The Heart of Servant Leadership


servant-leadershipI love to sit around and listen to my mother’s friends talk. This group of about ten “very seasoned saints,” as they so often refer to themselves, is a witty group of 60 plus year-old women filled with wisdom that they readily share.  A few months ago I was accidentally invited to be a part of a post-funeral brunch. During the course of conversation one of the older ladies in the group told the rest that she was considering leaving her church after 20 years because a recent change in leadership had begun causing major issues.

From her perspective some of the older leaders were upset because the new leaders were struggling in their leadership roles. “The problem isn’t just the young people. Everybody wants to develop a plan that no one is willing to implement. Everybody wants to coach but no one wants to play. A title doesn’t make you a leader.” She chuckled.  She continued to talk about how she had become discouraged as she watched the membership decline and the number of participants in the women’s bible study dwindle to about five regular participants.

As I listened to their conversation, I began to evaluate myself as a leader. When I was younger I was quick to offer an idea that I thought would help make the youth prrogram more exciting or draw more participants to the women’s Bible study. However, the thought of being the one standing outside of a bounce house making sure all the kids took their shoes off or cleaning up after the women’s brunch seemed far less appealing—yet those things accompany leadership.  As we mature spiritually we quickly come to understand that we are called to serve, and taking on the menial tasks associated with ensuring that the ultimate goal is achieved far easier.

When I thought about Mrs. Murphy’s decision to leave her teaching role, I recalled the times I was so discouraged that I questioned my own call to ministry. I remember swearing off mentoring after a young lady I had spent a significant amount of time discipling decided to go back and live with her abusive boyfriend. I remembered sitting around with a group of young leaders one evening being the only ones who showed up for a Friday night Bible study. I remembered all the times I felt so discouraged because it felt like I had surrendered my life to Christ only to fail to make an impact.

The role of a leader extends beyond our desire to make a difference in the lives of others, beyond being willing to serve, even beyond how we feel about what we are capable of accomplishing as we work for God.  In an attempt to be effective leaders we set goals and forget that our basic responsibility is to simply proclaim the word of God.

In his book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen wrote, book-quote

If the actions we choose to take as a leaders are not tied to the goal of proclaiming God’s unconditional love then we must reevaluate those actions. According to Nouwen, in church culture we often get so wrapped in the task of leading and trying to make a difference that we forget the most basic tenets. We are not called to be relevant. We are not called first to bring social change.   We are not called to be spectacular.  We are simply called to follow Him, to be in relationship with Him, to be transformed by Him.   He will use us to lead as He chooses only as we willingly follow!

Servant Leadership Book Review


The Jack McDowell School for Leadership Development offers for your consideration and help the following books chosen for both depth of perspective and practical information to help you become an even greater leader and servant of God.

The Servant, by James Hunter, is a fiction novel that uses colorful and engaging tales to illustrate life-changing servant leadership principles.

Henri J.M. Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus is used in institutions around the globe as an instructional tool and is a great resource for a leader to look inward personally before attempting to lead others. Nouwen looks at the temptations of Jesus prior to the start of His public ministry and suggests that what Jesus came up against is the experienced by every leader.

Shaped to Serve by Jane Fryar is a series of devotionals that inspire the reader to reflect deeply about their service. Each article is coupled with a prayer that captures the essence of the devotional.

The Servant Leader by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges offers information that pushes the reader to allow the relationship developed with God in their private spiritual lives to evolve and give Him free reign in the actions and interactions in their daily lives.

Servant’s Leadership from John’s Voice : John 13

Untitled-3 Power, Authority and Servanthood

I watched again as I have several times over the past two years, as Major Hofer washed the feet of one of the “disciples” attending Holy Spirit Day.  Twice a year, those attending the ALPHA Course come for a daylong teaching and experience of the power and Person of the Holy Spirit.  It would be easy for this to become mundane, almost mechanical, as the same teaching is repeated to a different group of people.  God, however, is always about teaching us something new or giving us a new way of looking at old truths.  That happened as I watched the foot washing.

Typically we associate Jesus as not only the superior, but as deity, washing the dirty feet of a disciple.  We become a little put-off at the pride of Peter [who I am sure was not alone in his thinking] as he began to reject the gesture.  No!  This one who has been my teacher, my leader, my inspiration, my companion will not wash my feet.  And, we sense the embarrassment of the disciples as they realized that not one of them was willing to bend, to stoop to the menial task.

I do not dispute this interpretation at all but as I watched the re-enactment before me again and thought about the context of the original foot washing, along with the words of Jesus:  “A new command I give you, that you should love one another,” a new perspective was given to me.  Jesus was not washing the feet of his disciples as their superior.  He was washing their feet man to men.  In other words, it was not out of his position of authority or power that he washed their feet but as a man recognizing his own need and willing to reach out to meet the very same need in the other men with him.

We do not like to be people in need.  I had a conversation this morning with a friend of mine of 30 years who stated it exactly:  “I don’t like being dependent on people, even my wife, in this situation.”  We don’t like being dependent upon people.  We don’t like feeling that somehow we are needy.  If we can wash others’ feet from a position of power and authority, it somehow gives us the edge, makes us feel like we’ve done such a good deed for someone else.  But as soon as we wash another’s feet, recognizing that we need others to do the same for us, it becomes a different story.

The new command was interdependence—not independent actions of charity from a lofty position.  It is impossible to love well until you embrace your own humanity.  And now that I have given this further thought, I’m not sure that Jesus ever intended this to be an act of hierarchy.  It is meant to be an act of community, a circular act of giving and receiving.

The real power and authority of the kingdom is expressed in just such liberating acts of footwashing.

November 2013 Director’s Desk

The debate ensued.  Does servant leadership mean that a servant leads or that a leader serves?  I sat in the cross-fire of answers, thoughts, questions, and ideas exchanged among the people in the room.  One in the room decided it wasn’t either/or, but both/and.  A servant is one among a group offering of him or herself for the benefit of the group.  A leader is one who takes another or a group of people in a certain direction for the accomplishment of a shared goal.  Leadership entails both a servant’s heart and skills to move people forward.

We are experiencing a rapid shift in many businesses and not-for-profit organizations—away from the more traditional autocratic and hierarchical models of leadership and toward servant leadership as a way of being in relationship with others. Servant leadership seeks to involve others in decision making, is strongly based in ethical and caring behavior, and enhances the growth of workers while improving the caring and quality of organizational life” (Larry C. Spears, The Spears Center).

Servant leadership is a wonderful combination of head and heart that issues in the “work of the hands.” It is not a syrupy, feel good, or anything goes mentality.  Essentially “servant leadership is to be a living statement of who we are in Christ, how we treat one another, and how we demonstrate the love of Christ to the whole world” (Blanchard: Lead Like Jesus, pg 12).   Servant leadership is more an attitude and takes on the posture of coach.   The coexisting concern is the development of others in the process of getting tasks completed.


We invite you to look deeper into the topic of servant leadership as you go through this month’s Missionmover.  We pray for you and for your leadership.  We trust you will take from the ideas and thoughts expressed this month as God speaks through them to you.


Be sure to look at other blog posts and articles connected with this month’s theme.  We invite your feedback and read all of your comments.


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