December 8, 2022

Servant Leadership

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It was summer orientation at camp and I was feeling slightly overwhelmed. We were busy learning policies and procedures, preparing our curriculum for Bible study, working on our cabin devotions, becoming certified in CPR and figuring out skits among many other tasks.

In the middle of that, I can still clearly remember when the Camp Director told the staff we would be memorizing Philippians 2:1-11 over the course of summer. Full disclosure: I was less than enthusiastic about that challenge.

When would I possibly have time to do that while overseeing a cabin of girls all week?

However, as I worked at it over the course of the summer, that Bible passage laid the groundwork for me to better understand what servant leadership looks like.

Servant leadership is somewhat of an oxymoron, isn’t it?

The two words mean exactly the opposite – one word lends itself to a more supportive role while the other word implies more of a managerial role. The question is this: How do we reconcile these two words and then put into practice servant leadership in our ministry?

Philippians 2:2-4 serves as a guide.
“Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Are you like-minded?

I once read somewhere that it’s important to occasionally ask yourself if you think those you work with, staff or volunteers, would hire you again if you were to re-interview for your position.

Their responses will show you if you are “in one spirt and of one mind” (vs. 2).

Working to assure everyone is in agreement and moving in the same direction allows for your team to feel as if they can share and speak into the vision being pursued — giving people a safe and welcoming place to voice their ideas helps to develop trust.

Are you struggling with selfish ambition?

When was the last time you stepped out of your job description and helped someone with their job? Seriously.

Never think you are better than those who do the tasks that might be perceived as more menial. Don’t put those people in a place where they think you are using them as stepping stones to get to where you think you need to be.

Grab a vacuum and tackle a room for the janitorial staff after a particularly busy week at church. Help the office staff with a last-minute project. Assist a volunteer with a task for their ministry. None of these will take much of your time but they show other that you see their jobs as important too.

Do you consider others better than yourself?

Are you elevating your team above your own needs and thoughts?

Check in with your team and evaluate where they are at — this will speak volumes to them about how you care for them and their ministry.

If you value the people that surround you, they will value your leadership and vision.

It probably goes without saying that these thoughts are not revolutionary in regard to servant leadership. However, as simple as they may seem, they are not so easy to live into.

They go against our human nature – we want to be the best and brightest. We often want to be the most important, be recognized, and continue to climb that ladder of success.

The higher we get on that ladder, the better leader we believe we are… but the aforementioned thoughts place those in leadership positions at the bottom rung of the ladder.

That is what servant leadership is, placing someone else before me. 

Philippians 2 reminds us that Jesus humbled himself to die on the cross for us (Phil.2:8). Verse 9 reminds us that following his death, God “exalted [Jesus] to the highest place.” God wants us to do the same: humble ourselves so he can use us to exalt His name.

Twenty some years later, I have a deeper understanding of what the Camp Director was trying to teach. He was giving us a Biblical way to create a culture of servant leadership at camp that summer. That model, based on Philippians 2:1-11, set the tone of how we would interact with our fellow staff members and the students we would minister to.

Truthfully, I probably wasn’t great at servant leadership then, and I may not be the best at it now (just ask the staff and volunteers I work with), but I do have a solid knowledge of what striving to be a servant leader looks like and how it needs to evolve in my ministry area.

The challenge is for each of us to live into this passage.

By doing so, the people we work with and serve will hopefully see that we “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) who is the ultimate example in servant leadership.

I know which of the aforementioned questions I am going be working on this fall; which one will you be working on?

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