I was recently asked to be the keynote speaker for a group of Christian servants. So in the process of prayer and searching the Scriptures I found this short paper I wrote in seminary and thought I would share it with you, as encouragement and a challenge.
Servant leadership is an act of love where one denies themselves of comfort, and surrenders the illusion of control by becoming present to others while taking on the nature of a servant. As opposed to the common leader-first hierarchical model prevalent in our world, “The servant leader is servant-first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first …servants first make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” Michael Slaughter defines servant leadership as, “Bringing refreshment, restoration, redemption, and empowerment to other people for the purpose of God.”At its basic level servant leadership says: “When the toilet overflows we can all grab a mop,” (Smith).
Servant leadership is a spiritual matter, and the spiritually led Christian leader is called to a markedly different style of leadership. This is a foreign model in a sin-saturated power hungry world where extrinsic rewards are the most sought after. Janet Hagberg asserts that “people who aspire to be leaders need to be more concerned with internal or inner power than they are with external or outer power.”David Chronic describes this human condition as, “Apart from Christ, we all are “slaves to sin” and tend to serve our own interests (John 8:34; Rom. 6). So, it is not simply a question of becoming a servant. We are already serving something. The question is, “What do we serve?” Paul exhorts us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition” and to “not look to our own interests” (Phil. 2:3-4). We are called to have the same mentality as Jesus. It is a move from our self-centered way of serving to God’s way of serving.”Serving God’s way reveals our tendency to serve our own needs and to waiver in our service of others. Maybe we fear alienation, or the anxiousness of the world. We must humbly arrive at a place in our leadership where we ask God to relieve our guilt and shame, and to give us the freedom to serve others from the motivation of love. Often, the temptation is to take pride in our work and to exaggerate our own achievements, but we acknowledge that these are the work of God’s grace in and through us. A great way to test the motivation behind your service and to determine whether or not you are sincerely fulfilling the role of a servant leader Rick Warren offers, “The true measure of your servant hood is what you do when you’re treated like a servant.”Ouch.
The opening account of Genesis reveals that God seeks unity and wholeness within His creation. From the beginning of creation, God reveals the very nature of God’s self as servant. Other Biblical principles reveal that service is indiscriminate (Luke 22:24-40), and authority is to be wielded compassionately for the sake of the community as a demonstration of love. Jesus serves with His everyday experiences, not just washing the disciple’s feet. Servant leaders pass the credit around, (John 13). Biblical texts also reveal leaders as humble servants who remember that people always take precedence over rules (Luke 14:7-14). In community, like mindedness is a must allowing everyone to share in the ministry of compassion (Phil.2:1-4). In sharing this vision as to the community, Dave Odom says, “A vision has to be translated into a set of activities that become habits,”and illustrates this with the Biblical example of Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God (Romans12:2). Knowing God’s vision it’s our task to translate it into the culture where we live. “The Christian leader views the world through the lens of who God is, where God is, what God is doing, and what God invites and calls us to.”
The paradox is when considering “leader,” we think up, power in order to help the people down below. Servant, you think down, Jesus on His knees washing the feet of His disciples. The servant role is important for groups. Servant leaders focus more on those in the group than on the ones at the top. “Servants aren’t on a power trip; you’re always a servant and sometimes a servant leader.” Once we’ve confessed our love to Jesus, “Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hand and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people,”this is downward thinking, a life of downward mobility- the vision of maturity. The life that succumbs to relevance seeks to be the center of attention and is characterized by Stage 3.
Greenleaf, R. (1970). Servant-Leadership. Retrieved October 2011, from www.12manage.com.
Class notes 9/23
Hagberg, J. O. (2003). Real Power. p.xx.Salem: Sheffield Publishing Company.
Chronic, D. (n.d.). The Servant Nature of God. Retrieved September 2011, from Qideas.
Warren, R. Class Notes taken on September, 6th from a lecture by Daryl Smith
Odom, D. (2011). Habits are Keys to Transformative Leadership. Faith and Leadership , 3.
Warner, K. L. (2011). Grace to Lead.p. 32. Nashville: Good News Publishers.
Smith, D. (2011, September 13th). Class Notes. Orlando, Fl.
Nouwen, H. J. (1989). In the Name of Jesus.pp. 92-93. Crossroad Publishing Company.
Hagberg, J. (n.d.). Spiritual Life Inventory SLI.Retrieved September 2011, from janethagberg.com: www.janethagberg.com