“Servant Leadership: The Proper Way to Guide and Foster a Faith-Driven Relationship”
written by Tate Calhoun, class of 2022
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill. While this definition isn't hard to understand, servant leadership has evolved into something that confuses many but intrigues more. The thought of fighting on the front line with those beside you has appeal yet is oftentimes something that isn't practiced. Is it realistic? Is it practical? What will I as a leader be forced to give up in order to serve in a Godly manner? I hope to instill within you the same passion that I have for the art of servant leadership. Not a surface-level interest or a fair understanding, but a burning fire to go out and lead as Christ led and serve from the ground up. Within the workplace, within the home, and within community, God’s will has a need to flourish. Servant leadership runs deeper than business and is the only way to properly guide and foster a faith-driven relationship.
Yet, what is servant leadership? Why is it so easy to say, but oftentimes very difficult to accomplish? Being a widely used topic it is important to understand the nature of serving those that you are directed to lead, and presenting yourself as a resource as well as one that directs the resources. While I myself am not an expert on this topic, I think that it is crucial in any research to consult those who are. In an effort to not throw my opinions in the air as something that is a fact, I turned to a trusted mind in the field of servant leadership, Robert Greenleaf. Reaching back to the early 1970s Greenleaf crafted a detailed thesis in which he addressed his skepticism about the conventional leading methods. Why was it that a leader had to have such a harsh contrast to those he or she was leading? Never could they mix, as leaders kept their hands clean, and the workers labored on. “You do this, and you do that. Place that here, do what I say or there are consequences”. Greenleaf was not convinced that this was the path of leading that would garner the best results. Because of this, he took it upon himself to research leadership in a way that had never been defined before. So he started with a name. “Servant leadership.” Think about it, this name is inherently an oxymoron as the word servant and the word leader are often at two ends of the spectrum. This is exactly what Greenleaf intended however as he was prepared to flip designated roles on their head and challenge even the most stubborn to reconsider the term “leader”. Finally, after several years of development, directors at the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership developed the final definition for the term that they had coined, it reads,
A new kind of leadership model – a model which puts serving others as the number one priority. Servant leadership emphasizes increased service to others; a holistic approach to work; promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision-making (Greenleaf 33).
After creating this broad definition, Greenleaf was certain that it would need a large explanation. While the idea of servant leadership had been floating around for centuries, it had never been discussed in such a professional setting. In doing this, Greenleaf decided to dissect his definition into four smaller sections which consisted of service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and sharing of power in decision making.
Firstly, in the chronological order of servant leadership came the idea of service to others. While some of you might not think that this is so out of the ordinary, or that you most likely do it anyway, observe the contrary. You are sitting in a board meeting, chairs circle a desk, and all of the managers are sitting in one direction facing a boss. The meeting is about how to boost sales and it's a lively conversation. After several minutes of listening, you are thrilled when that million-dollar idea pops into your head. Excited, you pitch the idea only to have it shot down with a few snickering laughs and a dismissive glance from the head of the table. It wasn't the idea that was bad, it was the lack of attention given to the subordinates by the head of the table. In the same way, Greenleaf talks about how true leadership cannot come from a desire to show power or self-interest, but from the genuine desire to hear others. It's not the end goal of a leader to make sure that they end up with the power, but to make sure they are empowering others in the same way.
An empowering sense of work is what holds together the drive of a company and pushes production further. Without the oomph that a boss brings to the table, workers would see no point in toiling away, and drive and motivation would falter. However, what if there was a different way to view the relationship between work and the worker? What if it wasn't simply a task meant to slog over, but an experience to improve upon. Embracing the beneficial aspects of work, Greenleaf's second point, a holistic approach to work, says just that. “The work exists for the person as much as the person exists for the work” (Greenleaf 8). On hard school days during my freshman year of high school, I would dread having to work long hours on homework that I never saw the meaning in. “Why oh why do I have to learn Latin if it is a dead language” I would say. Day after day this would go on until one afternoon which changed my outlook on school forever. My dad walked in the door and saw that I was obviously fed up with this “high school experience”. After realizing that I was down because of my homework, he sat across from me and said, “We all have jobs around here, and right now, school is yours”.
