Sunday, April 08, 2012

Servant Leadership

I just found in my archive the talk I gave on Wednesday 26 October 2005 at Heritage Christian School's Grade 12 Leadership Retreat. I thought others might like to read it. The quotations from the Bible are from the New Living Translation.
_ _ _ _ _

There are 13 people here tonight - the same number as Jesus and his disciples. This must be how it felt for them to be together.

I have friends in Israel, so I keep track of Jewish holidays. Today is Simchat Torah, when the Jews celebrate the glory of the Law. Not the giving of it - that's celebrated at Pentecost - but its glory. Yet in the New Testament, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:6 "[God's] new not one of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old way of the Law ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives life." Paul didn't say the law was bad - on the contrary, he says several times in Romans that the law is good - but it doesn't bring life. Only the Holy Spirit does that.

Here are some thoughts about Servant Leadership:

1.  The need for leadership is a consequence of sin.

Who led the first humans? God did. When did God first put one human in authority over another? After the Fall. When did Israel first get a king, and why? See 1 Samuel 8:4.

2.  Leadership is hard work!

In today's Leadership exercises, one group put "lazy" in their list of characteristics a leader should not have. That's right!  Leaders work hard, long hours, and their work is emotionally draining. And it's absolutely essential! A recent book studied the failures of many large American corporations and concluded that it's not particular styles of management that cause failure, but simply the failure of the CEO to execute the plan. So basic, and so essential.

3.  Leadership, like electricity, comes in positive and negative kinds

I looked up the verb "to lead" in the New Testament and - surprise - found almost every reference was to someone leading others astray, or leading them into temptation.

Almost the only positive use of this word was in Revelation 7:17, which is beautiful: "For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears."

Bad leaders are everywhere. They may only influence a handful of people, but if they can corrupt those, evil spreads. Note the second part of Romans 1:32: "Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too."

I had an experience during my teen years when a bad leader tried to encourage me to be like him. I sensed something was wrong and found an excuse to get away from him. It was only years later that I discovered what he really had in mind, and what a narrow escape I'd had.

A godly Christian servant leader will be a Shepherd, leading people to life, and wiping away their tears.

3. Leadership can be learned

Think about physics; we all do it instinctively - even a dog can catch a thrown ball in its mouth! - but we can't explain how we do it, and as a result we often get it wrong. This is why we study physics, to master the subject!  It's the same with justice, truth, mercy and all the other virtues; scripture tells us to study these. Yes, leadership can be learned!

4.  Leadership must be done with integrity!

We recently watched the movie Hotel Rwanda. It has been said by a church leader in Africa that Africa has no shortage of gifted leaders - but very few good ones.

The leader, especially the servant-leader, must have the good of the followers at heart - not his or her own profit or image.

A counselor working in an anonymous cubicle at the Billy Graham headquarters was seen to have posted this sign on his wall: "There is no limit to the good you can do, if you don't care who gets the credit." This is worth thinking about and adopting for ourselves.

As a leader with integrity, you will both gain and lose friends. C.S. Lewis wrote a whole essay called "The Inner Ring" about how the in-group demands that you compromise your integrity to join their circle. Instead, you should act with integrity and you will find yourself part of another circle, one of virtue.

Sometimes when you act with integrity, you will face consequences. I once saw a cartoon that showed a fired executive explaining to his wife: "I told the truth, and they set me free!"

Not everyone is a so-called "natural-born leader" who instinctively draws people to follow him or her.  But everyone gets called upon by circumstances to exercise leadership, and when that call comes your way, you MUST lead.

5. Leadership within this group

  • Among you I have seen many words of encouragement given. That's a good form of leadership.
  • I've seen you working together for the common good, and helping one another spontaneously. That's servanthood.
  • I've seen you honour one another with the precious gift of paying attention. That's love.

Don't ever let anyone persuade you you're missing out by not doing what others do. I was 20 when I became a Christian, so I remember how empty my former life was. I actually became a Christian at a camp like this one, because I could see the love these people had for one another, just as I see it here. The way I expressed it to myself was, "I've never seen people having such a good time, sober." This is not so unbiblical as it sounds. The very first Christian sermon, delivered by Peter right after the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost and recorded in Acts 2:15-36, begins: "No, we're not drunk -- it's too early for that, the bars aren't open yet!" People saw the joy and excitement of the Christians and attributed it to drunkenness; we know better.

I want to commend you for your love for one another. Now take that love and extend it in service to others. They are like sheep without a shepherd, and that's where all of you become servant leaders.