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!

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