While I didn't really know what that meant back then, as I wasn't being paid, over the last four years I have come to realize that school is actually more similar to work than I ever thought. While it is something that I am obligated to complete by a certain time, it turned into something that I could feed off of. Something that I could work at and see the progress. This gave me a new fire. In the same way, Greenleaf attempted to reinvent the way that workers saw their “jobs”. Why did it have to be something brainless? After long hours of studying, he realized that work is better accomplished when it is adapted to and used as a stepping stone in order to grow in your own work style. From this, each individual is able to find their matching skillset which benefits production in the long run. On the contrary, straight-line work produces one cookie-cutter employee that never reaches their full potential. I.E. the conveyor belt effect. It is better to have five workers who all have different skills than five workers who can only accomplish a single goal.
In the same way, those five people working together can make a strong fighting force. Have you ever heard the phrase, we are stronger in numbers? Think back to your childhood and imagine the best sleepover that you ever had. You and your friends know that you are going to build the best fort in the woods that you all have ever seen. So you all go out and start the craft. However, there is a dilemma, the fort is being built in the backyard and it's a risky endeavor. You and your friends know that if the fort looks amazing, the parents will love it, but if it's not so good, you will all be in trouble for cluttering the yard and will have to tear it down. Yet, because there are so many of you, the confidence level is through the roof and the fort is built with excellence. In the same way, Greenleaf speaks about a sense of community in the workplace. According to him, it is the job of the institution to be able to find a way to create that community for the workers. But why? Why is this sense of community so important while working? Work is mentally draining, as I'm sure many of you are aware. but the combined efforts of multiple people take that strain off of one person. In the same way, a combined effort of friends will always produce a better product, a more creative product, than that of an individual.
How then is this accomplished? After all, it's not ever an easy task to rally people together as a leader. Yet ironically, Greenleaf states that creating community is the sole job of the servant leader. It is the leader's job to show others not to be intimidated. Encourage them with the thought of the greatness that could come. Entice them with the idea of creating something greater than anything they could make on their own. While many empires were never built in a day, they certainly were never only built by one man.
As stated above, power in numbers paves the path to success in any leading situation. The more support provided, the more support there is to fall back upon when times get tough. While this support net is advantageous for a servant leader to acquire, Robert Greenleaf says that it is a greater act for a leader to foster a strong mentality in others. Closing off the four points of servant leadership, Greenleaf states that the most beneficial endeavor that one can embark upon is creating servant leaders in others. Spreading the influence. Making sure that others are apt to lead in the future. Trust me, I know that this task does not sound like an easy one. Leadership is not a trait that everyone is able to apply and it can be hard to help others step out of their shell.
Yet, for every problem, there is a solution. In his fourth point describing servant leadership, Robert Greenleaf says that the easiest way to instill leadership in others is to share the power of decision-making. But what does this really mean? Well, it truly is as easy as it sounds. In the process of decision-making, a leader has two options. First, he or she can choose to subject themselves to the dangers and struggles of solo decision-making. This is dangerous because the safety net that I mentioned earlier is none existent and the blame for the bad fort building in the parent's front yard would be placed on that foolish leader. However, the contrary is far more advisable. Instead of hoarding the power, a servant leader would see decision-making as a chance to create more leaders. This is a chance to show a shy subordinate their first taste of power and importance. Servant leaders guide and nurture others into strong leaders of their own. After all, individuals thrive off of the feeling that they are important. This oneness is the first stepping stone to creating individuality and leadership in others.
However, I am forced to question if these things that I am saying even apply to me. After all, I am only eighteen and this short amount of time is only the beginning of my journey. However, even at my young age, I have come to a stark conclusion. Throughout my young years walking this earth, I have found that leadership is more complex and fascinating than I ever imagined. However, take a moment and ponder something with me in the hopes that I can come to the conclusion about a topic that arises almost every day in normal life. As we have already covered the building blocks to making a servant leader, it got me thinking, why are these practices any different when applied to everyday life.
