Developing Servants Instead of “Learners”


Copyright ©1984, by Tim Arensmeier


Some years ago in Atlanta the editor of Searching Together, and I were enjoying some good fellowship together over a cup of coffee when an interesting subject came up.  He indicated that from time to time he received inquires from men who were looking for churches that needed pastors.  Having been involved for some years in the process of discipling young men, I suggested a brief outline of some thoughts to brother Zens that he might be able to use in responding to such requests.  This practical information is submitted at the request of the editor [of Searching Together] in hopes that it will benefit Christians desiring to follow Christ, especially those aspiring to the eldership.


A diagram will follow, and then some explanation will be given.





  (1L) Serves to be observed

Learns by/while serving   (1S)

  (2L) Egocentric

Christocentric   (2S)

  (3L) Acquisition of knowledge

Application of knowledge   (3S)

  (4L) Pat-answer oriented

Creative thinker   (4S)

  (5L) Defensive

Vulnerable  (5S)

  (6L) Insecure

Secure   (6S)

  (7L) Teacher-down-to-pupil

Man-to-man/older-younger   (7S)

  (8L) Authoritarian (intrinsic authority)

Authoritative (extrinsic authority)   (8S)

  (9L) Wit-matcher (serves a “better”)

Serves anyone   (9S)

(10L) “Go into THE Ministry

Grows into a ministry (10S)

(11L) 1 – 4 year mentality

Joshua attitude (40+ years) (11S)

(12L) Fear of man

Fear of God (12S)

(13L) Program-centered

People centered (13S)

(14L) Methods/materials

Men, people & their maturity (14S)

(15L) How-to’s

Why’s (15S)

(16L) Large first generation ministry

Multi-generational results (16S)

(17L) Luke 9:23b

Luke 9:23a (17S)



There is much confusion regarding the word “disciple.”  Many have created false distinctions.  They teach, for example, that among true believers there are just a few dedicated “disciples.”  In this view, then, some not all Christians are “disciples.”  But, in the New Testament discipleship is a growing process in which all Chrirstians are involved.  The original Greek word, mathetes, which is translated as “disciple,” means a student or one who is enrolled in a course of study.


Thus, a disciple is a “learner.”  However, it must be quickly noted that the N.T. view of discipleship goes much deeper than our usual concept of “learning.”  For example, as a disciple of Marx one could study his writings and philosophy in detail for years, and ultimately develop the skill to become a professor of Marxism in a university.  Obviously, this kind of “discipleship” does no justice to what it means to follow Jesus.


Learner” vs. Servant.  Perhaps Luke 6:40 can help us understand more of what it means to be a “disciple.”  A learner (disciple) is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”  What does it mean to be like the teacher.?  If Christ is our Teacher, what is He that we can emulate?  We cannot imitate His Savior-hood or His vicarious substitutioin on the cross.  I suggest that the servant-hood of Christ is that which we must strive after.  The classic passage is Philippians 2:5 – 11.  At the center of the “mind of Christ” is humility and service.


We can thus isolate two approaches to discipleship.  The left column in our diagram is the learner approach, and the right-hand column is the servant approach.  Of course, we must maintain that a servant learns.  But the “learner” approach stifles servanthood.  This we will see as we compare the learner (L) and the servant (S) approaches to discipleship.


The servant learns by and while serving (1S).  The classic example of this is demonstrated by Joshua, who was Moses’ servant for forty to forty-five years.  Joshua was prepared for and grew into leadership as he served Moses.


The learner serves too:  but he serves to be observed (1L).  We’ve all witnessed the person who is very busy doing things, but as you get to know him you get the distinct impression that if no one was watching he would not be involved.  The learner will do things in order to be personally advantaged.


Hence, his performance is egocentric (2L):  his focus is on himself.  He has a fuzzy apprehension of who he will be accepted by God and men.  Instead of acting as one totally accepted on the basis of Christ’s merit, he is trying to impress God and others by his performance.


