The word “ministry” contains within it the idea of service, and to some it may come as an unexpected surprise that even ministers struggle with the pull of seeking status or striving illegitimately after ambition as we pursue our careers – uh, I mean callings. However, the fact that we are ministers does not remove us from a world in which both nature and nurture often orient us in another way. In fact, having been so oriented toward the pursuit of self, we might even be prone to ignore and justify it in our ministries for Christ. In Servant of All, Craig C. Hill examines the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament regarding leadership, providing us with a biblical call to examine the way we view ourselves and ministry.
Dr. Hill, who is dean and professor of New Testament at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, laments that those studying the Bible often do so with an eye toward theology, thus missing the practical teaching related to the doctrinal thought. Thus, he approaches the teaching and example of Jesus with an emphasis on reminding his readers of the practical and ethical value of what is being taught. Certainly, this is not outside the approach of the New Testament. After all, even a great Christological passage such as Philippians 2 begins with the instruction to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Thus, the passage not only teaches us important truths about Christ’s emptying of himself and conforming himself to death on the cross, but it also instructs us that our “mind” should be directed toward humility and service.
While the work addresses these subjects thoroughly, it is not lacking in nuance. For example, the author recognizes both the positive and negative aspects of ambition, a concept that both in our day and in New Testament times had both positive and negative connotations. Thus, a person utterly lacking in ambition may be lazy and not make use of his gifts. On the other hand, naked ambition is an evil that pursues one’s own advancement at the expense of others. Dr. Hill looks at all aspects of this concept.
As mentioned previously, the author sets out to give attention to the ethical issues of Scripture, and does not race to find the theological truths at the expense of the practical. While that may be a strength of the work, it also struck this reviewer as a weakness. The call to servant leadership is a radical one, and the convicted reader needs to find hope, motivation, and inspiration in order to respond to that call. Working into the book New Testament teaching on the hope found in the Gospel, the help found in the work of the Holy Spirit and our union with Christ, and speaking to the gratitude toward God to be found in the life of a repentant sinner would have provided more help.
With that important caveat, this is a work that deserves to be read. To be reminded of those values with which many of us entered ministry is certainly of value. The sheep to which we minister, and the God whom we serve, require it.