Servant Leadership Misunderstood

Matthew 20:28  20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down,asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”“We can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I want to start  this post with a statement… If we serve people, we may never serve our gift. If we serve our gift, we will serve both our gift and people.

Sound confusing? That’s o.k. Hopefully by the time you are finished with this post it will not only make sense, but revolutionize your life and leadership. I know this understanding has profoundly impacted me.

To understand what I am getting at, we need to start with understanding our “gift.”  Before we can truly serve people as God purposed us, we must understand what God has put in our hands to give. Otherwise, we end up trying to give people what we don’t have and meeting desires in people instead of needs.

Serving happens when we give something of ourselves so that a person(s) may move further into God and His agenda for their life.

I believe this was a dimension of Martha’s problem when she and Mary encountered Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).  Mary had a sense of what would honor  and serve Jesus because she knew her “gift.”  Her “gift” was, in part, to bless the Lord with her attention and devotion. She knew what Jesus, in a sense, “needed” and what  she could best contribute to Him. Martha was distracted because she was making sandwiches Jesus never ordered. She wasn’t serving her gift, but serving the anxiousness of the moment and what she thought was needed.  If being hospitable and having things domestically prepared was part of her “gift” she wouldn’t have been complaining about doing it herself nor would it have been left to the last minute.

Still a bit confused? That’s o.k., I think it will become clear.

So let’s talk about your “gift.”

In simple terms, our “gift” is the combination of our 1) salvation 2) calling 3) spiritual gifting 4) platform and 5) resources.

Salvation- As Christians, the greatest aspect of our “gift” is our salvation. It is the gift that ushers in all the others. God has given it to us freely, and by faith we have received it. We serve our gift by working “out” our salvation. This means two things. 1) That we share the Gospel with people with care and effectiveness. Everyone Christian has a ministry of salvation to people because we have been given and received the “gift” of salvation. We serve our gift by growing in our willingness and capacity to share the Gospel.  We best serve people when we can share with them clearly and articulately the reason for the hope we have. 2) We grow in living the Gospel through our actions and attitudes. We serve our gift of salvation when we strive to give people an inspirational example that makes them hungry for what we have in Christ because of how they see us live. Everyone needs salvation, but we cannot serve that need if we are not first serving our gift. This is the essence of servant leadership. We should all be leading the way in the salvation business because we are first serving our gift, and then our gift to people.

Calling-  We serve our gift by establishing and living our calling. Your calling is the specific, unique purpose God has placed in your life.  Obviously, there are general callings upon our life. For example, if you are a mom, you are obviously called to be a great mom. If you are a husband, than you are called to be a faithful husband.

Yet, there is a unique, specific calling that God has placed over your life.  This calling is related to the unique person God wants you to become and the specific thing He wants you to accomplish with your life. Moses was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land. Nehemiah was called by God to lead the rebuilding of the temple walls of Jerusalem and the restoration of the people. Jesus was called to be and provide the Way by which all people can be saved. Ever person in and outside the Bible has a specific calling upon their life, including you.

We serve our “gift” by fervently discovering our God given calling and living it passionately and tenaciously.

Unfortunately, many people either don’t know what their calling is or they are’t following it.  Some are told early on that the burdens, passions, and dreams placed within us from God’s heart are unpractical, unattainable, or unrealistic. Others get lazy or content with simply making ends meet throughout life.  So, what happens? Many surrender to living ordinary, safe, and significance lacking lives.

This is a deep tragedy as so many people could be profoundly served through our calling, but if we don’t serve our calling, people will never be served to the fullest nor will we know best how to serve them.

This is why if we truly want to serve God and people we must first serve our “gift” through continually discerning precisely and living passionately our calling from God upon our lives.  When we know what are calling is, the needs are calling meets in others begin to appear in the lives of people we encounter.  It’s then that we gain a sense of our divine purpose and all the sudden we see all the divine appointments God sets up on a daily basis to live our calling into people’s lives. However without first serving our calling we would not fully see the opportunities God desires us to take hold to serve people. Instead, like Martha, we end up making sandwiches Jesus never ordered.

Spiritual Gifts-  We serve our “gift” by discerning and developing our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given by enabling us to accomplish our calling. Our gifts from God are always connected to our calling. They give us the spiritual power to accomplish our spiritual calling. Our calling from God will lead us to pursue things that we cannot accomplish apart from God. Along with a healthy dose of faith, spiritual gifts are purposed on enabling our spiritual calling to be realized.

Spiritual gifts and talents are different.  Spiritual gifts come to believers supernaturally through the Holy Spirit, talents come to us naturally.  If you only follow and develop what comes naturally to you ( your talents), you can miss your supernatural calling and the gifts that come with it.

Where your calling gives you direction on what you are to accomplish with your life with the specific things you are to become and do, spiritual gifts show you how you should be doing that. For example, God’s calling upon your life might be to bring healing to sick people. So, your spiritual gifts would determine how you are to do that. Perhaps your gifts are centered around teaching, so instead of being a hands-on medical doctor, you should perhaps be an educator of doctors.

When you are getting clearer on your calling and developing your spiritual gifts to accomplish that calling, you begin to get into what I call “the zone.” The zone is where we are most exercising true servant leadership in that we are effectively moving people onto God’s agenda for their life. But none of that can happen until we first serve our “gift” by discerning and developing our spiritual gifts.  Great people in the Kingdom of God work very hard at developing their spiritual gifts for maximum impact. People who are passionate about serving people are first passionate about serving their spiritual gifts by developing them t their fullest potential.

Platform-  We serve our gift by understanding, stewarding and maximizing our platform. Our platform is the specific role God gives us from which we are able to live out our calling.  For example, God has given me the role or platform of being a pastor in His church, and more specifically certain churches at certain times and locations. Serving people means I need to understand, steward, and maximum that role or platform.

