How to Lead in the Kingdom of God, Part 3Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
“But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”
Last week, I focused my reflections on Luke 22:24-27, a passage in which Jesus teaches us how to not to be—and how to be—leaders in his kingdom. (You can find last week’s reflections here: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.) On Friday, I considered the curious statement of Jesus, “I am among you as one who serves.” We saw that this statement pointed to Jesus’ imminent death, his ultimate act of servanthood as the Suffering Servant of God prefigured in Isaiah 52-53.
If the death of Jesus shows us the essence of true servanthood, then we can begin to make sense of his notion of servant leadership. Jesus is not thinking in terms of giving and receiving orders. He’s not asking leaders to stop exercising their authority and to do whatever others want them to do. Remember, Jesus went to the cross even though his disciples thought it was folly. And he certainly didn’t shape his teaching to suit their preferences. No, Jesus taught as one with unusual authority, and he acted according to his convictions about what was right. He was not governed by surveys and popular opinion. As Howard E. Butt, Jr., the founder of Laity Lodge, observes, “Jesus had perfect humility, but he was absolutely bedrock-sure of his leadership. Jesus exhibited both the spirit of a follower and the spirit of a leader.”
In exercising his power and authority, Jesus chose to serve people. He did this throughout the Gospels by healing the sick, casting out demons, and feeding the hungry. He did this by sharing the good news of the kingdom, not just with the elites, but with the masses as well. Ultimately, Jesus did what none of his followers wanted him to do, sacrificing his life. In this action, Jesus served them in ways they could not imagine.
Servant leaders exercise their authority to do what is best for those whom they lead. They do not seek their own greatness, but rather the greatness of their followers. They do not “lord it over” those whom they lead, but rather act so as to empower them. There will be times, of course, when servant leaders are required to do what their followers don’t want, as in the case of Jesus and his death. Yet they seek what is right in order to do what’s best for those in their charge.
One of my very first experiences of genuine servant leadership came when my son, Nathan, was about ten months old. He and I had been out running some errands. When we arrived at home, we were both famished. Nathan was crying and I felt like joining him. When I sat him down in the kitchen, my first thought was to make something for myself. After all, that’s what I had done for the past thirty-six years of my life. But I realized that I needed to attend to Nathan’s needs first. I remember thinking about how strange it was to so utterly choose to serve someone else, even when I had the power to put my needs first. Yet, as Nathan’s leader, I was called to be his servant. (When I later told my wife about this incident, she was less than impressed because, of course, she had been Nathan’s servant leader night and day for the previous ten months!)
Tomorrow, I want to share some wise reflections on servant leadership from Howard Butt. For now, I’d encourage you to consider the following questions.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: In what contexts of life are you a leader? Where do you have authority over people? What might it mean for you to imitate Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice in those relationships?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, it’s easy for me to feel thankful for your sacrificial death. How grateful I am for the salvation you have bought for me at such a high cost! Yet, when I consider the fact that I am called to imitate your servanthood, I pause. This is not easy! Of course, you know that, Lord. But I will admit that a part of me is not thrilled with this servant leadership idea. Your notion of a servant is a tough one.
Nevertheless, I receive your call and ask for your help. Show me how to serve those around me, especially those for whom I am a leader. Give me eyes to see their needs. Help me to be willing to give of myself, to be inconvenienced for their sake. May I learn to be a leader like you, Lord Jesus. Amen.