Book Review: Servanthood as Worship by Nate Palmer

Title: Servanthood as Worship
Author: Nate Palmer
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2010)

It’s Saturday night and you’ve just enjoyed a great night out. You get ready for bed, your head hits the pillow and you realize:

“Oh man, I’m on set up tomorrow. Ugh…”

I know that there have been times that I’ve felt that way. When I’ve volunteered to serve and can remember when I used to enjoy it… but now, I wish I could call in sick. Nate Palmer understands this—he’s been there. And in Servanthood as Worship, he seeks to help readers develop a theology of service that will bring joy to others (and ourselves) and glory to God.

Palmer view of servanthood is inspiring. He roots servanthood firmly in the gospel—that our service flows from Christ coming as a servant on our behalf. “As Christians, our standing with God—our very salvation—does not depend on whether we serve, but that Christ first served us. . . . All our service for God begins and ends with service from God,” he writes (p. 15). This is a shift that many of us—myself included—desperately need. Too often our view of service comes out of this place of trying to earn standing before God and men.

We put on a happy face and we work hard until we burn out.

The funny thing is, it seems like we’re being set up for this to happen, doesn’t it? I remember at one church hearing about how 20 percent of the people at a church were doing 80 percent of the work. As part of that so-called 20 percent, that puts a lot of pressure on you, because if you need a respite, there’s no one to fill the gap. The burden of duty leads to bitterness… and people don’t even realize it.

Instead, we need to embrace service as what it actually is—worship. To see it as an outward evidence of our inward transformation.

Once we grasp this truth, it changes our view of service in the church. Then, when facing a surprise request to serve in the nursery, or to perform some unglamorous task, our response can be quite different. We are less likely to think, How is this helping me? Instead, we are more likely to respond with a heart of God-centered service. (p. 43)

In other words, when we see our service in this way, we begin to realize that it’s about glorifying God and not ourselves. So practically, how do we develop this attitude?

Palmer writes that glorifying God consists of four things:

  1. Appreciation—we serve because we appreciate who God is and what He has done for us
  2. Adoration—we serve because we adore and desire His active presence
  3. Affection—we serve motivated by love for believers and non believers alike
  4. Subjection—we serve because we are not our own

In all of this, Palmer is careful to note just how instrumental the Holy Spirit is in glorifying God and in our service to Him. We can only cultivate attitudes of appreciation, adoration, affection and subjection because of the active presence and work of the Holy Spirit. He gives us affection for God and others. He applies the work of salvation. He gives us new desires. I wonder just how much our attitude toward service would change if we grasped this perspective?

Despite how joyfully we can serve, sometimes it feels… well it feels kind of futile, doesn’t it? The world’s not getting any better. No matter how much we accomplish, there’s always more to do. Does it really matter?

Yes, writes Palmer as he concludes the book. “[S]erving the church is of tremendous eternal significance” (p. 89). He continues:

Serving now helps to prepare us for heaven later, where we will serve God around his throne forever. Moreover, it builds and strengthens the body of Christ on earth. These eternal truths inform and motivate our temporal work. All Christians will benefit from the eternal nature of the church. It is our astonishing privilege to help build now what God will perfect and sustain forever.

That perspective—looking to what will be accomplished when Christ comes again to usher in the new heavens and the new earth—that’s the only thing that can lift a weary servant’s heart, as he or she longs to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Servanthood as Worship keeps readers focused on the true reward of service. It’s not about pride or the approval of man. Servanthood—true, biblical servanthood—is about glorifying God. That’s the perspective we all desperately need.

Servanthood as Worship is a must-read, whether you’re looking to develop a theology of service, you’re someone in danger of burning out in your service, or a pastor looking for something to help inspire service in your church. For all of these, Servanthood as Worship offers challenging insights and powerful inspiration.

A PDF of this book was provided for review purposes by Cruciform Press