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Archives / 1987 / September


Editorial: Status seekers in the church

J. David Newman


Each culture has its own ways of displaying status. In Jesus' day, where a person sat in the synagogue indicated his status (see Matt. 23:6; Mark 12:39; Luke 11:43; 20:46). When Jesus noticed how guests were selecting dinner seats, He counseled: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor. . . . Take the lowest place" (Luke 14:8-10).*

In our day people can indicate status by the cars they drive. Whatever the arguments for the economic value of owning a Mercedes, one cannot escape the fact that owning a Mercedes, a Cadillac, a Rolls-Royce, or any other status-laden car makes a point. In some cultures, merely owning two cars has high symbolism.

Others choose to show status by the display of educational degrees. They prefer being called doctor rather than elder or pastor. Some show their importance by displaying certificates and diplomas on their office walls.

We can use our homes, furniture, clothes, and even our watches--Rolex, for example--to show our status. The list is endless.

Organizations also have their way of appealing to the human desire for status. Some vote awards such as Pastor of the Year. How do all the pastors who do not receive this "coveted" award feel? Can they keep their motivations pure as they plan for the next year? Will they be encouraged to do their best for the Lord, or will they keep an eye partially on the award?

In our culture, size and type of office room or rooms often indicate status. When church organizations--whether local, national, or international--plan for a new building, are the offices designed to be purely functional or to indicate status as well? As an individual rises in the hierarchy, does he or she receive a progressively larger office?

Some business organizations, recognizing the liabilities of this system, are seeking to democratize their offices (see "Democracy by Design," MINISTRY, June 1986). Churches, conservative by nature, often lag behind instead of leading in such changes. Apparently they haven't outgrown the disciples' question "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matt. 18:1).

The proposed new headquarters building for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has raised again some of these issues. In this case it concerns who receives closed and who receives open offices. Many perceive that those who will receive closed offices will do so for reasons of status and not of function. A highly placed source told MINISTRY, "You can't expect a president of a division who is elected to be a vice president of the General Conference to transfer from a closed to an open office."

The results have been predictable, just as the 10 disciples "became indignant with James and John" (Mark 10:41), so a number have become indignant over giving closed offices to people who spend a majority of their time out of their offices--traveling or in committee. This concern over status has prevented an objective discussion of who really needs a closed office and who can work just as well in an open office.

It is not our purpose here to argue which is the better system. We simply want to illustrate that human nature has changed little in 2,000 years.

Servant leadership is popular in speech, neglected in practice. When Jesus took a towel, poured water into a basin, and washed His disciples' feet, He redefined greatness. What gives status in the kingdom of God is the opposite of what does so in Satan's kingdom.

Jesus gave up all of heaven and "made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant" (Phil. 2:7). Lucifer wanted all of heaven: "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God" (Isa. 14:13). Status seeking began with him who eventually rebelled openly against God. Those who seek the kingdom of heaven put their trust and dependency in Jesus Christ, not in worldly status. If a person will not accept a position because it does not carry all the right trappings, then we are better off with someone else.

It takes courage to resist the subtle influences of the world, especially when the church has "baptized" certain status symbols. It is too easy to "love praise from men more than praise from God" (John 12:43). It is only at the foot of the cross that we see who we really are sinners, hopelessly lost. When we look at Jesus and surrender our pride to Him, we receive the only status worth having: being sons and daughters of God (1 John 3:1). J. David Newman

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