(This is the next chapter in the book Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)
Consider your conversion to Christ as an extreme makeover. You no longer define yourself as a self-determining individual who lives for selfish purposes alone. A new set of conditions govern your life that give you a radically different role from your former identity. You now answer to the role of a servant, although servanthood subsists in diverse manifestations. A singer in the master’s employ is essentially the same as the cook; the treasurer is no different than the chauffeur; the executive at a religious organization’s headquarters building is equal to the janitor who cleans the restrooms in the same building. As a servant, you function according to the master’s will, regardless of any particular task to which you are assigned.
Your Ministry Is Not Your Ministry
No one has to be taught selfishness; as a consequence of the fall, it is built into Adam’s progeny. As children, we tend toward possessiveness. We learn the word “mine” quickly. As adults we tend toward gatherers, proprietors, and owners. We mark off territories, establish seniority and claim finder’s privileges. We threaten to destroy interlopers who disregard our self-proclaimed rights.
Many leaders mistakenly assert these dubious claims on “their ministry,” as though they were independent agents acting on their own. But the servant is not greater than his Lord. All of us are interchangeable parts. When you tighten your grip around the role you play, you bend its outcome to serve yourself, not your Lord. To illustrate, think of a play in which an actor plays the role of a king. Backstage, during the performance, or after the play is over, the other actors do not think of him as a king. He is just one of them playing a role. Neither do we assume an attitude of self-importance because of our ministry, notwithstanding the honor that we give to elders or the basic respect we owe to each other. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Romans 12:3-5.
Your Ministry Is to Serve the Kingdom
If you want a picture of servant leadership, I would venture this: Consider the ladder. The modest, unassuming ladder is an ideal picture of the servant leader. Call it “servant laddership.”
- The ladder does not exist for its own purpose, but only for someone else to take advantage of whatever height and strength it may possess. Neither do servants pursue their own agenda. They have no other vision for their life. True servants realize their full potential only as they assist others in fulfilling their agenda. As a servant leader, you understand that if you help others to reach their goals in life, they will invariably help you reach yours.
- The ladder achieves its primary usefulness in allowing someone to use its rungs in a climb to the top. Climbers do not have the ladder in mind; they need to reach something totally apart from the ladder. In fact, they may need to extend their reach beyond the top of the ladder. Servant have no selfish motives. They do not insist that they become the focus of any work or project. Servant leaders are only too happy to see someone utilize their abilities for gain, even if it propels them far beyond the servant’s own status.
- A good ladder is built with the strongest, yet lightest material available. It needs to be carried around with ease, yet support the heaviest loads. Likewise, servants make sure they are up to any task demanded of them and never make themselves a burden to those who need them. Servant leaders never exploit and robs people of their assets. Instead, they always want people to look back and say, “I would never have gotten as far as I have, had it not been for my leader.”
- The worst thing that can be said of a ladder is that it is rickety. It must be built right because its structural integrity is vital to the safety of its climber. Good servant leaders understand that their own, personal integrity is key to the success of their followers. If they fall apart, they cause great harm or loss to others besides themselves.
- The ladder must provide secure footing for the climber so that it will not shift unexpectedly when the climber is in a vulnerable position. Servant leaders seek out the best possible circumstances, even when asked to do the most difficult jobs. There are some places they cannot go, not to disappoint their followers, but out of regard for their follower’s wellbeing.
- The ladder reaches the top first, but only to provide the path-way for the climber to reach the top. Servant leaders do not compete with or become a lord over their followers. They are there to help people, whether they need their lowest or highest rung.
- The ladder reaches the top, but always remains securely planted on the ground. It does not matter how high it reaches if the reaching causes it to lose its footing. Servant leaders do not become so enamored with their own success that they forgets their purpose in leadership. They realize that their success is not an end in itself. It is only good as it relates to the success of his followers. No leader can claim success if his or her followers fail.
- The ladder is stored until needed, never losing its strength or integrity while unused. In fact, after it does the job required, it expects to be put back in the closet and kept out of the lime-light. Servant leaders keep their feelings under strict control. They do not have to be used to maintain their integrity or value. Their sense of worthiness does not depend on the appreciation or gratitude of others, even those they help the most. They know that the work of climbers is the ultimate purpose, not to praise the ladder that helped climbers do their job.
- One final thing: even the ladder needs help sometimes. Those who are not capable of climbing, can always stand at the bottom and hold the ladder. Servant leaders may find their job taxing from time to time. They will be eternally grateful for those who find their greatest usefulness in serving the servant. “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” Romans 16:1.
Your Ministry Must Advance God’s Kingdom
In executing your ministry, opportunities arise that seem harmless at first, but can propel you in the wrong direction. It is possible for you to focus on goals that are only collateral benefits of a gifted ministry, like fame, money and prestige. Instead of advancing the Kingdom of God, you may become more interested in advancing your own kingdom.
Absalom was David’s charismatic son, capable of charming people and winning their loyalty. He should have supported his father’s administration, but he used his talents for personal gain. At the city’s gate, he stole the affection of the people away from King David, and fomented a rebellion against his own father. His legacy fell far short of a revered conqueror. He is remembered as a usurper, an ego-maniac whose narcissistic ways devastated David and led to his own tragic death. Such is the profile of a man who lost sight of righteousness because he was blinded by self-love.
Those who excel in the performing arts often contend with this temptation. The spotlight turns into a seductive mistress when their talents attract the attention of fans. Gradually, the focus of their performance can shift from worship of God to exaltation of self. Giftedness needs to be consecrated to God or else one’s blessing becomes a curse.