Understanding Servant Leadership

Understanding Servant Leadership

How do those two words go together?

There are many examples of leadership in our world. There are military leaders who make the tough decisions on where to send troops. You have the President and congress, who give leadership to the country by writing and passing laws in an effort to represent their constituents. And we can't forget those brave individuals who provide leadership to children as teachers and administrators in our nation's schools.

Those are just a few examples of how leadership is represented in our culture, but they all share a common denominator: they are authority-based. Those individuals have the influence they do because of election, appointment, hierarchy, or climbing the leadership ladder.

However, when it comes to how small-group leaders can live out Jesus' teachings on leadership, the examples our culture provides are found wanting. That's because when Jesus taught on the subject of leadership, he brought a new paradigm—one of leadership not based on authority, but rather service.

First and Last

In Mark 9:33-34, Jesus' disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus' response was telling: "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."

Gilbert Bilezikian writes about that encounter in Community 101:

Jesus did not condemn as wrong the desire to be first. Leaders are needed, and the desire to use one's gift of leadership is legitimate. But Jesus transformed the concept of leadership by redefining its style and the motivation for doing it. The style demands that roles of leadership be fulfilled not with the pride of one who comes first, not with the self-glory of one who wins a competition, but with the humility of one who comes in last. The motivations should not be the desire to rule, control, or command, but to support and assist others, just as a servant does.

This kind of servant-based leadership is the example that small-group leaders should strive to follow—but it's not easy. It demands that we be willing to swallow our pride and put the needs of the down-and-out before our own. It requires complete sacrifice in order to ensure those less fortunate are not forgotten. And it reminds those who've been tapped on the shoulder by God as leaders to embrace servant-mindedness as a way of life—one demonstrated by our Lord.

The good news is that when we do lead our groups as servant leaders, we will be acting as (and leading others to be) salt and light in the world, essentially modeling what Jesus lived out during his time on earth.

What It Means to Be Least

Each Christmas I get an opportunity to see many of our leaders at their best. Our benevolence ministry, Promises Community Ministries, provides a full scale Christmas dinner for the families it serves throughout the year. They also provide presents for the children and put on a Christmas musical as entertainment.

I firmly believe God smiles down on our small groups during this event because the majority of them participate in set-up, tear-down, serving food, sorting presents, sending out invitations, check-in, childcare, table hosting, singing in the musical, and so on. They are, in that moment, doing what Jesus would have done in the first century. They are being a model for those sitting on the sidelines of service.

One important key to helping your groups successfully serve together is ensuring your leaders understand the importance of being a servant leader—of being last and least.

Imagine if small-group leaders mobilize their groups, get everything lined up, show up, and pray—but then don't participate in the event, choosing instead to walk around monitoring their groups. Such behavior would miss the point entirely, essentially transforming the group leaders into operational supervisors.

But when group leaders roll up their sleeves and participate in the tasks, they are living out their service. Furthermore, there are some leaders who recognize that administration and organization are not their gifting, which allows them to delegate those tasks to someone else in the group, making those people part of the leadership team.

The point is: your people are watching. They are asking themselves, "Will this leader do what I have been asked to do? Are they willing to get their hands dirty? Is their first reaction to direct or to serve?"

So, how will Jesus' teaching in Mark 9 impact the way you live and lead? What is your motivation and style for leading? Is it to finally get things the way you want, or to seek retribution from a previous hurt? Or is it to live and serve as an example worth following?

—Josh Rose is the Minister to Adults at The Community of Promise in Burleson, TX. You can read more from Josh at www.joshmrose.net.

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