Servant

Recently, I’ve been asked about my leadership style and I always answer that I subscribe to the principles of 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: 

  1. Values diverse opinions
  2. Cultivates a culture of trust
  3. Develops other leaders
  4. Helps people with life issues
  5. Encourages
  6. Sells instead of tells
  7. Thinks you, not me
  8. Thinks long-term
  9. 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 35 plus years in government, I’ve seen and heard about some pretty wild working environments. Today’s workforce expects this type of leadership 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.

All Authority has been given to me

Delegating is one of the greatest personal timesaving things a leader can do but it can also be one of the greatest developmental opportunities a leader can give to one of their people. 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 have the authority, but you still have 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 when I delegated tasked to my people, I was bound by that advice too. There are several 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 the 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 be 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.

Suffering

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.

What about the suffering that you are going through right now? Do you wonder why it is happening to you? Every patch of trouble or each time we suffer we are becoming stronger. If you look back in your life when you had success, I would guess that you could find a connection to another time when you suffered to get there. 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. 

Focus

My business partner and I provide strategic planning consulting services for local governments. We use a slightly different approach to the traditional planning process where, instead of focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, we talk about strategic focus areas and the principles that guide them. Every community or organization has them. Sometimes they are found in mission or value statements but often they are representative of the things important to the community. For example, every city, no matter its size, will focus on fiscal sustainability and transparency. In the past, strategic planning often focused on dreaming big – “what would we do if nothing stood in our way” thinking. In today’s reality, there are plenty of things to get in the way, so we ask our clients what is it that they are focused on and what principles are they based in. 

People, for the most part, can be the same – what are you focused on and what principles are those focused areas based in. Ask yourself, what am I focused on? How do you spend your time and what do you get from it? I’m not suggesting that if you spend your time watching TV for a couple hours at night and you’re not getting anything out of it and that you should stop; I am suggesting that if ALL you do is watch TV when you aren’t at work, perhaps you can focus some time elsewhere. Once you determine what you are focused on, you can start to drill in to why you do it and how you will do it. Bringing these things into perspective can help guide the choices that you make.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Talk about focus, Jesus had to keep His eye on where He was heading. Satan tried to blur Jesus’ focus when he tempted Him for 40 days. When God’s plan for His death was revealed to Him, Jesus remained focused on His goal of saving the lost. Even as He carried His own cross, Jesus remained focused on the goal of joining His Father in Heaven and defeating the devil once and for all. There were plenty of things to distract Him – fame, power, faithful disciples and the broken moral structure of the society that He lived in; yet Jesus remained focused. 

His strategic focus was saving the world and He based that focus on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we can drill in to being good and faithful servants. Jesus took with Him, in His death, our sin and the guilt of breaking these principles. This freedom from sin allows us to focus on the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God. We can find our daily principles spelled out in the bible and maintain our focus on God. Spend some time reinforcing those principles and make time with God a strategic focus area.

Confidence

Father’s Day was yesterday; I hope that every one of the “dads” enjoyed it. Men have a funny way of expressing this day to each other, especially if you compare it to how women express Mother’s Day to each other. Men will simply nod and smile to each other if it comes up and if we don’t mention it, well, that’s okay too. When it comes to celebrating the day, we’re okay with simplicity. No brunches or special events. A good, or should I say smart, man will treat Mother’s Day much differently. Men are providers, we are “fixers”, we will just do our thing and keep moving. A father’s role is different and so is his reaction to any celebration. Few men seek accolades and often don’t know how to respond to someone who offers them. I notice that women love the attention of a restaurant staff lead birthday song but watch a man and he’ll slowly slide under the table. We’re just funny that way I guess. 

I’m not writing about the differences between men and women; this is more about how we react to things. The “fixer” in us wants to perfectly plan a course for our lives and then follow it to the letter. When things don’t go according to plan, we lose hope and get frustrated. As men, we view our role as being there for everyone else but when we are the ones that need fixing, we throw our arms up and scream: “why do I bother!” The simple answer is that we bother because we are, by nature, fixers. Next time you feel like things aren’t going as planned or when you don’t have control over the direction (whether you are male or female), just remember, it always eventually works out. 

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Being confident in all things is often known as being arrogant or cocky. No one likes someone who is arrogant; they are often hard to be around. Having confidence on the other hand, is being sure of your self. The words, being and having, change the value of the word confidence. “Confidence” is more valuable to others when you have it rather than being it. Overall, I have confidence in my decisions and understanding of municipal government, which allows me to speak with authority. What is giving St. Paul the confidence as he wrote this verse? Why is he “being” confident? 

