Christian Leadership: Start and End with Service
By Nancy Stoehr, Pharm.D.
“Come, O living Christ, renew us
As of old in wind and flame;
With the Spirit’s power endue us,
Servants of Your saving name:
Christ the Savior,
Christ the Servant,
Christ whose kingdom we proclaim.”
~ Lutheran Service Book, Christ, Our Human Likeness Sharing Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House
As Christians, we are privileged to be followers of the greatest Leader the world has ever known. We are blessed with scripture to teach, guide and remind us how to lead like our Teacher. But what was it that made Christ such an effective leader? How can we use His model to become better leaders ourselves?
In this article I hope to pass along some of what I’ve learned about Christian leadership through my spiritual journey and walk with Christ.
Mark 10: 42-45 gives us a clear picture into how Jesus viewed leadership.
“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 a 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.'” (NIV)
True leadership stems from service to others. To become great, to be a leader, you must first take on a life and attitude of service.
GIVING THOSE WE SERVE WHAT THEY NEED
The world has a bad habit of associating service with being meek, mild mannered, a person who can be walked over. According to worldly views of leadership, these are not characteristics of greatness. Though, service to others is not simply giving others what they want. It is giving others what they need. Sometimes, what people believe they need is really a want. It is our job as the leader to make these distinctions and convey what is best for those we serve. I see this exemplified while parenting my five-year-old. She wants to eat candy with every meal and snack in-between. However, this is clearly not what she needs. She thinks my withholding of her peanut butter cup is authoritarian, a demonstration of power. Often I hear, “I can’t wait to be a grown up so I can do whatever I want”. What she currently lacks is not the age she desires, it’s the perspective I have on nutrition and making good life choices. We as leaders have perspective on what is needed to move our children, family, group, organization, or church forward. We have the perspective to help them make good life choices, good Christian choices. We as Christian leaders have the servant attitude to successfully and sustainably give those we serve what they need to succeed.
LOVING THOSE WE SERVE
James C. Hunter (1998) wrote the book titled, The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership New York: Random House, Inc. In this book he links the qualities of a good leader, or characteristics of a true servant, to love. Hunter (1998) goes on to discuss that the “love” he is referring to was originally written as the Greek word “agape”. This isn’t the “feeling” kind of love one might have for a spouse or family member, this is a sacrificial love, a love exemplified by commitment.
Paul tells us in Galatians 5: 13 “You, my brothers, were called be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (NIV).
He goes on to give us a definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (NIV)
I personally never liked the verses given to us in Corinthians. The ideal they were embracing was so far away from my reach I could never read them without feeling completely hopeless in my attempt to walk the faith. Patience? Don’t have it. Self-Seeking? That, I can do. Slow to anger? Forget it. So, I ignored these verses. I ignored them to the point of omitting this very traditional wedding verse from my wedding ceremony!
It’s true. We will never achieve the ideal of self-sacrificing love while we are here on earth. We will never master all of Paul’s definitions of love. But God understands our faults and our sinful nature. He simply wants us to be committed to practice these actions and attitudes throughout our journey with Him.
In talking to a student group about this verse, one of the students shared that his church suggests substituting the word love with Jesus. When done, what a great model for leadership! When we espouse to be like Jesus and follow these characteristics of love in our leadership style, we become true servants to those we lead. When we put our frame of mind into one of patience, kindness, trust and perseverance we can see that those we touch will be built up. They become more confident, more willing to take on responsibilities, more willing to follow our strategies. The organization or group we are leading will prosper because we are leading as Christian leaders; dedicated to service and love for those we serve.
MAINTAINING OUR DEDICATION TO THOSE WE SERVE
1 Peter 4: 11 tells us how we are provided with the strength to serve.
“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (NIV)
We must remember that we can’t serve on our own. We need the strength that God provides. God provides us with this strength through the Holy Spirit. First and foremost we must ask God to give us strength, discernment and wisdom through the Holy Spirit to allow us to successfully and completely model our Teacher. This needs to be done not once, not twice, but continually along our journey to be great Christian leaders.
I’m a pharmacist, and in the pharmacy world we talk about the “half-life” of drugs. The half-life is how long it takes for the drug to divide in half, be half as strong as it should be or be half as effective as it should be. Drugs that have a short half-life don’t stick around very long. We need to take these drugs often throughout the day to keep them at the levels they need to be to work in our bodies like they should. On our own, commitment to serve has a short “half-life.” We continually need to ask the Holy Spirit for His assistance to maintain the strength, the perseverance, the servant attitude we need to succeed in our leadership roles.
As we move forward with our dedication to being servant leaders in whatever area of Christ’s church we serve, I encourage you to pray. Sit quietly with the Lord and give Him your concerns. Listen to His responses and follow His calls. Below is a prayer that may get you started on this journey to become a great servant leader.
Dear Father in heaven,
Thank You for the opportunity to be Your servant and for the guidance You give us through Your Word. Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus Christ, to model true servant leadership. Help us to use Your teachings as we lead those around us. Please send the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and minds with Your grace and love so we can glorify Your name through our encounters with those we serve. Bring discernment to our decisions, humbleness in our approach, and kindness in our words. Help us to be slow to anger, patient with those around us and practice forgiveness to those who may do us harm. Help us to maintain our commitment of love for all people. Forgive us when we fail. Be with us as we serve and use us to bring all into your Holy Kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
About the author: Dr. Nancy Stoehr earned her Pharm.D. from the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Pharmacy in 2006 and is currently enrolled in the Master of Education – Teaching and Learning program at Concordia University Wisconsin. Dr. Stoehr is carrying out her vocation as an Assistant Professor at Concordia University Wisconsin School of Pharmacy where she primarily teaches in the pharmacy compounding laboratories. She is the chair of the WLI education committee.
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