4. Leadership Is Child’s Play: Service

4. Leadership Is Child’s Play: Service

4. Leadership Is Child’s Play: On Service As the Purpose of Power.

“Our care for others is a measure of our greatness. How much concern do you show for others? Your honest answer to that question will give you a good idea of your real greatness.”  (Luke 9:48, NLT notes).

How does our society view leadership? Using raw power to get the job done, come hell or high water. Using authority to get the people to do their job, without regard of what’s best for those people. Using one’s influence to increase productivity and efficiency, regardless of how people are treated. Being ambitious enough to climb the ladder of success, even if one is knocking others off the ladder. To be obsessed with success enough to believe that the ends justify the means.

Our hyper-competitive world does not understand servant leadership. That phrase is seen as an oxymoron, two words that are opposites and don’t make sense when taken together. Actually, servant leadership is more of a paradox, two truths that can be accepted together even though seemingly opposite. G. K. Chesterton once said that paradox is “truth standing on its head to attract attention.” Servant-leader should qualify as attention-getting for most of us. There is indeed a hidden logic to much of what Christ said… the foolish are wise; the poor are rich; the meek are powerful; the childlike are complete; the weak are strong; the quiet are articulate; the losers will win; the last will be first. We can just add to this list, the leaders are servants.

Servant leadership is skillfully accomplishing the task at hand while building up the people who are accomplishing that task; Using the power of influence to serve the best interests of those being influenced; Competently striving to fulfill a worthy mission with merriment, meekness and kindness; Achieving a goal and fulfilling a purpose that serves the healthy needs of mankind and society at large, using methods that are moral and humane.

This veiled intention of power is more understandable when we consider the life of Jesus. Look at the descriptions of Christ found in Isaiah’s startling prophecies: servant, marred appearance, young plant, uncomely, despised, rejected, man of sorrows, bruised, wounded, oppressed, lamb/sheep, non-violent, without deceit, silent (Isaiah 12-53). What a mysterious and curious way to portray One who “spoke with authority,” One who possessed uncommon power to perform mighty deeds. We know from the Gospel accounts that Jesus was not the slave of a divine inferiority complex, nor did He grovel in servile behavior, timidly creeping around the countryside or into the marketplace. Instead, He was someone who made things happen, who gained a following, who was drenched with the power and influence reserved for the mighty. He Himself stated after the resurrection that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18). Yet how did He use this immeasurable power and authority? He deliberately “took the form of a servant” (Philippians 2), was “made poor” (2 Corinthians 8), “learned obedience” (Heb. 5), and “clothed himself with humility” (1 Peter 5). Peter spoke about his friend Jesus when he said, “God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with strength, ability and power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38). Notice his coupling of power and doing good. Jesus led by serving. He served by leading. He chose to remain a King in servant’s clothing. His power was outward-directed and emptied upon those in need.

The servanthood expected of all Christian believers, whether one is in a leadership position or not, is “the ministry of one another.” Looked at in the context of leadership and power, the expectations are even more challenging. Bear one another’s burdens. Encourage one another. Forgive one another. Comfort one another. Pray for one another. Build up one another. Confront and admonish one another. Forbear one another. Make peace with one another. Restore one another. Be devoted to one another. Submit to one another. Live in harmony with one another. The effective servant leader explores which of these “one anothers” are workable while exerting influence in a leadership role. Martin Luther reminds us of the need for leaders to focus on one another when he said, “The better, the higher, the more honorable the station of life in which a (person) occupies, the more it should be directed to the profit and benefit of others, and the more diligently should he see to it he that may advise, assist and encourage others.” 

Servanthood isn’t just another crowd-pleaser stored in the leader’s bag of tricks. It’s not just another leadership strategy or style of management. Servanthood is not dependent upon a collegial personality, or a democratic philosophy, nor does it conflict with a hierarchy. Servanthood rises above and is included within any structure, personality or responsibility.  Serving is a part of Christ’s nature in His followers, a deeply ingrained lifestyle resulting from continually living as a follower of Christ. Servanthood is not one more tool a leader can manipulate in order to get the job done. Serving is an attitude, a purpose, a motivation. Servant leadership is the Christ-like service that is a deep-rooted aspect of the leader’s personal life, and often takes the form of bearing the burdens of the people in the leader’s care. John Updike spells this out clearly when he defines a leader as one who “volunteers to take upon himself the woe of a people.” (The Coup).

Service is the purpose of power, but it often comes at a cost to the servant leader who wants to retain the inflated image of the self-made person. Servant leadership involves a God-made person, and a heart for service demonstrates genuine spiritual power and influence. Servanthood is the way of Christ. Servanthood is the washing of the feet of the unworthy in order to participate in the sacrament of service.

“Let each do well what each knows best, nothing refuse and nothing shirk,

Since none is master of the rest, but all are servants of the work.

The work no master may subject, save He to whom the whole is known,

Being Himself the Architect, the Craftsman and the Corner-stone.

Then, when the greatest and the least have finished all their laboring,

And sit together at the feast, you shall behold a wonderthing;

The Maker of the men that make, will stoop between the cherubim,

The towel and the basin take, and serve the servants who serve Him.” 

(Dorothy Sayers, Man Born To Be King).