Unstoppable Conversations: Servant Leadership

BY PASTOR RALPH GRAVES | Cornerstone Community Church Vineland

VINELAND — People do not want to follow.

Sorry about that.

Ask anyone clamoring for high political office. They do not want to acknowledge you as their leader and themselves as “your” followers.

So, if you have a yearning to be a leader of people, you automatically have chosen an uphill task.

Better to become their servant.  Everyone loves to be served.

However, not everyone wants to serve. Only the best and the strongest can serve.

The Hard Work of Serving

Serving is hard work.  Serving runs counter to our self-centeredness.  Serving demands more humility and love than most of us can summon.

That’s why so few choose this way to make their mark in society. They would rather lead than to serve.

People who serve must decide whether it’s only for the short term gain. That means they’re looking for quick results from their service, and if it’s not forthcoming, they’ll shut down the servant-business and move along, ready to try another tactic to win a following.

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But a true servant is one who dedicates his/her life to blessing those around them in whatever ways they can. They necessarily take the long view, knowing they may not see immediate results, may never be fully appreciated, and may have to wait years to see the good they have accomplished.

How to Serve

Those who serve people must decide how they will do this. Will they take a poll to find out what the crowd is clamoring for, then package the findings into some kind of program and make them think it was a bright idea out of the goodness of the donor’s heart? 

Or will they take the higher road and ask the Father how they should go about serving His people? 

As Paul said, “We preach…ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

To serve people “for Jesus’ sake” means we ask Him how to serve them.

grayscale photo of a man preaching
Photo by Safari Consoler on Pexels.com

The best leaders did not just serve in order to become leaders. They continued serving long after they were given the office (or the title of CEO or President or Dean or Pastor). Serving others is a way of life to them.

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Even after it’s no longer required, they are not content to sit behind a desk and order their staff to do the heavy lifting. They do the desk-stuff as much as necessary, but in their best moments, when they are in their glory, they are with the people making their lives better.

Servants are often unseen and unknown by members of the household. They do their work, then move aside, out of the way. A servant works to make others successful.

Sometimes a would-be leader will say, “I’ve always wanted to be the president” (or pastor or dean or supervisor).  As though the ambition justified it.

Beware of ambition

In most cases, what we call ambition turns out to be an old-fashioned case of self-centeredness and a lust for material things, human acclaim, and all the signs of power. Outsiders will find it hilarious that some people enter the ministry for the love of easy money, public recognition, and a pedestal from which they can show off their talents.

Most of us in the Lord’s work, admit quickly, that we have found none of that easy money, found the “acclaim of the masses” to be a fickle thing, and have yet to discover any kind of power over people from being called “pastor.”  Far from finding the ministry to be a pedestal, most pastors find it to be a workstation.

10 Statements on Leadership

All of that said, here are 10 statements that sum up most of what I know of leadership:

  1. Leadership is not about dominating people but encouraging them.  You leave them better and stronger than how you found them.
  • Leadership is not about charming people but blessing them.  You may be poorer for having helped them, but you know what you did is going to make a huge difference in the long run.
  • Leadership recognition is given by people voluntarily, not won or captured or snared by someone with great personality traits.
  • The leader will have the greater accountability.  At judgment, a lot of people will find themselves wishing they’d had smaller responsibilities. “Unto whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
  • The leader has a bulls-eye on his/her back.  The arrows and darts will come their way.  It’s part of the price they pays.  If they cannot handle that, they have taken the wrong road.
  • The leader must have faithful colleagues and lieutenants to share the load.  They cannot do everything expected and required alone.  The leader is the captain of a great team.
  • Loyalty is a huge part of leadership.  The person at the top is loyal to their team members, and they are to them.  They have to earn their respect and loyalty before they can demand the same from them.
  • Matching people’s gifts/talents/interests and abilities with the right job and responsibilities is one of the greatest chores and accomplishments of a true leader.  In most cases, it’s called delegation.  You see Barnabas doing it in Acts 11:25 when he matched Saul of Tarsus with the situation in Antioch.
  • Leaders are not born.  They earn the title by their hard work.
  • The leader must stay current on what’s happening, in touch with his team, and adaptable to changes in either or both.  Leadership is a never-ending challenge.

The Title

We should always be careful about taking the designation of “leader” to ourselves.  Our Lord Jesus, who could have had every title and deserved all power and authority, said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

Nothing our Lord said about servanthood has affected me the way the parable of Luke 17:7-10 does.  At the end, when we have done all the things He has commanded us, Jesus said, we should say, “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my duty.”

I say those words to myself.  In order for me to tame the restless yearning inside of me that clamors for recognition and rewards by constantly putting it back in its place.  “Back, back, back!  You are only an unworthy servant.  You’re just doing your duty.”

We are not to say that to one another.  We are to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7).  We are to “appreciate such men/women” (I Corinthians 16:18).

Nor does God say that to us.  He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23).

I am only an unworthy servant.  Just doing my duty.

BIO: Rev. Ralph Graves is a nationally owned keynote speaker, author, podcast host and pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Vineland.

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