Is Servant Leadership an Oxymoron?
Are you in a leadership position? Do you administer a ministry in your church? Do you manage a group of employees for your job? Do you have kids that you are called to lead and train? If you think about it, most people are in a leadership position of some sort, whether it be large or small. We may not all be CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations, but most of us are in charge of directing someone else at one time or another.
The Bible provides some great insight for effective leadership. Last night I was reading the story of when King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became king of all Israel after Solomon’s death. The people came to King Rehoboam complaining of the heavy burden King Solomon had put on them and asking that he lessen their burden, saying they would always be loyal if he did. Before he answered the people, King Rehoboam sought the advice of his father’s wise elder advisors.
They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” 1 Kings 12:7.
King Rehoboam also sought advice from his younger advisors.
The young men who had grown up with him replied, “Tell these people who have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’ -tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ” 1 Kings 12:10-11.
Ultimately, King Rehoboam took the advice of his young friends and did not heed the advise of the wise elders. The result was that the people revolted and he lost all of the kingdom of Israel except Judah. After King David had served the people of Israel so well for so long, “only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David” after King Rehoboam took the throne. 1 Kings 12:20b.
Servant leadership is a hard concept to grasp. As one in power, it is easy to be filled with the pride of leadership and seek to succeed on the backs of those one leads. This is often seen in industry and business in our society, as CEOs get rich while the pay and benefits afforded to the workers is slashed.
But servant leadership is exactly what Jesus modeled. Although He was God incarnate and clearly their superior, Jesus became the disciples’ servant when He washed their feet at the last supper before His death. See John 13:1-17. Even after His resurrection, Jesus continued to be a servant leader to the disciples. As they hauled in a miraculous catch of fish, He was on the shore building a fire and cooking them breakfast. See John 21:1-14. It seems that the disciples should have been making breakfast for their risen Lord, but Jesus was the kind of servant leader who turned such thoughts on their heads.
When He knew that the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus said something to them that has always intrigued me:
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37.
To be first, you must be the very last! Not just towards the end of the line, but the very last. You must put others, including children who you teach and lead, ahead of you. This can be a particularly difficult concept to put into practice with kids. My son has complained several times over the years that adults who are supposed to be his teachers or youth leaders at church don’t listen to him or take him seriously. These adults have failed to grasp the concept of servant leadership when it comes to the kids who cross their path on a regular basis.
In the various capacities in which I lead others, both adults and kids, I try to keep this principle of servant leadership in mind. Being a servant leader serves both to encourage others to follow and to allow them to succeed in the endeavor you are asking them to embark on. I don’t always succeed in putting this principle into practice, but because of my servant leader Jesus I am improving in my efforts to do so.
Think about those you lead, and be creative in making that list. Then think about how you have treated them. Have you acted as a servant leader to them, or have you, like Rehoboam, made their burden heavier just because you have the power to do so? If the Creator of all things can humble Himself to be a servant so that He might be a better leader, perhaps His example is worth following.
Thank you for encouraging us to be servant leaders, like Jesus! 🙂 Sometimes I get into “what about me????” mode. Ha! But, Jesus always takes care of me so I can continue to serve others. God bless you! deb
Amazing lesson. I know many that would benefit from this one. Thanks, I like that we can still keep in touch here.
Marissa, It’s good to hear from you. Hope all is well with you and David. Peace, Linda
wow again, incredible lesson. I was interviewing a couple of years ago for a high promotion, and the interviewer asked what my thoughts were on supervising people, and I said that being a servant was integral to how I would supervise. They did not concur, the servitude was the deal breaker, and I would not budge, so I didn’t get it and was okay with it. Your message just confirms my thoughts “perfectly”. God Bless
Jim, I’d say that was their loss. They could have had a great Spirit-led servant leader in their company. Peace, Linda