I don’t know a more nebulous term than servant-leader. It is almost a paradox that we don’t easily live in. Is it more servant or more leadership. Often, I feel we throw around this adjective ahead of leadership to help soften leaders that run roughshod over those they lead.
You know the type, more boss than leader. They use the phrases, “too many chefs in the kitchen” or “too many chiefs for the tribe”. These leaders throw around their weight and ask us to listen not because of their ideas or vision but because they are the leader. For them authority flows out of position and not personhood.
What do we do with leaders like that? We add an adjective and hope that makes them think more like Jesus. You know, more servant and less tyrant. We have all worked for bad leaders. I don’t have to name names. And yet, we still want to write more and more books on leadership.
The Bible talks far more about being servant than about being leader. Yes, leadership is a gift of the Spirit, so why don’t we trust the Spirit to move through those he has gifted to lead? Well, that is a question that moves away from my story.
My story illustrates the servant side of leadership. You know, the side that sees serving as primacy to leading. The part of leadership that says, I have the best interests of those entrusted to me. The kind that Jesus talked about in Mark 10:45 in serving and laying down his life for them.
Jesus always turned things upside down. As King, the subjects are supposed to give their life for him and the kingdom. But as king, Jesus gave his life for his people and the kingdom. How often, does a leader say, not my way or vision, but yours? These are true tests of a leader who says he is servant.
But I have a living picture of servant leader. Recently, I was in some high-level meetings with our movement, The Foursquare Church. I spent time hanging out in and out of the meetings with dozens of servant-leaders. I did not expect to have any meaningful interaction with our President as I am way down the totem pole or hierarchy. Yet, I was surpised. Our President, Glenn Burris came alongside of me in service like I never anticipated.
Who am I? I am just a young guy with no position. I was one of the strategic thinkers in the room, sure. But the room was chalk full of bright, brilliant people with more gravitas than I. I am known by our president, but he is supremely gifted in relational intelligence and knows everyone. And everyone wants to push back on our meetings and grab the ear of our leader. They have a greater need than I to have time with the president of our church.
Well, one of our last breaks, I happened to have a sidebar with the President. As we talked, he asked if I wanted snacks. (You see, as the blind pastor who writes this blog, I do need serving from time to time, more than the average guy). I nicely said it is okay, I can get another leader here to help me out. But he insisted. So I insisted further that he did not need to spend his valuable time on getting me a plate of snacks. But how much can you insist against a good leader? So after a little back-and-forth, I acquiesced.
Glenn not only got me a plate of yummy snacks, he asked me what I wanted and listened to what I said. He served me with a gift of hospitality often not exercised by leaders of such high capacity. He grabbed me all the good veggies I wanted and dobbed loads of hummus dip on another plate. He carried the two plates and a bottle of water back into the room. He even found my seat and moved my computer to insure I could snack with ease.
I was so touched, I turned to say to him and those around me, we can talk about servant-leadership all day, but I just experienced it.
As long and intense meetings came to a conclusion, our leader paused to help serve a guy that had plenty of other gracious people all around willing to help. Our President grew in my eyes not for his vision or capacity, but for my trust and relationship. I go to bat for a guy like that. Why, because I know he has my best interests in mind. Not to say I agree with everything a leader does or says, but that is part of being a strategic thinker and in the room. I will say, I have grown in respect for our leadership, and this is just one little reason why.
I have been impacted on this topic by Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood. Grab and ransack it for practical helps even in your own community.