Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a retreat. As the speaker, I didn’t realize that I had an “image” to maintain, and a “position” to hold. During dinner, the campers formed a long queue to get their food. There were only 2 servers from the retreat center to dish out the food. The process took longer than usual. The people were hungry so I took it upon myself to become one of the servers. This became quite awkward for some of the leaders of the retreat who were first in the line and had already plunged themselves into the meal. Perhaps out of embarrassment, they had to stop eating and “volunteer” to help serve the campers.
Afterward, I was ceremonially informed that I was not culturally sensitive or considerate. As the speaker of the retreat, I am the “VIP” and by serving in the food line, this made others look bad. Exercising servant leadership had put me in hot soup!
This incident taught me many things about the people whom I am called to serve. It also tested my understanding of leadership. Leaders sometimes think and act like managers. Perhaps they are placed in positions of authority, and honestly try doing a good job. But they only manage when they fail to listen to their people or serve them. The worst kinds of leaders manipulate truth and people to push their agendas. When work goes well, they tend to take credit and fame. When storms swell, someone else’s performance gets the debit and blame. And the sad truth is they don’t even know they have failed to lead. And they think they are right.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples, “the greatest shall be the least, and the least shall be the greatest.” Jesus also said in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Humility is not a sign of inferiority but a sign of true greatness. When we are proud and arrogant, we are easily irritated and become restless. Humility gives us rest and peace for our souls. While serving in a food line does not mean that we are humble, serving ourselves first at the expense of those whom we called to serve is a poor example of servant leadership.
True leaders do not center themselves on tasks. They center themselves with people. They do not seek the attention of people. They give it to others. They do not focus on satisfying their own aims and desires. They look for ways to respond to the needs and interests of their flocks.
As you look for ways to serve your flock, let us be mindful to lead, not manage. As we seek ways to encourage and motivate, let us not place ourselves at the center but place Jesus at the heart of ministry!
Grace and peace