Over the course of the next few months, I’m going to tackle each of the traits I listed in my post called “A good leader.” I am by no means an expert on leadership, but have been a student of leadership since high school. I’ve served leaders in all different ranges from good to bad, humble to arrogant, fun to task master, and loving to indifferent. Some of these leaders were easy to follow, some were not. Some retained their followers, others are not so much leading, but hiring and training. I am sure that I have also showed many of these bad traits in my leadership experience as well. Today, I am going to take on the leadership trait of Service.
Jesus is the ultimate example of a servant. Philippians 2:5-8 sums it all up well:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and become obedient to death-even death on a cross!”
Take a good look at these verses, for they hold the key to servant leadership. Notice first that Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Please do not read anything into theology here. I believe in the Triune God and that is not up for debate today This is about leadership, not theology. Jesus understood that every form of authority is under another authority. Though He is God, He submitted to the authority of His Father and did what God the Father asked of Him. Jesus served His authority and He served humanity. I suppose that Jesus could have looked down at humanity and said, “Sorry, you guys screwed up, and I’m comfortable here.” But He came to earth to “Seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10).”
Jesus “made Himself nothing…” He came to earth as a baby. I have a 6 week old son at home. He is 100% helpless. If Roberta and I did not take care of him and meet his every need, he would not still be alive. When Jesus came to earth, He could have said, “I’m coming to earth to seek and save the lost. I’m going to rescue humanity, but I am going to do it my way. I am coming as a glorious king and conqueror.” Instead He came as a baby. Hebrews 4:15 explains why: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin.” Not only was Jesus tempted just as we are, but He experienced everything we do. Every emotion, every desire (good and bad), every ache and pain, Jesus experience. He didn’t have to, but He chose to.
He took on “the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Throughout His life Jesus was a servant. We see this picture no more clearly than in John 13 where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. Culture context: I did not fully understand this until I submersed myself in a muslim or middle east country. First of all, it was always a servant who washed the feet-never the master. Further, it was always the lowest servant, not just any servant. I imagine many arguments occurred in many homes among the servants about who gets to wash feet. Roberta and I once went to Bangladesh. In the middle east and muslim countries, they make a big deal about feet. Nothing goes on the ground that is not considered garbage. Feet are thought to be so dirty and gross that nothing should ever be close to them, except footwear. The bottom of the foot is to never be exposed. If you are sitting on the ground, you must sit so that the bottom of your feet are not visible. Do you remember when the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down? They took the head right off that statue and dragged it around. There was one man who took his shoe off and hit the head of the statue with his shoe, that was a huge statement that was lost on us westerners. He was saying that Saddam Hussein was lower than his feet! It was in this culture context that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. He did the lowest, grossest job in a home where there certainly were people available to do such things. He chose to serve His disciples.
Finally, “He humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross.” Of all the ways to die, I think crucifixion is one of the worst humans have imagined. Yet, Jesus willingly went with it. Jesus could have taken satan head on and conquered him at the temptation or any other time, yet He humbled Himself to God’s plan, as painful and dreadful as it was. The picture of Jesus in the garden shows us how much He dreaded it. He prayed and asked God to release Him-even to the point of sweating blood…Jesus is the greatest example of a servant.
So, the leadership takeaways: do like Jesus and serve those who are “under” you. No job is too small, too gross, too little, too menial or any other word you can think of, for a leader. You will garner the respect of your team by serving them and occasionally doing things that only the lowest of the low typically do. As an added bonus, by practicing servant leadership, you become a bit more like Jesus.