan) humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) It's about mutuality.

So the point of the journey is not to repeat Jesus' own death, the laying down of his life, the emptying of his God-ness. We cannot copy Jesus. But we can live a Spirit formed life where others, because of our love for them, do not have to be sacrificed. We are FREE to act out of love, because we know what being a friend is. Which would be a transforming way to think about friendship and ministry, don't ya think?

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