Monday, May 28, 2007

A Misconception of the Servant-Leadership Model

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’(Matthew 20:25-28, NASB)

This was Jesus’ response to two disciples, the two sons of Zebedee, who desired to have a high place of authority with Jesus and so they began demanding a place of importance in Jesus’ leadership heirarchy. But Jesus’ reply made it clear that their concept of strong leadership was an inaccurate picture. His disciples were very familar with the strength and might of the Roman Empire and Jesus was making it very clear that His leadership structure was not going to work like what they knew and were familar with.

The Roman Empire’s leadership was a harshly strict, dictatorial leadership based on the principle of “do what I say or face harsh punishment (often death)”. It worked for the Romans. It made soldiers better soldiers. They knew if they fell asleep while on guard, and they were caught, it would mean their death. If they ran from battle their own people would kill them. Fear was a major motivator in the Roman army, and this was true of much of the Roman Empire. And Jesus’ response was, “You see how their leaders direct their followers? The leadership that I raise up will not lead like that.”

There are many books written on the subject of servant-leadership. The vast majority of them are corporations re-thinking their leadership models and, in many respects, the church has been running on a corporate model for so long that we’re beginning to listen to what these re-thinkers are saying because these re-thinkers are beginning to sound something like what Jesus was saying. But should we, the church, be listening?

First off, the church should have never made a move toward the corporate model and second, getting out of that hole doesn’t mean we continue to follow the example being set by these corporate thinkers. The corporations have realized there is something wrong with their leadership style and many are beginning to make changes. Good for them. Let us also begin re-thinking leadership but by listening to what Jesus commanded us to do when we have lost our way and need to put our eyes back on Him, “remember from where you have fallen and repent (Revelation 2:5)”.

When looking at servant-leadership we have fallen in our understanding of what a real servant is. We have allowed too much democracy and too much feminism (a.k.a. Women’s Lib.) to corrupt our understanding of what a servant leader is. We have misdefined “priesthood of all believers” as something that trust our own ability to solve things democraticly which removes having to trust God and His system of leadership. We have transformed a servant into anyone who is willing to give me what I want. Someone who satisfies my desires, only challenges me “this” far, and that is exactly the kind of false-servant-pastors so many churches are hiring today.

The primary aim of a servant leader is to serve others, but we must ask ourselves how is the church best served? The Roman way, of Jesus’ time, is focused on the end result through any means possible. Who was being served by this? Only the leadership! The false-servant-pastor is focused on no one being hurt and “we can one day accomplish this and we’re going to do it all together”. Who is being served by this? No one! The spiritually mature sect ends up feeling left out because they’re always forced to wait on the immature, or the unsaved and unwilling, to catch up and mature before the leadership will let the ministries of the church move forward. Nothing ever will truly get accomplished by this.

Jesus’ method was focused on empowering His followers. This meant driving His followers towards being like Him and it meant protecting and guarding His followers until He let them loose on the world (and even then the Lord still watches over us and protects us). Real servant leadership means being more focused on what they need than what they want. A real servant leader is willing to shoot the wolves before they begin attacking the sheep. A real servant leader isn’t afraid to upset a church by moving and changing things especially when the church has no idea that they’ve been sleeping in a wolves’ den for so long. The problem with the false-servant-pastor model is it never guards the church and it never lets the church loose on the world.