considering servant leadership

The concept of “servant leadership” has lately been like a pebble in my shoe, rattling in my thoughts at work and distracting me while driving. What’s bothering me is this: I think it’s an oxymoron. I’ve filled up nearly 20 pages in a journal with random thoughts, questions and observations. I’ve started doing some research. All that to say, this may be a reoccurring theme of discussion in the days to come here at TVFH. I will welcome your feedback, and any resources you care to recommend.

I have a lot of questions. Leading is encouraging and influencing others toward a particular goal – usually one set by the leader. If a servant leader only serves people in order to help them work together in a fulfilling way to accomplish his goal, is that really serving? Isn’t it – just a little – manipulative? It’s true, I tend to obsess over words, but darn it – words have meanings. Leaders lead. They make the decisions, they set the course. You could argue that a CEO serves his company in one sense of that word. But he is not a servant. He’s in charge. And, (we say) someone always has to be in charge. So I wonder if calling it “servant leadership” is just attempting to dress up a secular concept in spiritual clothing.

And here’s the thing. I’ve been reading through the Gospels, and Jesus actually talks quite a lot, and very clearly about serving and being a servant. Being a leader… not so much.

He states outright – more than once – that the reason he came was not to be served, but to serve. Not to “serve/lead.” In fact, much of what he says specifically about leaders was directed at the Pharisees. We don’t so much think of them as our role-models.

So I’m wondering if it’s possible we may have misinterpreted Jesus’ clear instructions to serve, applying them to leadership to justify our own innate desire to control things. Maybe we’ve bought into a “Christian” version of how to get what we want, because we believe what we want is good, since it’s for the Kingdom. But what if Jesus’ teaching really was as upside-down as we preach? What if he really meant it when he said, lay down your life, deny yourself – even your desire to lead people – and follow me? The greatest will be servants. The Son of God as “the least of these.” What if we spent less time building leaders, and more time modeling Jesus plain example as servant? It’s possible we have no idea how truly subversive serving could be.