Yet in the same sense, I am not making these comments in the hopes that my friends start calling me their leader, or that I am now to be called the one who serves. To me, servant leadership really is no different than friendship. Why is it that these two are so often separated? I want to have those same meaningful interactions with my friends, in the hopes that they too can be brought up with the knowledge that I am here for them. That I am the problem solver that is prepared to give up my own agenda for them. So, what makes a great friend? Firstly, I would say that companionship is the most desirable facet of having a friend. You get to spend lots of time with them, they share common goals with you, and hopefully, you feel that you can tell them anything. To me, it's like having more brothers without family ties. Secondly, as a friend, I am always there to lend a helping hand whenever it is needed. While not always utilized, this mentality shows that you aren't simply there for looks, but are reliable if needed. Hear me out, I see a friend in the same way that I see a phone. While they are fun to have, they also provide tools that are there to make your life easier.
This is not such a far-off topic, however. Over the years I have come to learn that the art of servant leadership is a tool that can be practiced every day. Really it is the best way for me to practice being more like Christ. The same is true for others as well. For example, fathers are some of the greatest everyday servant leaders that I know. Selflessly loving their children, fathers are there to guide and foster their families in the hopes that they will grow up with the same values. I know without a doubt that even tho my father leads his family in a godly manner, he would lay down his life for us in an instant. It's almost as if Christ made a designated role for men in which they were able to practice his favorite teaching every day. What an opportunistic God we have.
This being said then, what makes a servant leader so much different than a friend? Why is it that we must separate the two? This is the problem that great minds such as Robert Greenleaf have been trying to answer for years. Since the beginning of society, a leader was seen as someone who was above others in a way that forced control. Rule with fear, rule with strength. However, through my research on this topic, I'm not so sure that this is how God intended it to be taken. After all, he came down to serve and not be served, he came to prove that leaders were friends and not an untouchable power. Mathew 25 states this.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. 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.”
Jesus came to be the example for all rulers in the hopes that the script of past leadership would be torn down. Gone were the days of bowing to those above, as Jesus showed that leaders were those that stood with you in the trenches. Every day, Christ was out on the streets preaching his father's love. He was not held up in a palace as a king should have been, but getting dirty in the streets for the sake of his cause. Even when the lowest in status approached him, Jesus welcomed them with open arms before the rest. Before the high ranking, before the noble, even before the clean, first, and foremost, Jesus was a servant.
In the same way, it is very difficult to address the topic of servant leadership without first understanding how Christ served. Undisputedly the greatest leader of all time, Jesus showed that there is a way to be the servant of all and bypass fame and power to lead. Discovering the truth behind what the bible really says about servant leadership, C. Gene Wilks writes in his book titled Jesus on Leadership, about the seven main servant leadership lessons to be had in the bible. These seven lessons create a solid outline of the leadership of Christ and make it easy to apply the same knowledge to our lives.
Firstly, Wilks writes of the humility of Christ. A hard topic I know. For me personally, this is one of the toughest servant leadership mentalities to master as I am forced to look beyond my own benefit. However, Wilks writes that the bible is implying that it is actually a greater gain for one to humble themselves and be raised than to assume a high position and be lowered (Bible James 4:10). In his book, Jesus on Leadership, Wilks tells a story of a party he attended where he learned a hard lesson. Sitting at the head of the table that was positioned on a stage, surrounded by his subordinates, they are enjoying a great meal full of laughter and fun. However, after some time, the key speaker stands up to give his speech. Seeing this, all at the table retire to the crowd in order to show respect to the speaker. All except Wilks. Assuming that he was supposed to be there because of his position at the conference, Wilks stays in his seat. Seeing this, the speaker lightheartedly encourages all members of the head table to take a seat in the crowd lest they miss his talk. Utterly embarrassed at his ignorance, Wilks sheepishly took a seat at the back of the crowd, as it had only been him and the key speaker on stage. While very embarrassing, Wilks ties this story perfectly to the lessons taught by Jesus about humility.
When someone invites you to a wedding feast [or conference], do not take the place of honor [at the head table], for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, “Give this man your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11)
The first lesson that Jesus teaches about servant leadership is how to truly be a servant. It is not an easy thing to lower oneself and trust that God will raise you. It's like bungee jumping without being assured that the ropes were done correctly. You take the leap of faith and are scared as you fall, but the ropes catch you and bounce you back to the top. In the same way, God makes the solid promise that he will raise those that are lowered, and bless those who became the servant.
