Sunday, April 12, 2009

Servant Leaders

One of the greatest need in the church today are servant leaders. Jesus showed what it means to be a servant leader. He said He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life for us. Then He actually did that. Can you imagine the Almighty Sovereign God of the Universe came to wash the feet of His disciples? He was not interested in building a ministry. He left no building, no organization, no institution, no staff, no equipment, no money, no name, no corporate image and almost no disciples. At the end of His life, except for three Marys and one John, all His disciples left Him.

If we were standing there and watching the scene at Golgotha, would we think Jesus succeeded or He failed? Yet today we know that His Father looking down from heaven would have said, “Son, You totally succeeded!” By this we realize that God looks at success in a very different way from man.

Jesus loved even unto death and showed us what it means to be a servant. In what ways are we practicing top-down leadership? In what ways do we need to change to become more like Jesus?

In God's Kingdom, leadership is servanthood

For a start, correctly understood, leadership is a function and role that someone needs to fulfill; not a recognition of superiority or seniority; not an appointment to control and lord over others. In the kingdom of God, it goes even further. In the kingdom of God, leadership is servanthood. Servanthood involves a servant-heart attitude, a humility and a heart that desires only for the welfare of those being led. Servant-leadership is serving those whom we lead and influencing them by our lifestyle to become servants to others. Jesus is our example. He is the servant king. He said, “As the Father has sent Me, I send you.” Jn.20:21, so we are to be servant leaders like Him.

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." Matt.20:25-28

Jesus, our example

Jesus taught us that in God’s kingdom, the leader is the servant, not the master. He did not just teach it by words. He demonstrated it and lived it : John 13:1-17. He washed Judas’ feet even though He knew that immediately after that Judas would betray Him. He died to self and became nothing so that others might live : Philip.2:3-11.

Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and told them, "You call me `Teacher' and `Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Jn.13:13-17

Paul told us to be like Jesus : “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus : Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!” Philip.2:3-8

God is a servant at heart (truly amazing!)

Jesus came to serve and not to be served, not just because He came to function as a servant, but because He is a servant at heart. The greatness of God is not just in His power and sovereign rule over the universe, but in His humility. Isaiah shows us the nature of God : “For this is what the high and lofty One says--he who lives forever, whose name is holy : "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isa.57:15.

In Isa.66:1-2 : This is what the LORD says : "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?" declares the LORD. "This is the one I esteem : he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

Amazing! God feels at home in the heart of one who has a servant-heart. Why? I believe that’s because God is drawn to someone who is of like nature to Him and He delights in dwelling in the heart of such a person! Therefore the more we are like Jesus, the more we would naturally be a servant like Him. This begs the question - what kind of leaders are we?

The devil's style of leadership

When leaders desire to be on top, they model the devil’s style of leadership :

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” Isa.14:12-15

The focus of servant leaders - others

Like Jesus, who did not focus on His kingship, the servant leader understands that his role is to serve the people he leads. His focus is not on himself, his vision, his calling, what he wants, what he plans to do, etc. but his focus is on the people he leads. All the time, he wants to see how he can serve and support the people he leads, so that their vision and dreams can be fulfilled. Jesus said “I know my sheep”. Just like Jesus, the servant leader seeks to know the heart of his followers.

Servant leadership does not mean no leadership. Servant leaders must still lead, but their attitude is that of a servant. Leading involves bearing the burden of responsibility and decision making. But most of all, leading is about influencing others towards a certain goal. Servant leaders encourage and inspire by lifestyle and example.

What is the goal of servant leaders? Their focus and goal is the welfare and interest of those they lead. Servant leaders desire to help those they lead to discover and realize their purpose. In the Kingdom of God, servant leaders help those they lead to discover God's purpose for their lives and then help them to walk in it.

The focus of the top-down leader is his own vision, his dream, his calling. The top-down leader gets the support of his followers so that his vision, his dream and his calling can be realized. His line to his followers is, "Help me to be successful. When I am succesful, you will be successful also." This is the typical leadership modeled by politicians and business people in the world. But not so the servant leader. The focus of the servant leader is the vision, dream, purpose and calling of the people his leads. Unlike the top-down leader, his question to the people he leads is, "What is the vision and dream that God has put on your heart? What has God called you to do? How can I help you to be successful in what God has called you to do? When you succeed, I would have succeeded. But if you fail, it means I have failed."

Servant leaders empower and then dissappear ..

Servant leaders influence others to also be servant leaders. Servant leaders produce not just disciples but disciplers : 2 Tim.2:2 The goal of servant leaders is to work themselves out of a job. Their success is when the people they lead succeed. Imagine someone who positions himself to take the weight of another so that the other person can stand on his shoulders and reach up to pluck the fruit of a tree. The guy who climbs on his shoulder succeeds in getting to the fruit, but they did it together. The servant leader sets an example for the one who plucked the fruit to be like him – bear someone else on his shoulder.

Servant leaders strive to be like John the Baptist who pointed his disciples to Jesus : Jn.1:29, 36. Servant leaders become less so that Jesus would become more : Jn.3:27-30. Like John the Baptist, they prepare the way of the Lord : Matt.3:3 and then dissappear ... The servant leader's dream is to be the donkey that Jesus rode on!

Process; not results

Nowadays there is a lot of talk about ownership. The principle in leadership that is being articulated is that the vision needs to be owned not just by the leader but by the people as well. The understanding is that unless the people own the vision as well, the leader and the team will not succeed. But servant leadership is not primarily about the success of the leader's vision or even of the vision of a group or team of people. Servant leadership goes beyond that. It is not just for the purposes of ownership, or efficacy, but more out of love, that servant leaders never make any decisions without first consulting with the people they lead, to hear what’s on their hearts.

Servant leaders keep reminding the people of the team’s vision, but they also spend time with their people and build relationships with them and foster the building of relationships among team members. Servant leaders know that the process is as important as, if not more than, the final result. Servant leaders make the development of the people their goal and trust in God for the final results.

Top-down leadership dis-empowers

Contrary to what most people think, the role of the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher in Eph.4 is not to do the work of the ministry but to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. When the leader focuses on the people he leads, there is empowerment and equipping. When the leader sets a system in place where the people focus on him, they are disempowered. People are not set free to be what God has made them to be or called them to be. Instead, they are trapped inside that system trying to live out the dream of the leader. They learn not to be creative or to take any initiative. Eventually they become dead inside. This results in one man ministries and churches where 90% of the people are just spectators. Such churches will never fulfill Matt.28 to go out and disciple nations. If the leader serves and empowers the people, then there is multiplication and Matt.28 can be fulfilled.

Prayer : “Lord, teach me to be like You. Make me to become like You. You are a servant; make me one too. Amen."

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