Verse 5 says “because of your [Philippians] partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now”. St. Paul is being confident that they have found favor in God’s eyes.  He is expressing his confidence (having confidence) that God will not abandon them and will carry them forward until the coming of Christ Jesus. St. Paul isn’t “being” confident, he is “having” confidence in the Word of God. How do we obtain that level of confidence? Being in God’s Word and accepting that salvation is found in Jesus Christ. Reading the bible gives us an understanding of the plan that men try so hard to control. God is THE “fixer”. He not only orders things in this life, He fixed our relationship with Him for all eternity. He sent us a savior to fix our inability not to sin. Do you have the confidence to go through life knowing that God is at work in it? I do. 

Strong, Firm and Steadfast

Every supervisory development class that I’ve ever taught has included a section on ethics. It is quite predictable that the topic of good people doing bad things comes up when you discuss supervising people. The situation always starts out with something innocent, like deciding who will do the dishes in a fire station but ends up on the front page. I know it seems like a big leap but imagine that the determining factor in doing dishes was bouncing a ball at a hanging plant; last one to hit it, did them. Soon enough, that was no longer challenging, so the loser had to hold the ball between their knees. This gradual progression eventually ended with the loser holding the ball between their cheeks (yes, those cheeks) with their pants down. Grown men, lifesaving professionals had degraded themselves into that – good people doing bad things. As a result, one person lost their job, one was demoted and two were suspended. 

Temptation is all around us in this life whether at work, at play, on-line or simply hanging out with friends. We don’t realize it is happening until it’s too late. So, ask yourself, what am I being tempted to do? Am I involved in something that is progressing slowly that appears innocent but could lead to something more serious? Sometimes we justify our actions if we believe that no one is being hurt by our action or if “everyone is doing it”. There is an expression in NASCAR “if you’re not cheat’n you’re not try’n”. Stop yourself from getting so comfortable that you end up with your proverbial pants down. 

8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1Peter 5:8-10

Good people doing bad things can be found all around us. We often ask how or why they could do it but Peter knew the answer long ago – your enemy prowls around looking for someone to devour. We don’t just wake up in the morning and decide to do something bad; we’ve been lulled into it over time. People all around the world are suffering the same internal turmoil. Fortunately, we are better off as a society because the number of people resisting is greater than the number falling. God told us that we would be tempted but He also promised to be with us as Peter reminds us in verse 10.

Whether you have been tempted and successfully resisted or you failed; God’s glory will restore you. Jesus died for our sins and stands with us before God to be declared “not guilty” no matter what bad thing we’ve done. It is our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace that we are saved. Through the writings of Peter, God tells us that He will make us strong again. He also tells us that the best way to resist it is to stand firm in our faith. This is more than firmly believing and attending church; it is also regular devotional reading and study of God’s word. Putting God first in your life will prepare you for the fight with the devil and will help you be on alert for the temptations while having the strength to be self-controlled.

Be filled with Joy and Peace

It doesn’t matter when you see my wife, if you ask her how she’s doing, her answer is always – “blessed”. Even at 4:30 in the morning when she is arriving at the gym for her daily work out, she is always cheerful. She is the only morning person in our family. The rest of us are night owls. She is filled with joy and peace and everyone knows it. What do people see when they speak to you or watch you at work? I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you be “on” at the wee hours of the morning, but it is important to know what time you fare at your best. Studies have shown that early risers are more productive. Again, I’m not suggesting that you change your peak performance time; just know when it is. My peak usually hits around 1pm and lasts until 4pm but I can also have a second peak about 9:30pm until after midnight. 

Knowing your optimum time is important so that you don’t tie it up in meetings or traveling between locations. This should be your time to focus on high-level work or your strategic/creative thinking time. Your peak time is when you should turn off your email and cell phone so that you can concentrate. This will allow you to achieve more at work while expending less mental energy since you are working when your mind and body are ready. Back to the question of what do people see when they speak to you? If you are in peak time, they should see the best you have to offer and when you are in off-peak times, they should see a person of joy and hope who knows the best is yet to come.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Not too long ago, there was a story out of Iraq about a pregnant woman who was sentenced to death, by stoning, for becoming a Christian and failing to renounce her new faith. I can’t help thinking about how strong she was. Here is a new Christian, someone who believed so strongly in what she was taught that she was willing to be persecuted. It’s a modern day story of St. Paul or John the Baptist. She was not only filled with joy but had enough peace to trust in Him that the power of the Holy Spirit would be with her. I cannot imagine what she must have gone through. It was rumored that one of the Columbine shooters asked a girl if she believed in Jesus as he held a gun to her head. When she answered yes, he moved on sparing her life. 

