Parking Spaces and The Kingdom

At 57 years old, a lot has changed in my perspective of things. Life looks different, the future takes on the priority of legacy-leaving, and my idealism has taken on more grace. The other thing that has exited my priority list is the need of a title. I often have people ask me what I do and so I have the opportunity to spill out a bunch of titles. Owner of Third Space Coffee, Pastor at Pulpit Rock Church, Author, Speaker, National Team with Forge America, etc…

Title Grab

Recently I was prepping to preach out of Mark 10 and had the chance to reread an account where two of Jesus’ disciples go grabbing for titles. Starting in Mark 10:35 we read where James and John approach Jesus with a request…well, really a demand. They tell Jesus they want him to do whatever they ask. This alone is pretty arrogant right? I mean, by their conversation, we can assume they know who Jesus is now. They tell him they want the position “to the right and left of him in glory.”

What we can assume from this is that at some point they had a side-bar meeting without the other disciples. On their own they planned a coup to take seats of honor with the Messiah. The other disciples, then hearing them demand this from Jesus, get really miffed. I would too!! I mean really, they were cutting to the front of the line! Jesus, kindly (at least by Mark’s writing) lets them know that those places are not his to give but then uses the opportunity to teach them something, about what real honor and leadership looks like.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

(Mark 10:42-44 ESV)

It’s a good reminder to us as pastors, leaders, and planters of new missional expressions, that our primary purpose is not to start something where we take the leadership seat next to Jesus. We all say we want Jesus involved in our efforts and vision of whatever He has called us to do. Actually, better said, we want to join Him in what he is already doing, but we should make sure we don’t look to join him by climbing up into a seat next to him over everyone else.

Our position is at the door as people walk in from a very dusty road of life and metaphorically wash their feet, care for their wounds, be a slave to their needs. One of the tragedies of organized religion starting from the times of Constantine was the separation of the pastorate and the parishioners. Priests were/are those of position and title, on a different level that than those that come to receive the goods and services of the church. Yes, we also see examples of those had title but chose to use it to serve others, like Mother Teresa for example. But I would argue that our Western protestant ecclesiology actually took a cue from early church priests and elevated the pastor to a level of “sitting closer to Jesus.”

Parking Spaces

We’ve all seen churches where there are parking spaces closest to the church building designated for the pastor (and sometimes others in leadership). Early in my worship leading “career,” one lead pastor taught me a very valuable lesson. It was my first morning on staff and I arrived early at the same time he did. As I drove up to the office doors, I noticed he was walking the very long distance across our parking lot to the building. He had parked his car out by the street sign and was making his way to the building. I found out by asking another staff member that he parks there every Sunday. It wasn’t a requirement of the staff, it was just something he did to serve everyone else coming that day…giving them closer parking spots.

It may seem trivial, but it could be a good exercise to ask, as you plant your church or start your missional effort, where do you park? Yes, your car, but more than that. Where do you mentally park in relation to everyone else: your staff, your community, the neighborhood around you, the businesses and schools in your context. Would people see you as sitting in a seat next to Jesus or would they say you’re more of a slave and servant to all?

Don’t get me wrong, I grab the wrong seat all the time! Take it from someone who has led for thirty years. You’ll constantly ask Jesus for a seat next to him…it’s human nature. It’s taught to us by the world, and even by the church. This post is a way to remind me as much as it is you.

Lead from the floor, washing feet.

Pastor from the back of the line, giving everyone else the first chance.

Be a community leader by helping businesses, schools and organizations succeed first.

Let’s find the parking space that’s farthest away.

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About the Author

Rowland Smith

Rowland serves as National Director of Forge America Missional Training Network, is a staff pastor of missional culture at a church in Colorado Springs, and directs The Pando Collective, a micro-church and missional expression network that was launched from his local church. He also teaches as affiliate faculty at Fuller Seminary. He is the author of Life Out Loud: Joining Jesus Outside the Walls of the Church, and most recently, was lead editor and organizer for the multi-author book Red Skies: 10 Essential Conversations Exploring our Future as the Church. He is married and has four adult children.

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