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The Secret Of Being A Servant Leader
Mark 9:30-37
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

I am a firm believer in the reality of spiritual laws. And I also believe that these spiritual laws are operational in the same way than natural laws. For instance, I believe that there is a spiritual law of tithing, the only principle about which God says: "put me to the test and see what will happen." (contemporary rendering of Mal. 3).

I believe today's gospel lesson is about another spiritual principle, namely that of servant-leadership. Servant leadership is important in every aspect of life, in your family, community, your work place, and the church.

However, God's spiritual principles are so contrary to anything society considers "natural" that only those who have some degree of faith can actually put them into practice. Even Jesus' disciples had some difficulty understanding what the servant-leadership was all about.

As they traveled through Galilee, they squabbled on their way. The question was: Who is the greatest among us? The kingdom of God hadn't even arrived yet, the church hadn't even been birthed and already there were power struggles. Isn't that so typical of us human beings?

Jesus confronts his disciples head on: "what were you discussing so fiercely?" At least the disciples feel embarrassed about the question. Deep down they know that the kingdom of God can't be like that.

And then Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

And then he calls a child into their midst and says: "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

In other words, the Kingdom of God is not concerned with fussing about important or influential people according to human society. The Kingdom of God is concerned with welcoming the ones that society considers weak and less important. The fact that the child's name is not even mentioned is meaningful here: we are to welcome those held to be insignificant in the name of Christ; that's what servant-leadership is all about.

In the parallel passage in Matthew Jesus actually spells out what leadership is like in our society. He says: they lord it over. They have a title, and they have authority, and they take advantage over people under their authority. Jesus says: 'now that's not leadership. Forget everything you've ever heard about leadership. Jesus takes the human ideas of leadership and turns them upside-down. Look at the leaders in this world and then go and do the opposite.

Robert K. Greenleaf was a business manager, a CEO of a big company. He was also a Christian who was convinced that the Bible had something to say about management. It was when he looked at the Scriptures that he came up with a new management approach that he called "servant-leadership." It worked simply by following Jesus' words about leadership: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." He trained everybody from his executives down to the employees on the shop floor to exhibit such an attitude of servitude.

If a machinist had a problem with producing a certain part, the foreman, instead of demanding better work, was instructed to use his skills to come up with a way to help reduce rejects. The shop manager, if facing personnel problems, instead of firing people, was instructed to use his skills to create a work-friendly atmosphere by asking people to help. Workers were given opportunity to make suggestions, to submit inventions, and were awarded honorariums for constructive contributions.

Pretty soon, the company was cranking out more products than ever without having to hire new people, introduce shift work, or by pressuring people. On the contrary, work was more enjoyable for everybody. A good example of servant-leadership. Today, the principle of Greenleaf's servant-leadership is being utilized as a management strategy all over the world. And it is based on the Scriptures.

Whether you serve on the trustee committee, or the outreach team, or the visitation team, we are called to use the talents God has given you to serve--not to tell others what to do. If you witness to people, instead of telling them what they do wrong, try to minister to their hurts, serve them with the love God in your heart, you will find that people will start looking to you for spiritual leadership.

The world would be such a nice place if nobody would act like they're in charge, but would instead serve people with the skills and talents that God has given them. God calls us to be servant-leaders, as Jesus not only taught us, but also showed us. Jesus gave us a model of the perfect servant leader. Jesus did the greatest service anybody could ever do; he gave his own life so that we can be reconciled with God. If we are going to make a difference in the world, we must be servant-leaders to the people around us. Amen.