Jesus said to his followers, “You know that the leaders of the nations use power to dominate their people, that those of high status pull rank on those of lower status to tell them what to do. But this is not the relationship between my followers. Whoever wants to be high in rank should wait on the bidding of others, and whoever wants to be top boss must be devoted to everyone else’s interests, a slave. Be just like me: God sent me not to receive service, but to render service and to give my life to buy everyone else out of slavery and into freedom” (Matthew 20:25-28, paraphrased).
I spoke to the folks who came to midyear board meetings about the ideas of Robert Greenleaf on servant leaders. These ideas are clearly derived from the directions of Jesus quoted above, and they apply not just to boards and representatives, but to all who follow Jesus. Jesus envisioned followers who were, in fact, leaders following the example of leadership that Jesus set.
There are at least two requirements for leadership: leaders show up and leaders step up. Oddly, these are also requirements for servanthood: servants show up and servants step up.
In his writings, Robert Greenleaf had some thoughts on how to assess the results of our service and our leadership:
- Do those served grow as persons?
- Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more likely themselves to become servants?
- What is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
Greenleaf also hoped people would become more autonomous. They don’t just go off in their own direction and leave others behind, but instead learn to listen to God themselves and act intentionally out of obedience to God. Listening to God is so crucial that I want to add one further item to the requirements for leaders and for servants. They take time to shut up. So it looks something like this: show up, shut up, step up. Repeat.
It’s easy to see an application to our denomination—a denomination of servant leadership. We can ask the questions of ourselves.
- Do those NWYM serves in our congregations and outreach ministries grow as persons?
- Do they, while we serve them, become healthier—more whole, more resilient?
- Do they become wiser—more discerning, more self-aware?
- Do they become more autonomous—more tuned in themselves to the voice of Jesus, rather than Jesus only as mediated by someone else?
- Do they become servants themselves? Do they show up and step up?
- And what is the effect on the least privileged in society because NWYM is here? Do we benefit them? Do we help them at the very least not to slide even further into deprivation?
Greenleaf describes the characteristics of servant leaders: They listen actively to others, noticing what remains unspoken. They understand and empathize with others, respecting and appreciating them. They work to heal themselves and others, solve problems, resolve conflicts. They are aware of self as well as others. They persuade rather than coerce. They think beyond day to day, reflecting on the meaning of life. They think about likely outcomes of present actions. They hold their responsibilities in trust for the greater good and commit to growth in others. They build community.
Are these the characteristics of our home churches, of our denomination? Do we listen well to others, empathize with them, respect and appreciate them? Do we commit ourselves to our own healing and growth and to healing and growth in others? Do we persuade well? Do we think with insight about the meaning of life and foresight about the consequences of our present actions? Do we commit ourselves to the greater good of our world?
So next year at this time, let’s ask: Are we a better denomination than last year?