One of the challenges facing any minister of
the gospel, is how best to balance leadership with servanthood.
Whether they want it or not, pastors are, in fact, called to
be ‘servant-leaders’. So are parish nurses. In fact, in
the Lutheran Church in Finland they are called diaconal
The New Testament Greek word,
diakonos, simply means servant or helper, and the office
of ‘deacon’ was one of the first established in the early Church.
The parish nurse movement began in Kaiserwerth in Germany,
where Pastor Fliedner began training women for service, either as
teaching deaconesses, or as nursing deaconesses.
Jesus once said: The Son of
Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life
as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26). It’s
because of that great act of service that a growing number of
nurses around the world are committing themselves to prepare for
and offer themselves in service as parish nurses.
The verse quoted above comes from a context in
which Jesus had been talking about men who had been ‘called’ to
serve in a vineyard at different hours throughout the day. At
the end of the day, they all received the same payment.
Without elaborating on the parable, it does teach us that the
opportunity to serve in the kingdom of God is a privilege. We
don’t ‘earn’ points with God through our service. We serve
because he has already served us in such a heart-rending way … and
continues to do so. In the service we offer to others, we
simply reflect to them the love of God that has graciously claimed,
empowered and motivated us through Jesus Christ.
In a magazine article I read some time ago,
the Rev Greg Priebbenow wrote: ‘Of all the habits of the Christian
life, it is service that perhaps most directly embodies the heart
He went on to quote from Michael Foss’s book,
Real Faith for Real Life.
Foss wrote: ‘The essence of God is love in
serving action. We cannot know God apart from God’s serving
love for us. If human beings are created in the image of God
— incomplete as that image is — then serving is at the heart of who
we are. There is no purpose to your life without acts of
serving. In those actions we discover the best of
While serving one’s neighbour is the calling
all Christians are given through Jesus Christ, it is a special
‘call’ heard and followed by those who serve their fellow human
beings as a parish nurse. In the word picture of the final
judgment recorded in Matthew 25:34–40 Jesus points out that those
who serve the hungry or thirsty, the lonely, the needy, the sick or
prison, actually encounter Christ in their
acts of service. The blessings of such meetings flow in two
directions, as I’m sure many parish nurses can testify.
Through such acts of service, parish nurses —
like pastors — grow in using their God-given gifts as their faith
takes on concrete expression. At the same time, as they
become ‘little Christs’ to those they serve (a favourite expression
of Martin Luther), they are privileged to see God at work both in
and through themselves.
Rev Robert J Wiebusch
Paradise, South Australia