Nate Palmer is a husband, father of three young kids from Dallas, TX. In addition to working for the software firm SAP, he pursuing his M.A. in Religion online from Reformed Theological Seminary and has had articles published in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.
Nate’s new book, Servanthood as Worship, is now available from Cruciform Press. He graciously agreed to take some time and answer a few questions about the process of writing the book, why you should read it and what’s next.
1. What led you to want to write on service as worship in the first place?
As I wrote in the opening chapter, after an initial burst of excitement after being saved I began to really struggle with serving in the local church. I knew something was wrong and that I couldn’t continue like this. Around that time our church in California decided to send a church planting team to Texas. My wife and I felt God calling us to go with them. I knew this embryonic church would need people to serve a lot more than in an established church, but I questioned if I could do that. I knew I couldn’t serve in the condition I was in. I felt as if I would be a dead weight to the church and a liability to my pastor. So I went to my pastor and told him how I was struggling. We talked, prayed, and read some scriptures. As I was leaving his office, I asked him if there was a more in depth resource I could read – to which he replied that other than a few chapters in various books (he wisely pointed me to a chapter in Donald Whitney’s book) that he didn’t know any. So I decided to write my own – I guess the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” applied in this case.
2. When Cruciform Press picked up the book, what was your initial reaction? Your family’s?
I was absolutely thrilled, shocked, and scared all at the same time. I mean I am a nobody – no platform to speak of, just an ordinary guy who wrote a book on something he stunk at – and here a publisher was picking my little book. My wife, who has been really supportive during the 5 years of writing and rewriting this, was proud and excited for me.
3. What challenges did you find writing this book, if any?
The challenge is to fully cover such a deep subject and feel like I have done it justice.
4. You write about the shift that happened in your own life and attitude toward service, that you from “thrilled to ambivalent to resentful to selfishly ambitious,” all in the span of a few months. Would you say this is a unique experience to you or is it something that’s far too common?
From what I have seen and heard, my experience is not so unique. My attitude shift may have happened faster than most, but everyone at some point feels the same frustrations. It is so common that we even have a term for it called burn-out.
5. What are some of the steps we can take to avoid this shift in attitude? What’s an encouragement you could give to leaders who may be creating an environment that cultivates this and may not realize it?
Well, I think in our churches we need a shift in thinking about Sunday service – in that we need to stop seeing it as a precursor to worship but actually worship itself. It is fairly common to treat serving as a necessary evil, or simply an administrative function devoid of any meaningful gospel implications. Leaders can start to concentrate on applying the gospel message (on how we sinners whom God chose to save out of his mercy and work and not through our own devices) to the tasks at hand. Often leading service teams is reduced to creating schedules and then cajoling or guilt tripping people into showing up. It is more often about being a task master than a leader – whereby their success is judged if their area is setup or run properly than how worshipful/joyful their people are. That needs to change.
6. Self-control isn’t often thought of as a spiritual gift. Why do you believe it’s essential to have this understanding?
Self-control is essential in serving, how else can we stop serving ourselves and move to serving others – especially people we don’t like or in areas we deem beneath us. Without self control, pride and self-rule become my masters and set the course for my ambitions. For instance, my over-joyful reaction at being asked to lead a small group quickly turns to dispassion when asked to be a parking monitor. We need self-control to prefer God’s will over our own. Yet, we cannot do that without the Holy Spirit’s work in us through the gift of self-control. It would be like a leopard trying to change its spots through sheer will power – its impossible.
7. You write that in our service to others, God is ”giving us a small glimpse of heaven.” Why do you believe this perspective is so essential to maintain?
An eternal perspective is so important because it provides eternal meaning to what we do here. We tend to think – what is the big deal if the book table is not setup or the chairs are not laid out or the audio cable not laid properly. But what if it did matter and not just for that day but matter in the eternal purposes of God’s people? You see such a vision shows us that our little tasks are bigger than we think and that we are part of something that will last forever.
8. What’s been the greatest challenge for you living out this principle and what’s been its most rewarding impact?
The greatest challenge has been in exposing my sin and dealing with the mess. I am an arrogant person by nature, I want to be seen as person who has this down, a leader worthy of more tasks and much more applause. This has challenged me to ask myself, “who am I really living for, who am I actually serving?” The greatest reward in this has been sharing what I have learned with others and watching God work in them for his glory.
9. What’s one key reason you believe people should read Servanthood as Worship?
The key reason I believe people should read Servanthood as Worship would be so that they can learn how to magnify the Gospel for the glory of God and to the benefit of others by serving in and through their local church. If they can connect what they do in the church to God’s glory and his purposes for the church, then the book will be successful.
10. What’s next on the writing front?
I have a couple ideas for some non-fiction topics. One is how Christ’s Ascension and Session impact the everyday life of the Christian. Its a topic not really addressed or done so from an academic perspective. Most of us have little understanding of the true impact of the Ascension and Session. Christ’s exaltation is simply not taught or written about much compared to his humilation. Another crazy idea I am working on is a fiction story based on Voltaire’s Candide set in modern times yet reversed (going from pessimistic humanism to faith in Christ). It will be loosely based on my own adventures leaving home at 17 and trying to find myself in Europe.
11. Any final encouragement to those who might be struggling in their service to their local church?
I think the single best encouragement comes from Scripture: in the story of Mary – Martha’s sister. In Luke 10, we find her sitting at Jesus’ feet listening and learning, while Martha is serving. Martha complains to Jesus, and he tells her basically that Mary chose the good portion (implying Martha should actually stop serving, sit down with her sister, and listen to him). Later in John 12:1-2 we see the effects of Mary’s choice.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Here we see Martha still serving, but Mary is worshiping. She understood who Christ was and what he was about to do because she had been listening to him. So I would encourage everyone that serving is not about what we can do for God, but what he has done and continues to do for us. Serving is a natural reaction to having an eternal savior. So don’t try harder, don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t as good as others, or that you may serve in area you find displeasing. First sit in front of your savior and ponder what it would mean if you had to serve in these things without a redeemer. If you do that you will find yourself worshiping and maybe catch a whiff of the faint scent of perfume.