In contrast, the servant is secure in the fact that God accepts him for Christ’s sake.  Because his perspective is Christocentric (2S), he serves out of a grateful heart.  He is not under pressure to become a wheel or impress those around him.


The learner will put the premium on the acquisition of knowledge.  He is interested in “gathering the facts” (3L).  In this way the learner is very theoretical.  On the other hand, the servant is concerned bout the application of knowledge to life’s situation, which the Scriptures call “wisdom” (3S).


Because of the emphasis on learning the learner will tend toward pat-answers (4L).  He needs to have everything reduced to writing – codified – and will usually go to great lengths to learn all of the recorded history and materials related to the particular group, denomination, etc., so that he has all the answers.


The servant-minded individual, however, is creative (4S).  This means that instead of being defensive (5L) he is willing to be vulnerable (5S).  If you and I are growing in our secure in Christ, then we have the freedom to be vulnerable; we have the freedom to make a mistake.  We do not have to come across to others as if we are a Rock of Gibraltar know-it-all (which is not the truth, of course).


The learner functions from an insecure posture (6L):  “I will only do what I’m very clearly instructed  to do; if there is ever a mistake, then I can always blame somebody else.”  The servant, acts out of a secure posture in Christ, and is thus free to creatively serve others (6S).


Another way to view this is in terms of the vertical relationship of teacher and pupil (7L).  In this system information always flows down from the teacher to the pupil.  For the sake of discussion, I would identify this as an authoritarian (8L) relationship:  one in which authority is seen as intrinsic to the teacher, either in the mind of the teacher, the mind of the pupil, or worse, both!  It is authoritarian in that, “it is right for you to do such-and-such because ‘I’ told you to do it!”  This ultimately stifles the creativity of the student, forces him into a box-mentality, and causes the student not to challenge the authority figure (when it is necessary).


We can encourage openness and honesty by cultivating a man-to-man relationship (7S).  Here, information does not just come down from teacher to pupil, but reciprocally between the older, more experienced brother and the younger, less experienced brother.  This kind of mutual relationship enables us to “exhort one another daily, lest [we] be hardened by sins’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13


I would call this an authoritative relationship (8S).  Here, the authority lies outside of both parties in the relationship.  Specifically, this authority is Christ through His Word.  In this setting, the younger can eagerly learn and profit from the experience and wisdom of the older brother, and the elders can be reminded, admonished, comforted and encouraged by others.  In a man-to-man relationship, I may acknowledge you as my senior in many areas; but before God, you are not better than I.  We are both sinners saved by grace; Jesus said, “You are all brothers.”


The learner tends to be a wit-matcher (9L).  This kind of person always has to have the last word, even if he is mistaken.  The wit-matcher will tend to learn from another only if he cannot out-think the other person:  “If I’m essentially backed into a corner and don’t have any arguments left, then I will listen to you.”  The wit-matcher will do anything you ask only if he is left on the high end of the teeter-totter.  That is virtually the only condition upon which he is open to you.


The servant, however, will serve anyone with no strings attached (9S).


The learner has been taught that he should “Go into THE Ministry.”  Young men often say that at an earlier age, “The Lord called me to go into the ministry” (10L).  This creates a situation where the cart comes before the horse. 


The servant, on the other hand, is willing to “grow into a ministry” (10S).  This individual is willing to serve as a tractor repairman for Wycliffe, a carpenter, plumber, etc., in the process of the Lord’s word being advanced.  His focus is not on the platform, not on the pulpit, and not on being “up front.”


The learner has a one-to-four year mentality (11L).  If the ministry is something he is “entering,” then once the “schooling” is completed, he is equipped for the task.  Usually, then, the training time is equal to the curriculum offered by a school.  Where do we get the idea that serving the Lord is related to a beginning of training that has an end in sight (11L)?


At the risk of seeming too elementary, I will suggest that you may fill out the comparison of learner and servant in the following ways.  On the basis of Proverbs 29:25 you could say that the learner is dominated by the fear of man (12L), while the servant has a healthy and reverential fear of God (12S). 


