Overview: True Servanthood is a Must for All Ministers

“Cross-Cultural Servanthood,” by Duane Elmer is a powerful life changing book that is a must read for all those in ministry! The book centers on the context of ministering to different cultures and most of the examples come from the foreign mission field; however, the principles that are taught are so well grounded in the Word of God that they are applicable to all. Plus, since they are practical and usable in all contexts the book can be seen more as a lesson in “ministry” than just a book about “missions.”

Elmer powerfully hits the heart of every minster when he opens his book with the subject of “Servanthood.” He leaves no room for the reader to brush off his teachings by comparing themselves to his personal servant walk because he immediately makes it known, he is not even close to where Jesus is. Thus, he is simply sharing the truth as he sees it from the Scripture and takes the posture of being the “first” learner of his own writings.

The following quote from C.S. Lewis on pride and humility is soul shaking, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed” (p. 29). With this straightforward approach to addressing the pride in the heart of ministers Elmer begins serving his dose of “humility medicine” to all who dare to continue to read on!
Elmer does a great job of explaining how the biblical writers actually invented a new Greek word to describe the kind of humility Jesus was living and teaching. The new word was, “tapeinophrosune,” which means, “a proper perspective of the Holy God we serve. proper perspective of self- defined by lowliness of mind, gentleness of spirit and meekness of attitude” (p. 29). The best illustration given of this definition of humility is seen in the attitude of Jesus as described by Paul in Philippians 2. Paul urges the people to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility (tapeinophrosune) of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
Central Message: True Humility and Servanthood

Therefore, with this foundation of humility built upon the true humility of Jesus the book begins to give helpful steps to take to have humility in ministry. Elmer gives a great illustration of his steps in the illustration of a circle with serving in the middle and the ways to get the true heart of humility pointing to it (p. 152).

The suggested steps to genuine humble serving are in the following specified order:

1. Openness: the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe (p. 39).
2. Acceptance: the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person (p. 58).
3. Trust: the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest, (p. 77).
4. Learning: the ability to glean relevant information about, from and with other people, (p. 93).
5. Understanding: the ability to see patterns of behavior and values that reveal the integrity of a people, (p. 125).
6. Serving (which can only be properly lived by having done first the above five steps): the ability to relate to people in such a way that their dignity as human beings is affirmed and they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives, (p. 146).
Critique: Elmer’s Servant Leader Model

In conclusion to his book and after pages of great illustrations from the mission field solidifying the above points, Elmer disappointingly ends with a weak rebuke/encouragement to leaders. First, he tries to find issue with the term “servant leader.” Second, he takes the reader on a confusing contradicting lesson on leadership. And lastly, he admits he knew not how to write the following leadership sections, felt is was the hardest to write, and questioned to even include it- which he should not have- the book would have been great without it (p. 155).

Therefore, please note the following misunderstandings Elmer makes to leadership:
1. Lake of Biblical Precedent for True Servant Leadership: Elmer claims that “leadership” is really a modern invention (p. 156). However, he fails to note that the word and concept of leadership goes all the way back to Noah. Also, the word “leader” is actually used over 230x in the Bible! And it is used many times in the New Testament with a positive meaning, for example: Acts 1:20,15:22 & Hebrews 13:7,17,24.
2. Barnabas Over Paul: Elmer makes the same “romantic mistake” many “servant only guys” make. Meaning, instead of seeing Jesus as both a servant and a strong leader, he begins to force all leadership into a “mushy, non-confronting, always sweet as honey, type of minister,” which is very one-sided and not true to the biblical accounts. Therefore, he actually faults Paul in leadership because of Acts 13:13 in the rejection of John Mark (p. 166-7).

However, he seems to overlook the obvious affirmation of God concerning Paul’s leadership- the book of Acts and the New Testament! The book of Acts follows Paul, not Barnabas. The pastoral epistles are letters from Paul, not Barnabas. Lastly, Paul did call himself a “doulas,” a “bond servant” to Christ, however, he also believed in leadership and called himself an apostle in the very same verse (Romans 1:1)!

Personal Application: Metro Praise Servant Leader

(*Clears throat) Humbly speaking, as a church planter with a successful church plant in Chicago and over 120 churches in five different parts of the world I really loved the first two sections of the book. The first 155 pages of the book changed my life and reminded my of the times I read other great books on character like, “The Calvary Road,” by Roy Hession and “Humility” by Andrew Murray. Thus, it is from these pages I received the most insight and will apply it to my life and ministry.

Here are three things gained from Elmer:
1. Remember Humility is a Life Long Process: I really want to always be aware of C.S. Lewis’ quote and the life of Jesus as seen in Philippians 2. Thus, I never want to think I have arrived at being a servant like Jesus; I want to desire to always strive to be more humble in all I do.
2. Do All Ministry Remembering that Honor is Valuable: I do not want to insult or be “all-knowing” in ministry but rather seek to serve others as Jesus served them. I desire to honor the leaders God has placed over me and honor those God has placed under my care.
3. Be Open to Learn from Anyone at All Times: I really want to open my heart to have a “teachable” attitude wherever I go. Especially, when I do mission work- I want to learn from those God has placed in my life in the various countries and settings I serve in.