Biblical recruitment: Cross-shaped servants

  • Peter Tong
  • 13 July 2015

In my last post, we went through four ways people are often invited into ministry: focused on the inviter, focused on the invitee, task-focused, and results-focused. We saw that, while there are occasions where these methods may be appropriate, they shouldn’t be the primary reason behind someone entering into a ministry.

If the human-centered approach to serving in church doesn’t happen to be the one you want to foster, then perhaps you could try these tips for encouraging a cross-shaped mindset for ministry.

1.     Make it about serving the king in response to being forgiven.

This is the principle of Isaiah 6, where, in the year the human King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the true king. He gazed upon his glory, which caused him to cry out “I am ruined”. In a symbol of what Christ would do on the cross 700-odd years later, the seraphim pressed a burning coal against Isaiah’s lips, and he was purified.

All Christian ministry should follow this pattern. Isaiah encountered two things central to God’s nature: his exalted holiness, and his willingness to show mercy and deal with sin. Then, and only then, did the humbled servant, the broken man who had seen God, present for service. Let’s not mistake Isaiah’s “Here I am! Send me” as a gung-ho declaration of ministry bravado. This is the response of a servant, who has been humbled and purified, now presenting himself for service.

So, in practical terms, when you recruit someone for ministry, show him or her the glory of the king, so they are humbled. Talk about their personal experience of salvation, so they are qualified. You could begin with a passage like Isaiah 6, or simply the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who declared that his was the glory Isaiah saw.

Then speak about how they should offer their whole life to serve the king who is high and exalted and seated on the throne; the one behind the scenes of human history; the one who longs to show mercy and deal with sin.

Only this vision can break the shackles of being a people-pleaser, or transform the mindset that seeks to use gifts given by this king to serve one’s own name. Only this vision will cause one to suffer and endure hard times for his glory’s sake. In that context speak about Scripture teaching, Bible study leading, kids’ church, youth group, the leadership team, and so on.

2.     Make it about serving each other in response to being served.

Let’s consider the logic of Mark 10:35-45. Christ served us first by giving himself as a ransom for many. Since Christ has served you, humble yourself and serve others. This is the kingdom definition of greatness—to become the least and be a servant of all. In Christian ministry, all leadership is service; others come first. That’s why, in Paul’s discussion on the use of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, one main restriction on how Christians are to exercise their gifts is by what is beneficial for others.

In practical terms, take someone to Mark to show them Christ’s willingness to serve, and don’t let them leave until God has undone all the years of worldly indoctrination about what constitutes greatness and leadership—for this has no place in his kingdom. In its place a new model must be built: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

3.     Make it about the heart, rather than the hands.

This is my corny way of saying to make it about attitude, rather than the actual task or the outcome of the task.

In the case of Isaiah, there was nothing attractive about the task. He was to preach judgement until the cities lay in ruins (Isa 6:9-13). But because he had seen the king who truly rules, and grasped his purposes, he would be faithful to a task that would ultimately be fruitless.

In the case of the disciples, they had to humbly serve each other, instead of clambering over each other to reach the top.

To underscore the emphasis on attitude, we could add to this all the condemnations of Israel’s worship, who often went through the motions with their hearts far from God (e.g. Isa 1). Jesus describes the climactic denunciation of this approach to ministry: “Lord, we prophesied and drove out demons in your name” they will say, but Jesus will respond, “Go away, I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23). Why? Because the ministry was conducted without an obedient heart. 

Make it about the heart first, rather than the hands.


So there is a different emphasis in recruiting someone to a ministry role if we have a cross-shaped mindset. This approach emphasizes serving God in response to his holiness and mercy. This approach emphasizes serving others in response to being served by Christ, the servant of God. Here is an approach that may very well drive people out of their comfort zones, because they see God is in control. Here is an approach that helps guard against running around like a mad thing, thinking I have to do everything, because it’s all been done in the gospel.

As I said in my first post, the cross-shaped approach to recruiting will not guarantee that all the difficulties will disappear. However, it will lay the foundation for an approach to working through difficulties in ministry in a biblical and Christ-dependent way.

I used to think that recruiting the team was the precursor to ministry before the year truly started—or worse, a distraction to ministry if you had to recruit mid-year. But friends, cross-shaped recruitment is the ministry, because it is yet another opportunity to point to the cross and call people to live for the one who died for us, and die for the one who lives for us.

You can see Peter's talk, which this article is based on, below:

Photo credit: Rob Young