Craig C. Hill
Eerdmans, 217 pages
Reviewed by Michelle Sumption
In the center of my college campus was a life-sized statue of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. This was a testimony to one of Sterling College’s core values: servant leadership. During my four years there, this vision of servant-leadership development pervaded both campus life and academics. When I was home on breaks and asked about servant leadership, I would joke that we were learning how to lead our servants. But honestly, I enjoyed this learning experience, even as it opened my eyes to this balance between the biblical teachings of servant leadership and our human tendencies to promote ourselves, increase our status or ambitiously pursue our goals.
Hill’s work, “Servant of All,” honestly and thoughtfully discusses the struggles and realities of status and ambition in leadership using New Testament narratives, as well as the teachings and examples modeled in Jesus, and commanded in his call to love and serve regardless of social cost.
This book examines how New Testament authors used theology to form and sustain community while considering the roles of status and ambition. Using Hill’s rich knowledge of the New Testament, this study is meant to encourage and equip the church to “have the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2b).
I note the ironic realities I bring to this review: a pastor, at the beginning of her ministry, at times convicted of the tendency to impress or please others, reading this book on her own, for the purpose specifically of contributing a hopefully helpful review for a broad group of peers and church leaders. For one, me reading and reviewing this work on my own goes against Hill’s intent in this book, which is to provide fodder for thought-provoking discussion in a church community that will lead to the furthering of God’s Kingdom as we strive to experience God’s love together. Also, reviewing this book serves as a humbling practice of lifting up this brilliant scholarship without caving into any desire I may have of seeking status or ambition.
“Servant of All” is a fast-paced, scholarly work that needs to be slowly digested and thoughtfully discerned. Hill has provided ample scholarship and sources from the teachings and examples of Jesus and his disciples, as well as a few of the early Christian communities, including Corinth, Galatia and Philippi. From these texts, the reader is able to glean that these meaning-seeking, status-driven tendencies are a part of human nature, and from that deduction be able to use Hill’s study of these communities and key people to best inhabit the belief, as Jesus did, that “God’s reign was the ultimate reality and the enduring source of meaning.”
The book concludes with Hill’s ideas and thoughts of how the Christian community can best strive for the status and ambition that is understood as living into the reign of God. These concluding remarks, a wonderful close to an excellent work, are also a great conversation starter for church communities as we experience, demonstrate, learn and practice being “servants of all.”
Michelle Sumption is solo pastor of York United Presbyterian Church in York, New York.