Voices: Serving others: A reflection on ‘Breakthrough’

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I thought Breakthrough was just another sentimental Christian flick and almost didn’t watch it. However, this movie is a successful portrayal of many things pastors should heed.

Pastor Jason Noble, played by Topher Grace, is a stereotypical young, modern pastor. He is in love with modern music and “whatever it takes to connect with young people.” Noble sees his calling as caring about people personally rather than by delegation. But can he connect with and care for a middle-aged church member who doesn’t like him?

Joyce Smith, played by Chrissy Metz, carried a grudge against God. She gave up a child when she was a teen and never forgave herself or God. Then her adopted teen son drowned. Noble’s job is to connect with Smith and her family.

The hospital told Smith her son would die, but she refused to believe it. In the midst of this crisis, Noble wanted to be present for Smith even though she said, “No.” By being present, Noble was able to build trust with her.

When Smith returned home, she found her dog had been fed and walked. A note on the fridge told her the most mundane of tasks were handled. Through these acts of service, Noble demonstrates a pastor caring for those who don’t love him back.

Serving a message to modern pastors

Serving others like this often is a missed calling in the local church. Many pastors don’t see their job as “being there,” instead delegating that role to others, like small groups or life groups.

Life groups are great, but people in pain want to see their pastor. They want their pastor to pray for them—or bring them coffee. It’s the “washing of feet” Jesus says we must do.

But what if, as the pastor, you are the CEO of your congregation? Doesn’t that excuse you from being present? I can’t find such an excused absence anywhere in the Bible.

You can’t delegate trust-building and caring. You can’t get people to follow you if they don’t see you humbly leading.

Big church pastors may have ‘handlers’ to keep the pastor on schedule—like Jesus’ disciples trying to keep the crowds at bay. But what was Jesus’ response to such maneuvers?

Serving defined by the cross

One time, Jesus’ disciples argued over who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus brought a little child and placed the child in the midst of his disciples.

Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must come to God as this little child does. Whoever receives this child, receives me” (Matthew 18:1-5). Interestingly, we don’t know if the child was a Jew or non-Jew, a citizen of the area or an immigrant. In other words, we don’t know if the child was easy or hard for the disciples to serve.

In Breakthrough, the pastor took the servant’s role to win a hard-hearted mom back to Christ. He was there until the crisis passed, asking for God’s will—whatever it might be.

Serving as a crown of honor

You probably won’t have a movie made about you if you follow Christ in this way. As consolation, Francis Schaeffer’s wife Edith once said that God has a hall of honor where such acts of service would be for all to see in eternity. That’s the honor I want.

I want the servant’s crown I can throw at Jesus’ feet as I humbly say: “Because of you, I was able to love the unlovely, the immigrant, the poor, the needy, the prisoner. I couldn’t in my own strength, but because of you, I could.”

A prisoner recently told me what he had done and asked me to pray with him about it. I thought: “Sure. This will be simple.”

He confessed, “I injured and killed animals,” and inside I cried: “Oh, God, you know how I feel about this! Please help me love and pray with this man.” And God did.

I thought, “My sins are no worse than his. I, too, am guilty and need God’s love. Jesus, thank you for helping me—for a moment—to see this from your perspective.”

Jesus—as the Great Shepherd—is our example of leading and feeding others—his sheep. As Christ’s under-shepherds, we are to serve as he served.

Are you the servant type? Or do you delegate serving others to those under you—and thereby pass the servant’s crown to them?

Pastors, the choice is ours. We can be the breakthrough that helps the tired, the weak and the hard-hearted to see Christ.

Joel Blaylock is a graduate of Golden Gate Seminary and serves as a teacher in Calvary Baptist Church in Anna, Texas.


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