What A Servant Leader Does
IN THE WORLD of ministry we talk a lot about servant leadership, I myself place a high value on the idea and try to live with the attitude of a servant. Some of you have read my articles on Servant Leadership, my most recent one entitled: “The Problem with Talking” was a part of my Take the Lead series, but it seems that while we hold this ideal as a standard of living few of us know what a servant leader does.
Yes, we know that a servant leader serves, that a servant leader loves God and loves people but what is true servant leadership? Quite honestly this was something I wondered myself, something I only really saw taught in one of my four years (1 as a student and 3 as a mentor) of my college’s Foundations of Servant Leadership class. No, it has not been until recently that I’ve really come to learn and know what a servant leader actually does. It may surprise you to find that it is not actually what you think.
For instance, a high ranking executive at a large corporation sits in his office and enjoys the fruits of his labor. For years he worked his way up the social ladder, working office politics so he could sit at the top of the heap. What does he do now? What can he do now? There is no place higher to go, he has achieved the highest pinnacle of success at that company, he is the president, the CEO, he runs the show. He chairs the board and is not subject to anyone, he has a BA in business and a Masters in Executive Marketing, he knows everything about his company’s structure, and he and his family never know want. He gives generously to the church, his kids have plenty, life is good for the man at the top
But Let us step down several to a different level of the company where a man is replacing a heating valve on a boiler. He is in his forties, has lost his hair, got through three years of college (if that), has four kids and wife at home that he is the sole provider for. Yet this man makes minimum wage meaning he now has to go and find other work to supplement his income making his forty hour week more like sixty or eighty. He is the companies maintenance man, he is called upon to fix all the things that break, to make changes to the offices, to make sure the heat is on in the winter and that the air condition works in the summer. To lock the building and set the alarm and to keep the place running, yes, in some regards he runs the show. He is expected not to complain, and he never does, at least not to those he is serving, instead he smiles and wishes them all a good day and a Merry Christmas. Every day he sees the man at the top, making policies that at times make his job easier, denying funds that would help solve a problem, trying to find cheap solutions that will only break in six months and have to be fixed again. He is at the bottom, with seemingly no way to get ahead, his boss sees him as the maintenance man and in some regards he is correct, but does he know the man at the bottom?
In this scenario I ask you, who is the servant leader? It may be hard to tell for I did not tell you that the man at the top is not interested in those who work below him, they are a means to an end. He is a Christian, he goes to church on Sunday, but so does the man at the bottom, who on top of two jobs mentors young men at the local community center. The man at the top throws a huge check into the offering plate because he can, the man at the bottom puts money in when he can. The man at the top cares nothing for the man at the bottom, but the man at the bottom, who loves God and loves people, does care for the man at the top.
Sometimes I find myself wondering how college presidents and Academic Deans and big business CEO’s would react if I told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in such a way that replaced the Pharisee and the Scribe with a College President and a business tycoon, and made the good Samaritan a maintenance worker. Yes, I know that it seems the Samaritan has means, but we really do not know that, we just know that he is going to provide for the mans needs when he returns to the Inn. There is not enough evidence to conclude weather or not he’s rich or poor. But I think the result of telling such a story in this manner would be the same, those who hold servant leadership as a high ideal would be offended that their character did not help the man.
So what does a Servant Leader Do?
I’ve heard some say that they are servant leaders because they “pick up trash” that is all well and good, and I applaud you for taking the initiative, but one should not think oneself a servant leader on this alone. It is not enough to merely “pick up trash” and call yourself a servant leader, you must know the struggles of your people, the pains that they experience. To do that you must spend time around them, know them, even work with them, come down from the high tower of privilege and spend time with those below. You must truly “consider others more significant than yourselves” (Phl 2:4) without a pretext of superiority. You must seek to build up their faith and encourage them to be men and women of God. You cannot hold an ideal without applying that ideal. Seek out every option to help someone struggling, seek out every option to help someone period.
This is what we call “Downward Mobility” and it was something Jesus knew very well. Look at the rest of Philippians 2:4-11
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,1 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God ra thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a tservant,2 being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and devery tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus moved downward, so far as to take on death, yes, even death on a cursed Roman Cross to serve those the Father loves. Should we not then go as far as we can to serve those whom the father also loves and has placed around us?
Recently I found myself in a situation where an alumni of an institution needed options. They had not received their diploma due to a documented struggled with a subject and when they sought help they were given two options. Spend fifteen-hundred dollars to take three classes in that subject, or take a test without help or assistance that would cost one-hundred and fifty dollars total. Either way, if the person fails they were back in their original position. This person had slipped through the cracks in High School and had been passing a class in this subject until the final dropping him to a 68, leaving him two points away from his diploma, two points. Now, instead of going to grad school they were working in an entry level job, not able to afford either option in the long run and taking hardship deferments on school loans. Yet they go to work every day to serve the people who hold confidently to the ideal of servant leadership. Yet, when asked for help these are the very people who essentially turn him away, writing him off as either lazy or not willing to try. This person has legitimate anxiety over this subject, but yet they are expected to take it again, this time not as a full-time student, because of two points.
Those at the top are far from servant leaders in this case. They do not understand this individual’s situation, they are at the top, and though we cannot know their hearts, their actions speak of two things, judgment on the other person, and greed. It is not this persons fault that they struggle with the subject, they have even said they are willing to do extra work to change the grade, yet those at the top refuse to meet the person where they are at and truly offer a solution that helps.
Servant leaders go above and beyond what is expected, they go above and beyond the bounds of position, the bounds of status and the bounds of their own desires. They seek first the good of the other person, not what is best of the institution, they seek first the gospel of Jesus Christ and what will bring him glory and honor. It may not be practical for the man at the top to step down and assist the man at the bottom when the money is tight by giving an unexpected bonus, but if it means that the man at the bottom can afford to have a good Christmas with his family, by the man at the top making a sacrifice then it is pleasing to God.
How can we claim to love God and not be a servant to those below us, setting them above us so that God one day may look at all of us and say “Well done my good and faithful servants.”
God Bless You
Jonathan David Faulkner
Jonathan David Faulkner is the director of 1031 Life Ministries and the author of the month “Take the Lead” Series.
All scripture from the English Standard Version,