How to Wait on Tables ... or Pastor
- Terry Hagedorn Today's Christian Preacher Magazine
- Published Sep 23, 2005
“Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3).
Think about that! The apostles were looking for “men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom”—not to be pastors, but waiters! Could you or I, who are already ministers, wait tables for the Lord? Why would the Lord have such high standards for waiting tables?
There are many similarities between waiting tables and serving in the ministry. In fact, this passage compares the ministration of daily food to widows to the ministry of prayer and the Word of God—spiritual food to the Church.
While I was studying for the ministry at Bob Jones University, the Lord gave me a job waiting tables in a “fish camp” near Greer, South Carolina. A fish camp is an all-you-can-eat fish and seafood restaurant. My ministerial training included a great Bible education from a spiritual eat-all-you-want menu at BJU.
However, my training would have been incomplete, in my case, without the practical knowledge learned at the restaurant. In order to be a good waiter, one must not only want to make a living but also want to serve people. If you do not have a desire to serve people, then don’t become a waiter—or a minister.
That desire is the first thing mentioned in the requirements for the ministry. “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (I Timothy 3:1). Most men start into the ministry with that desire. In fact, most men start the ministry with the zeal of a car-chasing dog. I did! Have you ever seen one of those dogs? Do you think those dogs have ever seriously considered what they would do if they caught a car by the tire?
What happens to preachers? Where does the thrill of the chase go? Many preachers lose their desire for serving the Lord and His people shortly after they “catch the car.” They lose their unconditional love for the ministry. It turns out to be something different from what they had expected. People, things, and circumstances diminish their zeal, their desire.
One preacher told me that the ministry would be great if it were not for people and problems. But, there wouldn’t be any ministry if it weren’t for people and problems! Why don’t parents lose their love for their little baby? That little terror vomits on them, wets on them, breaks their valuable possessions, costs them tons of money, and keeps them up all night. Yet, Mom and Dad still love their baby, don’t they? Why?
Because their love is unconditional, and their desire to be good parents is the most sincere desire of their hearts. As parents, they endure everything out of their love for their child. My love for Christ, my love and desire for the ministry, and my love for the people sustain me, and the love of Christ for me constrains me (II Corinthians 5:14).
The same is true of waiting tables. You must love serving people. Waiting tables is not an easy task, and there are trials and tribulations.
(1) It is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding.
(2) Many people are rude when they are hungry (as they can be when they are spiritually hungry). Sometimes they are impossible to satisfy. Isn’t that also true in the ministry? Some members make me wonder if I have done anything right. Some Christians I know are the sweetest people; some are the meanest.
(3) There are jealous rivalries in waiting tables and the ministry. When a big tipper comes to the restaurant and sits in one waiter’s section, the other waiters tend to get jealous. Even though they are all working for the same restaurant, the same boss, and the same goal, and even though the one waiter did nothing wrong, his fellow waiters become envious. Isn’t that sinful? Sure. Nevertheless, pastors can experience the same feelings of envy. Beware!
(4) Waiting tables and the ministry both require you to meet expectations. There are demands for you to please two entities, the management and the customer. The restaurant owner or manager must be satisfied, or you will lose your job. The customer must be pleased, or no tips. Use tact, without compromising. “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Despite all the problems, there are many blessings in waiting tables and serving people. How many other jobs can make so many people happy? You can make your boss happy because you are waiting on customers. If you do a good job waiting, then you can not only nourish a hungry person, you actually make the customer happy. You make your coworkers (cooks, cashiers, and custodians) happy by insuring their jobs. You make your family happy because your service to others also provides benefits for them. You can even make yourself happy. Is there any greater personal satisfaction than that gained from a job well done?
Serving others is humbling work. However, we are never more like our Savior than when we serve others. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mark 10:45).
One young pastoral candidate was asked by the pulpit committee, “Would you be willing to mop a floor?” The haughty young man responded that he hadn’t gone to seminary and earned a graduate degree to do menial tasks. The pulpit committee wisely rejected the young man. “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).
A waiter must find a restaurant in which he wants to work and that wants him. The same is true in the church setting. Do not jump to begin at the first place with a “Help Wanted” sign out front. There is a reason they need a new waiter. More than that, there’s probably a reason they have to advertise! Find out what those reasons are. It may well be that it is God’s will for you to serve there. However, you should make certain before you make a commitment. Any church that can close, should close. The Devil would rather run a church (or a restaurant) than close it. The Devil does run some churches, and he owns some restaurants.
