Greenleaf’s 1977 classic Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness reminds us that the most important characteristic about anything—a cell phone, a boss, even a God– is service.
Without good service none of them are worth keeping.
This is especially true of leadership.
It is not merely that we need more leadership in the world. It is that we need a certain type of leadership. Servant leadership.
Jesus repeatedly made that point. In Matthew 20 we read:
“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20-28 (NIV).
This passage shows two aspects of Jesus work to teach us how to lead. First, it shows he constantly expressed concern that his followers get the fundamental truth of service deep into their DNA as his community.
Second, he seemed, oddly confident we would get this truth. This last point amazes me most. While heading up the hill of Golgotha, no one was following. No One!!! And yet he kept saying confidently, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27).
And then, we see what he believed as slowing his disciples gathered at the cross:
“But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” (John 19: 25-27).
He made his point, as the very next verse clearly notes:
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished…”
He did it. He gave his life as a ransom and served our needs and he was right his disciples got it.
He didn’t want leaders, or followers, to get that nasty “Lord it Over” habit that characterizes worldly leadership.
He had a different understanding.
I want that understanding!
Looking at the Lamb seems to be the only safe place to really talk about leadership. It squeezes out the puss of our ambition, even our religious ambition. It trims the horns off that dragon which constantly sprout up when leaders show up to control.
Leadership is not to dominate someone; to direct and control someone.
It is to serve.
Jesus would act as Lord, judge, and the ultimate door to heaven or hell, precisely because he was a lamb….Even when roaring like a lion.
“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6, NIV).
He lived what he has called us to live: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” Matthew 5:44
Even one of the most Lording over personalities, the Apostle Paul, would eventually get it:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge….”
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
This is servant leadership in beastly places.
Wow. Our LEADER CHRIST knew what he was doing!!!!
(Next time: Daniel’s lessons on living as a servant in beastly places).