God has a place (or platform) for everyone from which to be a servant leader.  Everyone has a God given, unique platform.  Our overall calling in life rarely changes, but our platforms can and will.  Yet, while we are in that role or platform, we need to understand that role, steward it, and maximize it.

Your platform comes with God’s favor and authority. With your platform comes God given power and the authority to accomplish your calling. God is not opposed to us having the authority that comes with our platform/role. In fact, He gave it to us. He is, however, concerned with how we steward that authority.  There is a difference between Lordship and Leadership.  Lordship uses authority as a first option and leadership as a last choice when it comes to influencing people. Leadership uses leadership as a first option and authority as a last option when it comes to influencing people. Notice that Leadership isn’t absent of the use of authority, the difference is in how it is stewarded.

There are plenty of people who want to minimize or completely remove the authority God has given you through your calling and the specific platform or role He has given you. Think about fathers and how are modern culture has tried to minimize, mock, and even remove their God given authority in the home. When we serve our gift we are careful to steward the authority of our platform that has been granted by God by both safeguarding it and using it wisely.

Stewarding your platform/role may also mean sharing it and delegate certain aspects of it.  Not every platform God gives you is necessarily an exclusive role but  may be a shared one.  Yet, how you fill that role or platform will be unique in a way(s) only you can accomplish.

In simple terms, part of your “gift” is the reality that God has a place for you, and a specific role to play. That role comes with power and authority. Serve your “gift” means understanding what that role is, to what extent God has given you power and authority within it, and stewarding and maximizing your use of that role for God’s glory.

Unfortunately, we end up wanting everybody else’s platform but our own. We want other people’s jobs, success, geographical locations, positions, and circumstances in life.  In short, we get platform envy. Therefore, we try to be who were not meant to be, have what we were not meant to have, and do what we were not meant to do. Meanwhile all the good things and potential greatness that God graced us with within the platform of our calling goes wasted and unrealized.

Additionally, some allow people and circumstances to minimize or steal from their platform/role of their calling through intimidation, insecurity, and a misunderstanding of leadership. If we want to truly serve people, we cannot let that happen. Leaders develop people into leaders, this is true. However, there is a common statement in leadership that I believe is a bit misguided.  The statement is… “the goal of leadership is to work yourself out of job.” I understand the idea behind this, but I don’t believe God wants us giving up the very platform He gave us. Rather, our job is to help people discover their gift and the platform that comes with it. Jesus didn’t try to work Himself out of His job/role/platform.  No one can do what He did and does, nor has God given anyone else that exact platform. Jesus rather delegates His authority and power and develops people to lead His cause.  Jesus serves people while first serving His “gift” which includes His platform.

Insecurity in leadership is put to death when we take care of our “gift.” Because, when we do, we realize our platform/role is ours and ours alone, given to us by God. With this awareness, we are free to develop others and rejoice in their greatness. Within a church ministry context, understanding your role and platform should be done through the discernment and counsel of the pastor and ministry leaders of the church.

Resources- We serve our gift by stewarding and investing our resources.  In the Kingdom of God you only get to keep what you are willing to give away. God has given you many resources that God desires to be leveraged for the purpose of moving people onto God’s agenda for their life. Serving our gift means valuing what we have been given, and understanding the greater purpose for our “stuff.”

Summary

I believe servant leadership is not about serving people first, but serving our “gift” first so that we can best serve people. Servant leadership isn’t about giving up who you are and the unique calling and role God has for you, but rather serving it in such a way so that you can freely and effectively help and develop others to serve their “gift” into people’s lives for the glory of God.

Jesus is not opposed  to greatness. In fact, He is even willing to teach us how to become great. Serving our “gift” so that we might best serve people enables great Kingdom work to be done through us.

When I read the Gospels it’s clear that Jesus indicates that He came to serve rather than be served and as Christians we are to have a servant’s heart as we live and fulfill God’s purposes for our lives.  Yet, it some circles this mindset has been translated into a brand of “serving” that means we are to serve people by making them happy as we fulfill their desires and impact their needs.

This all sounds well and good until the moment a person’s loving leadership of people requires influencing them to a place that may temporarily reduce their happiness and even contradict their desires, even asking them to sacrifice their needs instead of meeting them. Furthermore, I am hard pressed to find examples of Jesus serving religious-spirited people.  Again, by “serving” I mean a kind of goal that is to make people happy as we fulfill their desires and impacts their needs.

Rather, I believe what Jesus displays is that we are to serve our “gift” to people as we live to glorify God and build His Kingdom.

The important distinction is that we are to serve our gift first and foremost, and then we serve our gift to people. There is a vital difference between the idea of “serving people” and “serving our gift to people.”  If we serve people, we may miss meeting true needs by being enticed by a person’s desires and emotions. If we serve people, we may miss utilizing our gifts and realizing our calling. If we serve people, we may lose ourselves instead of giving ourselves. If we serve people, we may miss God and His purposes. If we serve people, we may mislead them.

However, when we serve our “gift” to people, we end up serving from God, through us, into people’s lives. When we serve people, we serve from people, into us, to God. The result is the difference between doing what God is blessing and asking God to bless what we are doing.  When we serve people, God may or may not be involved. When we serve our gift to people, God, we, and people are always involved and in the right order.

Many times, we simply serve people without much thought to what we are to give nor what God is up to in that person’s life. When we see our “gift,” we see why God has uniquely positioned us and put us into people’s lives. Our gift gives us an important glimpse into how, when, and why we are to serve people.  Our gift gives a sense of purpose for what should be the desired result in the person’s life that we are to serve.

That, to me, is true servant leadership.

Looking forward to your thoughts…

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