The second most lesson that the bible presents to us about servant leadership comes in the form of serving. While sounding quite obvious at first, it is actually a rather complex topic that is relatively hard to master. Wilks titles this lesson, “Bringing back the towel and wash bin”. “Some of these leaders love sitting at head tables but never go near the kitchen,” Wilks says. It's almost as if people are willing to talk the talk of serving but are never apt to walk the walk. Why then is this so different from how Christ leads? Wilks states that the church has become conceited and full of people who create imaginary concepts of positional power. This creates a void between what is being taught in the church and the actions of the leaders. Wilks then encourages the people of the church to do away with these states-filled institutions and step down to serve as Christ did. Never simply resting at the head of the table, Christ was down on his knees washing the feet of the disciples. In the same way, we are called to lead as servants in order to encourage growth in not only the church, but relationships and institutions alike.
Separately, “Jesus on Leadership” speaks of an easy-to-follow synopsis of the four key points of servant leadership from a biblical point of view. First is the word mission. Wilks states that every leader should have a mission of impact. This means that God has gifted leaders with the chance to make a change and one should not be satisfied until you can complete the statement, “God called me to_______.”
Secondly, he states that vision goes hand in hand with a leader's mission. A mission without a vision or plan is simply a dream that has no chance of coming true. Because of this, a vision of God’s Kingdom is what propels a biblical Mission. The vision that through servant-filled leadership, God's will can grow and flourish. Third, Wilks states that the words equip and team are the final two puzzle pieces to becoming a leader. He states, “When a servant to the mission recruits a group of people to carry out that mission with him, he becomes a leader who serves. He serves by equipping those on mission with him and mobilizing them into teams to reach the vision cast for them.” It's almost as if Wilks is saying that a mission cannot be accomplished without a well-mobilized team. As I stated above, I would much rather face a challenge with my friends than alone. It gives me courage to see that this is exactly the same mentality that Jesus applied throughout his ministry. After all, Jesus was constantly surrounded by a team that he trusted. Not worried about delegation, he equipped his team to be able to carry out his mission on its own. True servant leadership.
However, time and time again I learn of servant leadership and the great implications of it, yet it always left me wondering. It's almost like servant leadership is a game that yields a result that is different for everyone. A product that if cultivated, presents a great result, yet one that if done half-heartedly, yields a subpar crop. Let me explain. How often are you walking down the street and you see someone hold a door for another person? Better yet, you are with a group of people, and one member steps forth to make a plan for the day that is fun for every other member of the group at the sacrifice of his own preference. Sacrifice. Both of these two scenarios include someone who consciously takes the lead to put someone else above them. Both of the incidents are about a servant. Not a servant that is there to be walked all over, or one that is doing the bidding of other people. No. These are servants that willingly take the charge to amplify the experience for another. This is where my question always presents itself; Why stop there? This is usually where my investigation ends. However, the harder I think about it, the more I am convinced that I am stopping too soon. Why not be a servant that lives out the command to lead and serve, every single day of your life? Mind-boggling right? Now, I'm not just talking every day at work. When I say every day, I mean every waking moment of your life that you are capable of.
In the biblical context of servant leadership, author Thomas Franklin McMinn, in his articles relating to how Jesus served, lays out the basis for everyday leadership. For me, there is no better teacher for the art of servant leadership in everyday life than that of our lord. Almost every action that Jesus took to serve others was in an everyday setting. Not as a politician or a public figure, but acts that if not written about for our teaching purposes, would have gone unnoticed. Because of this, I thought it heavily necessary to include these teachings in this work. To me, servant leadership is best implemented when it is personal and the bible is the best storybook for that. Because of this, I think that it is a waste of potential to exclude servant leadership from normal life. I simply cannot hold this topic to the world of business when Jesus simply wasn't a businessman. Jesus had no image of personal wealth for his teachings and had no intentions of using his words to gain anything. Simply put, he was attempting to show the freeing nature of dying to oneself, to thus become a servant for others. To me, that is a beautiful and extremely difficult mountain to climb, yet one that I truly want to discover more as I learn about it.