When my daughter was younger she was asking questions about faith when this came up. I reminded her that it would be better to die knowing that you kept your faith to the end than it would be to deny it and spend eternity without Him. There is no doubt that there are others suffering for their faith today. Please join me in praying for everyone who is being persecuted for their faith; asking that their faith remains strong and that they be filled with joy and peace to trust in God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Also take this time to pray for yourself; that you will be filled with joy and peace so that you too can overflow with the hope and power of the Holy Spirit so everyone will see that you are blessed. 

Why I Write

Each time someone new starts to follow this blog, I receive a notification from WordPress that someone new has started “following you”. Early on, this happened about once a month or maybe a few times a year. Lately, I’ve been averaging about three a week for the past 6 months or so. I don’t check the analytics on how many people are viewing “this little treasure” so I really don’t know how many “views” I get. This week, I wanted to take a minute to say THANK YOU to everyone who is getting the word out on my writing and WELCOME to those who have joined us (me) over the past few months. I often wonder why I keep writing but then God sends me some sort of “sign” that says, keep going! And so, I write…

We read the following verse in my devotional last week and it struck me as another one of those “summary verses” – the ones that sum up our faith. 1 John 5:9-20 tells us: We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

This is the Good News. We all sin but those of us who believe in our salvation through Jesus Christ are saved! Verse 16 talks about the sin that leads to death, the only sin that leads to eternal death is not believing in Jesus; all others have a cure! Celebrate your salvation through Christ this week and let the world know – pass this along.

Attitude

There are a number of things that make us who we are; attitude, education, experiences, families, goals, faith and the list goes on. Last week I talked about suffering and how that affects us too. I love to people watch whenever we go out; it’s a huge source of entertainment. I often say that people are strange creatures, and the human psyche never fails to amaze me. The way we react to things or the way that we think is always interesting. I started to wonder about myself and if I’m just as crazy as everyone else – the answer is yes. I find that I’m really flexible and diplomatic with a significant segment of the people that I encounter every day. Then, I become this stubborn, crabby old man on the flip side. I try to be consistent and predictable, so people don’t have to guess which “Bill” is showing up. There are so many things that affect my attitude or outlook on the issues in my life. 

All of us juggle multiple roles – spouse, boss, worker, leader, follower, friend, brother or sister, neighbor, etc. Knowing how to respond can be the difference between being the hero or the zero. I often try to be more humble than not and the peacekeeper rather the pot stirrer. I’m constantly searching for the middle of the road. “Fair” comes out of my mouth often. As I prepared to write this, I found myself doing a personal inventory of sorts. I wondered how all of these traits come across when someone watches me. I know I’m just as crazy as the next guy, filled with idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. I would encourage you to take some time to consider your attitude about life and how others perceive you. Do you like what you see? What can you do to change it? What should you keep doing? What do you want to achieve?

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 

Wow! No pressure here – your attitude should be same as Jesus’. We have often told our kids that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and this tall order is no different. In His usual wisdom, God has given us the directions on how to that as well. He gave us a four-step process to keep our attitudes in check.1) Do not consider yourself equal to God or even pretend to understand why He does the things that He does. It is too big to grasp. We must accept that He is doing what is in our best interests and in His own time. 2) Be a servant. Jesus was the ultimate servant and led others through His willingness to serve. He was a lowly carpenter who made things for other people. You can’t underestimate the power of servitude, so serve others with pride.

3) Do not take yourself too seriously. Humility is a strong character trait that is often confused with being shy. Being humble means that you’d be willing to wash the feet of someone else, nothing is too small of a job. You are not better than anyone else. 4) Jesus is your savior. Your salvation is found in Him and not through anything that you can do. You don’t have to worry about never being good enough or never doing enough; God took care of that for you. Jesus was exalted to the highest place after cleansing us from all sin. You can live your life of faith confident in your salvation and life everlasting. If that doesn’t give you a positive attitude, I can’t imagine what will. 

Why Do We Suffer?

Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s been my experience. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Many churches produce a weekly or monthly list of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on the list at our church is amazing to me. I witnessed suffering first hand throughout my career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I imagine that this coping tool contributes to the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory. 

Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. Hence the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a very long list of disappointments before becoming President, but he suffered a great deal as well. He lost his son at a very young age and his wife was tormented by severe depression. Despite all of that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction? If it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it? 

19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21

I’ll ask again, why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what they did or what they do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would still have to teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case. 

We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He deems necessary. People get medical conditions, so others can learn from them. My friend who had a heart transplant is surely suffering; his life is not the same. We hear from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that he is alive today because of those prayers. The message of prayer is getting to their whole family. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.