We All Want to be Served

I just finished a huge project of consolidating all of the reference materials that I’ve accumulated over the past 20 years or so. I carefully grouped subjects together and even packaged up some text books to enhance “my collection”. When I was going through the HUGE stack of leadership materials, I found a large section of materials on Servant Leadership, a leadership style developed by Robert Greenleaf in 1977. Since that time a number of researchers have tried to define the attributes of what a Servant Leader “looks like”. For me, the answer was simple – Jesus Christ. However, the business world needed more. Skip Prichard (2013) posted a unique summary of many of the scholarly attributes that he believes summarizes the leaders using Servant Leadership:

  • Values diverse opinions
  • Cultivates a culture of trust
  • Develops other leaders
  • Helps people with life issues
  • Encourages
  • Sells instead of tells
  • Thinks you, not me
  • Thinks long-term
  • Acts with humility

The attributes of the Servant Leadership model focus the leader on the needs of the employee. When the organization’s goals are aligned with the employee’s and each individual understands his/her role and the expectations placed on them, the organization is set-up for success. It made me think about how we treat each other and how leaders influence other people. Throughout my 30 plus years in government, I’ve seen and heard about some pretty wild working environments. Today’s workforce expects a Servant Leadership type of leader and no matter where you sit in your career – leader or follower, after seeing this list I hope you agree. As I filed away this little bit of research on the subject, I wanted to share how we all could apply the principles of servant leadership to our lives.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

When I’m asked about Jesus as a servant, my first thought always goes to the night of the last supper when He washed the feet of His disciples; nothing says servant like washing feet. We’ve all heard the story about Jesus feeding of the thousands at a wedding. What we often fail to remember about this “story” was that as that event ended, the people were asking Jesus to be their King. He wanted nothing to do with it and left immediately.

Jesus did not come into this world to be served. Everything we read about Jesus is how he served others – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, turning water to wine at the wedding and teaching everyone the true meaning of the words His Father had written in the scriptures. The most important part of this verse is this: He came to “give His life as ransom for many.” He understood that and continued to serve others until His work was done. No matter what our place in life is, we can be comforted in the fact that Jesus died for us – a final act of Servant Leadership. We are forgiven through him.

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Delegation and Authority

When I was working regularly, I often had to appoint someone to fill my role when I was on vacation or off duty. When you delegate work to someone, you are typically delegating the decision-making authority, but you remain responsible for the decisions that are made; even in your absence. They had the authority, but I had the responsibility. We had the family video game “Shrek”, based on the popular movie. One of the characters in the movie frequently said – “choose wisely”; and I was bound by that advice too. There are a number of benefits to using delegation as a professional development tool – it allows the leader to do more and; it increases the morale, confidence and productivity of subordinates. Having been the recipient of delegated tasks, I can attest to the growth that I experienced because someone delegated to me.

It is important for the leader to pick people who are ready for the added work – set them up for success. Leaders need to give them the freedom to complete the job but enough follow-up to keep the task on target, have a clear set of goals while being consistent in your oversight and, never delegate projects that YOU are absolutely supposed to do. When a delegated task is completed, take the time to review the project with them to see how they felt it went, what they learned and what they might do differently but most importantly, praise them for their work; no matter what improvements need to made.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18

This verse makes me wonder what the disciples thought when they heard this. They knew that Jesus was special but to hear Him declare His authority must have been powerful. The difference between this declaration and delegation is that God did not delegate His decision-making (power) to Jesus – He was in Him. The Lutheran Church teaches “With the universal Christian Church, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod teaches and responds to the love of the Triune God: the Father, creator of all that exists; Jesus Christ, the Son, who became human to suffer and die for the sins of all human beings and to rise to life again in the ultimate victory over death and Satan; and the Holy Spirit, who creates faith through God’s Word and Sacraments. The three persons of the Trinity are coequal and coeternal, one God.” (lcms.org)

There is no delegation here. Jesus needed to tell the disciples that He had the authority. It wasn’t until after His death that they began to understand the meaning of what He was saying. This authority allowed Jesus to cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead. And despite all of this, people still mocked Him and eventually killed Him. I would suggest, looking back at my comment about what the disciples thought about this, in retrospect; with Jesus’ help, the disciples spent time understanding all that they had learned with Him in the days before His ascension. They surely had an increase in their morale, the confidence to go on and improved productivity in sharing the good news of Christ.

Our Present Sufferings

We all know someone who is suffering, even if just a little bit. People react differently to what they perceive to be suffering. A teenager is “suffering” when they go on vacation to a place without cell phone coverage. I’ve done work in an organization that had suffering employees. No one in management would listen to the workforce, suggestions were ignored, benefits were minimized, and employee terminations were inconsistent and frequent; they were working in a culture of fear. Look in your contact list; I’d imagine that you could identify a number of people who are suffering from a financial or medical condition. How many people in your contact list would you like to trade places with? We all have troubles. Some people thrive when they feel the pressure to push through difficult times and seem to come out stronger, while others crumble. How do you react?

Knowing before it happens may have a big affect on how you manage the situation. When my wife and I used to (notice – used to) golf together she was always finding something good about a bad shot. When I hit the ball into the water she’d say, “at least it isn’t in the sand” and when I hit it into the sand, she would say, “at least it isn’t in the water”. I suffered during that round. What about the real suffering that goes on? Why does it happen? Every patch of trouble or each time we suffer we are becoming stronger. If you look back in your life, I would guess that you could find a connection to another event that occurred later. You were stronger because of it or you learned something or you met someone. Something better generally comes out of our suffering, we just don’t have the patience to recognize it.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

God has told us that we aren’t promised a trouble free life so suffering should not be a surprise to any of us. None of us wants to hear our suffering or pain compared to another person’s worse case. How could a loving God let us suffer like this? People asked questions like this after the attacks on September 11th. Think about this: we heard story after story about people who got to work late that day or who made appointments when they normally would be at work and survived. Two buildings that normally house tens of thousands of people collapsed and less than 3000 died; God was there.

Again, think about St. Paul sitting in jail suffering and enduring punishment for his faith telling his Roman followers not to worry about the suffering. He knew that by sharing his faith, God’s Glory would be revealed and millions would be saved. Paul suffered so that millions would read his letters and come to faith in God through Jesus Christ. Would you react/respond differently to suffering if you knew that others could be saved? A few weeks ago I talked about being worthy, this is yet another way that says, “You are worthy!” When we suffer and still show our faith in Him, God uses us to be His messenger of what a life in Christ is like. No matter what you are suffering with, your reward is in the promise of eternal life.