The story goes that a man was touring in the Middle East when he drove by a man who was driving a group of sheep into a building. The man was swinging a large stick and shouting at the animals. The tourist had to pull over and find out what was going on. The man came over to the fence and the conversation began. The tourist said, “I’ve always heard that shepherds in this part of the country led their herds with great love and gentleness, but I noticed you were not treating the sheep in that way at all.” The man replied, “Oh, I’m not a shepherd. I’m a butcher.”
Jesus taught and modeled a “new way” of leading people in the kingdom of God. He told His disciples that they would need to learn to lead people with the attitude of a servant. As spiritual shepherds, seeking to make disciples of Christ, we cannot approach the task as CEOs, lording our leadership over others. Jesus expects us to accept the responsibility of leadership without adopting the attitude of the world. That was, and still is, a new way of looking at it, even though He spoke those words 2,000 years ago. So how do we lead like servants?
I think that first, a servant-leader must deal with the ego problem. Servants are not self-centered. They are not focused on how to move up the ladder, but how to help others up the ladder. As we lead and disciple others, we must discover how to crucify our self-centeredness. When I have the attitude that my class or church is pretty lucky to have a guy like me, I’m setting myself up for failure, and when the leader fails, he never fails in a vacuum.
A servant-leader focuses on the success of others. That is a motivational issue. We who are parents, delight in the success of our children. We are motivated to help them get ahead in life. A great school teacher who has students who are doing poorly doesn’t look for ways to blame the parents or the students. She is motivated to look for ways to change and improve the way she teaches to assure her students’ success. As you lead your class, your motive is to make them successful in God’s eyes and that shapes everything you do as a teacher and discipler.
A servant-leader anticipates the needs of others. A good preschool teacher is alert to the toys in her room. Are they age-appropriate? Are there enough toys for everyone in the class? Are they clean and sanitized? She knows every toy will likely end up in a child’s mouth and she has anticipated the needs of the children in her care. The teacher will be sure the cribs have clean linens and anticipate the need for diapers, wipes and other items. Likewise, an adult teacher will anticipate the needs of others by ordering enough literature to include guests. He will be sure someone is responsible for having a few extra chairs available for those who arrive late. The adult or student teacher will have enrollment cards and materials available for witnessing and follow-up with visitors. Such anticipation makes a teacher an exceptional leader.
Jesus was a master at using almost shocking teaching statements that challenged the status quo. When He taught His disciples that the best leaders were those that served others, He certainly had their attention and confronted the contemporary wisdom of the day. Unfortunately, self-serving leaders are still quite prevalent today. In the words of Mark 10:43, “…it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.”
Dave Frasure is CABA's Disciple-making Catalyst and pastors First Baptist, So. Lebanon, Oh.