You need to understand what it means to wait. It does not mean to stand around doing nothing, waiting for someone or something. Rather, the root of the word means “to look to,” “to occupy oneself with,” and “to bind to.” In other words, to occupy oneself by looking to the needs of another by binding oneself to his or her service. That is what Isaiah 40:31 means. If we wait on (serve) the Lord, then we will, paradoxically, renew our strength.
We serve the Lord by serving His people. In order to be a good waiter, or a good pastor, there are certain basic principles you must follow.
Be punctual. Get to work early. In fact, be disciplined in every aspect of your service. Have a ritual without becoming ritualized. Like the Marines, be the first there and the last to leave. That begins with being where you should be early enough to be raring to go. Someone has said, “If you are not at least ten minutes early, you are late!” Start on time. Try to finish on time. You’re on the clock. There may be times when the Lord leads you to preach a lengthy sermon; however, a preacher who regularly speaks for more than a hour has forgotten this simple fact: neither the head nor the heart cannot absorb more than the seat can endure.
Be prayerful. Pray that God will bless you in your service each day. Christian waiters need to pray. If waiters need to pray, how much more do those who wait at the Lord’s Table? Pray that God will guide you, direct you, and keep you from error. Pray that the Lord will help you to serve a delicious and nutritious meal. Pray to be a blessing to your boss, to your coworkers, and to your customers. Pray that the Lord will bless you for obeying His command: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).
Be prepared. Read and memorize the authorized version of the menu. Know the daily specials. Know about the fish and seafood. Even if you don’t like catfish, you should still know how they are farmed and what one tastes like. Some people have never seen a whole flounder. Warn them. Perch has a strong flavor, unlike filet of sole. Know your product! You can never be too prepared. Make certain everything is ready for your work. No one else will do it for you.
Be proper. This includes basic things. Get a haircut regularly. Be neat and clean. Straighten your clothes. Wash your face and hands. Comb your hair. Keep a toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash at work. Imagine yourself as a customer or a visitor to the restaurant or church. What are your impressions of the building and facilities? Examine the bathroom and the nursery (at the church). They are the two most important rooms in the building to many visitors. What would your first impression be of yourself? Would you want to be waited on by you? Listen to a tape of the Sunday morning service. Critique yourself. Others already do.
Be pleasant and polite. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all” (II Timothy 2:24). Regardless of how good the fare is in an establishment, if I or my family are treated rudely, I will not go back. We can dine elsewhere without the hassle. Being fed in a restaurant or a church should be a pleasant experience.
Be patient. People are finicky and fickle. They can’t make up their minds about some things, and they change their minds about others. That’s their prerogative. Yet, while they are dilly-dallying around, you have another customer who is getting impatient because he wants more coffee. The fastidiousness of people is especially apparent when it comes to spiritual fare. Most people want things that suit their tastes. Many people would prefer dessert all the time. Some (especially the young) are forced to eat their beans and carrots because those foods are good for them. Unpalatable victuals are not to be blamed on the waiter. He just delivers the food. Pastor, don’t get discouraged because some people don’t like the message you deliver. If it is God’s Word and if it has been properly prepared and served, then it is good for them, whether they like it or not. Be patient. Endure. Keep on keeping on! “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). I have pastored this church, my first, for twenty years. Do you know that I am only now seeing fruit from some seeds planted twenty years ago? “Ye have need of patience” (Hebrews 10:36). Remember, it is always too soon to quit.
Be perceptive. “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds” (Proverbs 27:23). A good waiter knows what is needed before he is asked. A good waiter checks on his customers frequently, yet, he does that without being ill-mannered and intrusive. The sheep know that the shepherd is watching even when they cannot see him. A pastor who does not look to the state of his flock soon will not have one. The wolves will devour the sheep, or the sheep will wander away. A waiter who neglects his customers will not be tipped, and he might even get fired.
Be penitent. If you fail as a waiter or as a pastor, ask for forgiveness. Confess your sin and ask God to forgive you. He will. Confess your failings to those whom you serve. They will forgive. As a waiter, and as pastor, I have made many mistakes. When I do, I don’t try to hide or excuse my behavior. I confess my sin to those whom I have wronged. If they know God, they forgive me. When I was a waiter, I often thought of this saying, “It’s not how you start that matters most. It’s how you finish.” One can overcome failure and errors by confessing his faults and by concentrating on making up for the mistakes. By doing just that, I have turned cold food into five dollars!
Romans 12:7 exhorts, “Let us wait on our ministering.” Brother pastor, you may never have been a waiter, but you can learn a great deal about the ministry from a study of waiting tables. Consider Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. May the Lord bless you as you wait on the Lord and His people.
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