To Lead, You Must Serve

In his groundbreaking 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader,” Robert K. Greenleaf formally introduced to the public for the first time a concept that he had been thinking about and developing for many years, the concept and management style of “servant leadership”. He later wrote an entire book on this concept, entitled simply, “Servant Leadership”. Greenleaf first came up with this idea after reading a 1932 novel by Hermann Hesse, called “Journey to the East”. The protagonist of Hesse’s novel, Leo, was the servant on a journey taken by a group of men, and who did menial chores for them. After a while, Leo left, and the journey literally fell apart and could not continue. Some time later, one of the group from the journey found Leo at a school, and found out that he was actually its leader. (Sounds a little like “Undercover Boss,” doesn’t it?)

As an executive at AT&T, Greenleaf actually put his new leadership style into practice. In servant leadership, the primary priority of the leader is, perhaps paradoxically, not to lead, but to serve. By doing so, he or she focuses on caring for, and meeting the needs of, the workers under his or her leadership, so that they themselves will grow, improve themselves, and take on the traits of servant leadership, so that they, too, can perpetuate and reproduce this management style throughout the organization.

But, although he brilliantly and innovatively codified and formalized the concept and framework of servant leadership, Robert K. Greenleaf was not its actual progenitor and inventor.  Jesus modeled and displayed all of the principles and practices of servant leadership as He led His disciples, and He purposefully and actively taught them these principles and practices, as well, not only in deed, but by word. In Luke 22:27, we read these words of Jesus to the Twelve: “Yet I am among you as the One who serves.” (NKJV)

Jesus was the Only-Begotten Son of God and the King of the Universe; He had no rightful obligation to serve any human being, and He has every right to be served and have all of His needs met and wishes attended to. But, nevertheless, serve he did, and He did so, always, with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. It was part of His master demonstration of the Second Great Commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31 NKJV) And He believed and knew that if He taught and showed His disciples how to serve, they, in turn, would develop the traits of servanthood so that they would actively and effectively serve not only each other, but the burgeoning Body of Christ after the Pentecostal outpouring “not many days hence” (Acts 1:5 KJV).

Where did Jesus learn the practices and principles of servant leadership? From none other than the servant heart of Almighty God, His Father. In addition to being Creator, Provider, Protector, and so many other things and aspects of His character, God is the Servant of all of His creation. Talk about the world turned upside down! How else do you explain His daily feeding of even the humblest, lowest animals in the zoosphere: “You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing”? (Psalms 145:16 NIV) Or the fact that He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, performed the first surgery in history by removing one of his ribs, and then miraculously turned that rib into his wife and helpmate, Eve, so that he wouldn’t be alone and have to handle the entire stewardship of the created world by himself? Even the very act of creation is an act of service, by bringing beauty, meaning, order, purpose, and function out of emptiness and nothingness.

Bayside Life Church’s Men’s Ministry has, as one of its key, guiding, and pervasive principles, the concept of servant leadership. As our leadership team, led by Maurice Miller, a true and Christlike servant leader, seeks to emulate Jesus’ model of leading by serving, putting the men and their needs and growth at the top of our ministry priorities, we encourage you, those men, to share your needs, challenges, hopes, ideas, and aspirations with us so that we can serve and lead you more intentionally, wisely, prayerfully, and effectively. We want to truly “be here” for you, during this present time of crisis as much as at any other time. We love and appreciate every one of you. May God always bless, guide, guard, and protect you and your families!


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