As I have carried on my research in the field of servant leadership, one aspect of Christ has really stood out to me the most. While there are obviously countless good qualities about Jesus that are worth pouring over, his overwhelming sense of humility struck me the hardest. Now, as I have stated before, humility is an extremely difficult mountain to climb. After all, pride is a trap set by the devel designed to turn the honor of possessing God's gifts against us. Because of this, I started observing other works of Thomas Franklin McMinn. While McMinn crafted many articles on the servant nature of Jesus Christ, he primarily created a shortlist that sets the standard for serving as Christ did. This grouping serves a great purpose when it comes to simplifying the lessons of Christ and it opens with his humility.
To serve we must be humble. Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” I don't know about you, but to me, there is no humbler beginning than being formed from dust. Living on a gravel road, dust is something so common to me that it almost seems like the least valuable thing in existence. While this verse also represents God's creative nature, I see this verse as a sign. A sign that represents the level that our humility should rest upon. While there's still time and effort put into our creation, God created us as humble beings that came from humble beginnings.
Yet the best part about this aspect of humility as a Christian is that it actually has great rewards. While to me, forcing myself to purposely be humble sounds like a chore and not the easiest task, yet I like to observe Proverbs 11:12, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” There is hope. There is something to work at just as I like it. In this verse, God is promising that our efforts are not in vain. He is not saying that we are to be humble in a manner that leads to weakness. Absolutely not. This verse is here to prove that humility has an end worth working toward in knowledge and wisdom. Honestly to me, this is a great comfort. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I am given a task that I don't understand and not told why I am doing it. It's a lot like raking the yard in the middle of fall. You're Not really sure why you are raking the yard as it doesn't necessarily need to be clean. However, once you have completed the task a strong gust of wind comes and all of your hard work is ruined. In the same way, It's hard to work at humility without a purpose. It's hard to let others constantly be better than you if there is really no reason to. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is that God has eternal gifts in heaven which overshadow any discomfort in the current world, and knowing that makes me all the more willing and ready.
This being God’s will, it gives me hope that humility is an asset to the lord. It's not like something that was randomly thrown into the bible as an afterthought, yet over 100 verses speak on the subject. Humility is also not really something that Jesus simply talked about. This being my favorite part about the topic of servant leadership in the Bible, I have to cover it further. Contrary to what many nonchristians would think, Jesus was actually one of the greatest physical examples. While this might sound obvious, Christ acted upon his teachings. This is what makes them so great. Instead of simply speaking about what he believed like so many other fake profits, Jesus stepped down from the head of the table to demonstrate how he truly felt. This is another one of the crucial seven points that McMinn speaks of sampled from Wilks's teachings. “Jesus left his place at the head of the table to serve with the others” (McMinn). For me, this is actually one of the most rewarding principles to act upon while searching to become a servant leader. While it does revolve around removing yourself from a position of power, it fills you with a feeling of fulfillment. This stems from the fact that you get to fight on the front lines with the people around you. Keeping you grounded, stepping down from the head of the table allows you to engage in what you are cultivating and take charge rather than leading from afar. Luke 22:26, “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” It is a refreshing thought to know that Jesus actually wanted a level playing field when it comes to leadership. He wanted, like himself, for all Christian leaders to see their position as a way to further connect with others instead of the opposite. As a way to show that leadership can be done from the ground up in a way that cultivates Godly relationships.
Throughout the course of my life, I have been blessed with the presence of many great servant leaders. These select people showed me what it means to serve as Christ served as they embody the “others first” mentality. This leadership mentality has opened my eyes to the possibilities of true biblical leadership. I am so tired of seeing people gifted by God, use their position to their own benefit, when the amplification of others yields a far greater reward. I have learned that servant leadership is so much more. It is a chance to step down from the head of the table to connect with others in a way that produces more biblical leaders. It's a chance to truly show God's love while bonding friendships and strengthening character. In all that I have learned about servant leadership through my research, I can truly say that it is the only way to properly guide and foster a faith-driven relationship.