I am so happy to introduce to you Nate Palmer, author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). I have just completed a study on servanthood with my small group using his book. Speaking for the whole group, I will tell you that Servanthood As Worship is a little book of gold. I wholeheartedly recommend it to you for both personal use and group use. Nate has kindly agreed to an interview with me, so let’s get started.
1) Having already established a career, what led you to attend seminary?
I love theology, but it is so wide and deep that it is often daunting to get into — where does one even start or even know how best to go about tackling its immensity. Seminary offers a structured way to learn more, so going to seminary (even though I don’t want to be a pastor) made sense for me. I felt I had learned as much as I could on my own and needed help/guidance. I started going to RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary). RTS has a great virtual program and great profs like Lignon Duncan, Douglas Kelly, Derek Thomas, Steve Brown etc.
By the way, one of my favorite books, Scandalous Freedom, was written by RTS prof Steve Brown.
2) Where did your interest in writing come from?
I forget who said that necessity is the mother of invention, but that rings true with me and writing. My interest in writing came from my interest in servanthood. At the time, I was really struggling with serving (its true nature, its relationship to the Christian life, its value to Christ). When I looked for help to explain what the Bible says about it, all I found were resources on leadership. Nothing was written on just servanthood -– it was always tied to something else. The main focus was never actually on servanthood. Every single book that I saw treated servanthood as a means to an end — not (as i think the Bible shows) as the means from the end. What I mean by that is that we serve because of (and from) our salvation in Christ, not to produce it or to achieve some other gift like leadership. I even went to my pastor and asked for a resource on serving, and except for a chapter in Donald’s Whitney’s book he couldn’t name a single one.
From that moment, I got the curious and stubborn notion that, if no one else was going to, I would write the first book on servanthood for servanthood’s sake. I became obsessed with writing about this topic. I wrote nights and even at work – I was always thinking of it. So I studied theology, read books on writing, and annoyed my friends and family with frequent drafts. All in all, the entire book took me 5 years to write. The original book was twice as long but Cruciform (my publisher) wisely paired it down to its current form — though I do still feel that there are many more facets of servanthood to discuss. From the experience of writing Servanthood As Worship, I have learned that writing is the way my mind processes and expresses things, things maybe I can’t deal with any other way.
Let’s talk about your book Servanthood as Worship…
3) You mentioned struggling when it came to serving. Can you talk about that a little more?
Many Christians find themselves in a similar hopeless position (as I was) while trying to serve in the local church. We may have a passion for the church and its members yet struggle to serve. Perhaps we are passionate for a while but the hard work sapped most of our energy. Likely many people reading this would describe themselves burnout, having lost all desire to serve. I was there and what made it worse was that I was leading the service ministries at my church. Plus on top of that, 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 the 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.
I knew this wasn’t right and that I needed a change of heart — a change of thinking about serving and about myself. As I remembered the passion when I first became a Christian, I wondered how I ended up with such a horrible view of serving. Just a couple years ago I was so “on fire”– what happened? I began to ask myself questions like:
· How could stacking chairs be any benefit to me or to God?
· Why should I give up my Sunday mornings to serve -– how important is serving to God?
· If faith rather than works save us, then what does it matter if I serve others?
· If this welcome table was not set up, would anyone even care -– is there any point to serving?
· Why should I serve when other people never do anything?
Wrestling with these questions, I would say servanthood chose me not the other way around. From my experience, understanding servanthood as worship (and not a means to justify ourselves before God), has transformed people to serve from a place of guilt and obligation to serve with joy and freedom – freedom from trying to live up to the perfection of the law, of being the perfect Christian. Instead, they are learning to live and serve in the love/grace of Christ who served perfectly for us.
5) What do you hope for people to gain from Servanthood as Worship?
Since brevity is the spice of life — I hope people will understand that servanthood, instead of being based upon our love or work for God, is founded, driven, and sustained by God’s love and work for us — love that devised our salvation and a love that fully purchased it on the cross. Servanthood is the natural reaction to having a supernatural and eternal Savior.
6) Do you have any future writing plans?
Many! Actually, I just pitched my next book on the Exaltation of Christ. Christ’s Ascension and Session, while often neglected in modern evangelicalism, are essential aspects which are vital to Jesus’ nature, his ministry, and his Gospel message. Understanding Christ’s exaltation will transform how we view our Christian life, our prayers, our witness, and will lead to an increasing worship of and trust in Christ – for everything from our salvation to our daily bread.
Nate is a husband and father of three young kids from Dallas, TX. In addition to working for the software firm SAP, he is pursuing his M.A. in Religion online from Reformed Theological Seminary and has had articles published in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.
Once again, I would like to express my deep thanks to Nate for participating in this interview. As you can see, it took him many years to bring this book project to completion, and I am so thankful he shared a bit of story with us.