Learners will be program-oriented, very committed to establishing programs to motivate people and create a growing church (13L).  The servant is essentially people-oriented (13S). 


He is more concerned that the men (individuals) grow and mature than he is in seeing numbers increase because of wonderful materials and methods he is using (14L, 14S). 


The learner is a “how-to” oriented person, while the servant is interested in the “whys” of the Christian life (15L, 15S).


Another consideration on the left side would be that a first generation ministry can be readily established if Mr. Pat-Answer Man comes into town, and from an authoritarian perspective tells a bunch of people what to do, replete with large binders of information.  Aggressive leadership, coupled with authoritarianism can generate an impressive ministry in not too much time.  But, little of the fruit lasts with this kind of whirlwind (16L).


On the other side, the individual who moves into a situation as one attempting to function as a servant will tend not to generate smoke and dust.  Perhaps even after one or two generations he may not have an impressive ministry statistically.  The fact remains that those to whom he has ministered the Word will probably be well-grounded, growing in grace and capable of ongoing function even after the Lord takes that servant off the scene (16S).


Luke 9:23 is a fascinating passage to meditate on in this regard.  Then He said to them all:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  I have heard several sermons on what it means to take up the cross daily.  The thoughts have usually been cast in terms of the learner mentality, and revolved around a series of “how-to’s” in Christian ministry (17L).  The process of taking up the cross has been spiritualized out of all sense of perspective and balance.  I have yet to hear a very well-honed development of how a person might learn to give up all right to himself!  It would seem to me that if we were to cite the last part of 9:23 in the learner context, then we could cite the first part of 9:23 in the servant context.  Denying yourself is the part that is more difficult, and quickly identifies the focus of discipleship (17S).




            All of us enter life on the side of the “learner.”  Our entire education system is built firmly on it – including our Bible-school and seminary systems.


            One question I frequently receive after having developed this presentation on a blackboard or overhead projector is, “How do I get from the learner side to the servant side?”  Wonderful!  A thinker!  Look to our Sovereign God to graciously grant insight into the facts of the glorious gospel so that you will increasingly see yourself as the Father does – in Christ. It is the work of the Spirit of God in us to direct our attention to Christ, not to ourselves, our gifts, or our abilities.  If we progressively see ourselves in Christ, learn to bask in His righteousness, glory in the fact that we are accepted by the Father, we will grow in the knowledge that we have all the status we need! 


            What practical steps ought I to take if I perceive myself too much as a “learner?”  If you are a student, or freshly graduated and interested in serving the Lord, a suggestion:  find a church where you could benefit from a plurality of oversight, address yourself to the issue of desiring to grow into a ministry and volunteer yourself to be a servant or attendant of one of the elders.  As he goes about his daily tasks you will have the greatest opportunity in the world for a tremendous learning-while-serving experience God has ever designed.


            For others, you might start by loving your closest neighbor as yourself.  Try loving/serving your spouse!  Your nearest neighbor in all likelihood is your spouse.  Right?  Have you taken out the garbage lately?  Have you washed the dishes with or for your wife . . . ever?  Are you willing to serve your children?  “But, I’m too busy for that,” you say.  Just remember Who will be serving tables at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Luke 12:37).


            Soli Deo Gloria!



            I have known Tim since about 1977.  He has meant a great deal to me in my spiritual pilgrimage.  Tim shared the core of this material with me while we were having breakfast at McDonald’s.  I guess it’s a good sign that I remember more about what Tim shared than I do abut what the cook served!  Tim and his wife, Jan, served as missionaries in Europe for several years, where two of their four daughters were born.  After returning from Germany they were involved in starting the Chestnut Hill Community Church in Decatur, Georgia.  Recently, Tim has located in the San Francisco area to serve the Bay Area Christian Conciliation Service (107 Paseo Palencia, Sonoma, CA 95476)


            Closing comments by Jon Zens, editor of Searching Together, in which this article was first printed in the Spring 1984 publication.



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Web posted:  January 15, 1997

Updated:  January 10, 2013

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