A 1st-century leadership model for the 21st century

Living and growing

Posted: Friday, June 08, 2001

Over the past couple of decades we have slowly come to realize that efficient organizations thrive under leadership that builds teamwork and community, involves others in decision-making, commits to growth of employees and seeks to serve the outside community.

However, this approach, called servant-leadership, is not new. The Christian mandate for servant-leadership was laid out 2,000 years ago. The Gospels record Jesus talking about the concept on at least seven occasions. His life was the model and application of the approach. Jesus was not only miracle-worker, healer, teacher and savior, he was also the consummate leader of an organization.

My favorite passage on the subject is in Matthew chapter 20. The mother of two of Christ's disciples asks Jesus to give her sons the two top positions of power and influence in the coming kingdom. Jesus, realizing that these two were not the only disciples who didn't understand either the nature of the kingdom or the sacrifice required of it's leaders, called his little band of followers around him and described what was involved. He told them (and I paraphrase), "You've seen how godless rulers lord their power over their people. It's not going to be that way with you. If you wish to become great you must become a servant. Anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what I have done. I came to serve, not be served - and then to give my life in exchange for the many who are held hostage."

There you have it - the definition of servant-leadership. Servant-leadership begins with a desire to serve, not a desire to exercise authority. There is no such thing as a LEADER-servant, only SERVANT-leader.

Christ identifies, in this scripture and elsewhere, the essential components of servant-leadership as love and humility. Let me use an analogy. Consider the servant-leader as a piece of machinery. The parts of that machinery are the person's skills and abilities. The power or fuel that runs and sustains this machinery is love. Humility is the lubricating oil that keeps this leadership machinery from overheating. With that kind of fuel (love) and that kind of lubricant (humility) then the products (those led) will be freed, empowered, growing people.

Servant-leadership works for everybody. But for those of us that believe in Jesus as described in the Bible, servant-leadership is a sacred trust. John Stott, a London pastor, writes, "We are sent into the world, like Jesus, to serve. For this is the natural expression of our love for our neighbors. We love, we go, we serve. And in this we have (or should have) no ulterior motive. Love has no need to justify itself. It merely expresses itself in service wherever it sees need." We are required to love our neighbor as ourselves. What could that possibly mean but to desire for our neighbor the physical, social and mental comforts we enjoy and desire for ourselves? And this is where the Christian servant-leader can exercise his or her full potential.

To return to the machinery analogy: We are powered by the right energy source - love - when our sense of well-being grows out of the assurance we are loved by God. We have the right lubricant - humility - when we allow ourselves to be constantly challenged by the scriptures and the Holy Spirit, helping us to see others and ourselves through the eyes of Christ, which keeps our ego in check.

Dave Eley is the administrator (hopefully, the servant-administrator) at Chapel by the Lake.

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