Thom Rainer and his son Jess in their new book “The Millennials” tell us about a younger generation of leaders who are mostly in their twenties who “don’t merely want disseminators of knowledge in educational institutions; they want men and women who are examples through their lives as well as their words. They will avoid institutions that treat them like one of the masses; but they will flock to institutions that have transparent and servant-like leaders.” They stress the need for servant leaders in the church today who are willing and available to mentor the next generation of leaders. Each generation must be willing to serve the generations who come after them by laying their lives down for them.
“Any leader, moreover, must first be a servant in the true sense of the word. On the basis of servant-hood, he is able to lead,” says Frank Damazio in his book “The Making of a Leader.” Jesus is our model for leadership, and he led by serving. (Matthew 20:25-28) He calls us to do the same. Jesus was and is the greatest leader who ever lived. He led by being a servant to all of those around Him. He knew who He was because of His intimate relationship with His Father, and out of that relationship, He ministered to the needs of individuals.
In the same way, true leaders whom God is using mightily today have these few things in common: they have an intimate relationship with the Father; they have learned how to pray; they are humble; they are totally dependent on Jesus, and they are servants. If you would observe them when they are not in the spotlight, you would find them serving others.
I am a people watcher. I remember well, as a young pastor in Ohio at a leadership conference, observing a well-known Christian leader behind the scenes. I was amazed! He took every opportunity to notice those around him and was sensitive to their needs. I watched him lead a busboy to the Lord. Then he went out of his way to help this young man find a local church to attend the following weekend. I found this leader serving wherever he found an opportunity. His life had a profound impact upon my life. He was a true leader.
Leaders and servants are synonymous in the body of Christ. When our first church was started in 1980, we never used the term “leader” in isolation. We called our leaders “servant-leaders” which implies true leadership, modeled after Christ, based on serving others.
There is a saying, “Your life is speaking so loudly that I cannot hear the words you are saying.” Telling others to serve when we’re not serving is like a parent telling a child not to smoke, while puffing on a cigarette. When people see that their leaders do not give in to the self-serving spirit of our age but instead serve and lift each other up, they will be encouraged to do the same.
There are countless ways we may serve others. Help someone move, serve a meal, visit someone who is hurting or pray with someone who has a need. When a leader sets the example, soon others will be doing the same, and the body of Christ will experience serving as a life-style.
A servant leader will not rule over people but rather will support them and lift them to God. In the world’s system, leaders are expected to dominate those under them, but God has called us to follow the example of His Son, Jesus, and be a servant. By His example, Jesus made it clear that leaders are called to serve.
Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
When the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked if her sons could sit on the right and left hand of His throne in His kingdom, Jesus told her, “You do not know what you ask.” When the other ten disciples heard about it, they were angry, jealous, and resentful. Jesus responded with these words, “Whoever desires to become a leader must become a slave.” He did not say that it is wrong to be great, or wrong to be a leader; but greatness according to the world system in which we live is totally different than greatness from Jesus’ perspective.
In John 13 we read that Jesus sent His disciples to prepare the Passover. When Jesus arrived, He realized there was a problem. The disciples were arguing about who should wash their feet. Since there was no servant present, and it was customary for a servant to wash the feet of the family and guests as they came in from the dusty streets, the disciples were frustrated.
Without a word, Jesus took a towel and put it around himself. He knelt down and began to wash the disciples’ feet. It was too much for Peter to handle. He balked at the idea that Jesus was willing to do the job of a lowly servant. Like Peter, we are sometimes prideful and reluctant to be served. Other times, we must strip away our selfishness in order to serve others.
Here is what happens when we try to exercise leadership without servant-hood. We read in II Chronicles 10:7: And they spoke to him, saying, “If you are kind to these people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever.” Rehoboam became king of Israel after Solomon died. He consulted two groups of counselors for wisdom to govern God’s people properly. The older group, who had served before his father, Solomon, spoke the words in the verse above. Then Rehoboam went to the younger group who told him to tell the people, “If you thought you had a heavy yoke to bear under my father, just wait. I will be much tougher!” Listening to the advice of the young men, he lost ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, because he didn’t obey the biblical principle of serving.
God makes it clear that if we serve others and are kind to them, then they will also desire to serve us. Our true motive must be to serve others because Jesus Christ served us unselfishly on the cross two thousand years ago. As we serve out of a pure heart, our sowing in servant-hood will allow us to reap the benefits.
I tell young leaders the greatest training for leadership is to be willing to serve, and then to do whatever needs to be done. Be practical. Find something that needs to be done and do it in obedience to Christ.
Well-known business leader Jack Welch once said, “If you are not thinking all the time about making every person more valuable, you don’t have a chance.” He is encouraging servant leadership, which is often more “caught than taught.” A younger generation desire authenticity and servant leaders to walk alongside them into the next generation. They are looking for spiritual fathers and mothers. More on this in next week’s blog.