“What is your biggest fear?” I’ve been asked that question countless times, and I never know how to answer it. “Do they want the honest answer or the lighthearted one? I don’t want to give them a cheap answer, if they’re asking seriously. But I also don’t want to kill the mood with something way deeper than they were intending.”
(For the record, here’s my shallow answer: spiders. They’re gross… Especially hairy ones. To all those who pretend to like them, stop lying to yourself.)
Here’s my serious answer: letting people down. I care about people thinking well of me… A lot. I’m a people-pleaser, and too often I set relational goals with others, while stopping short of, or even at the expense of, my relationship with the God of the universe, to whom I’ve been graciously granted access. It’s messed up. That aside, my people-pleasing nature makes being a leader scary. I think it’s scary for everyone at times. However, there’s a much higher risk of letting people down when we allow ourselves to take positions of leadership, because we’re responsible for people; people are counting on us. It’s much safer to simply avoid those positions. But God never called us to live safely. In fact, He’s asked us to live boldly, to step outside of our comfort zones (because how else will we grow?), and to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit through the comfort and discomfort alike.
But what does being a leader mean? What defines a leader?
Before I try to answer that, here’s a disclaimer: My leadership experience is limited, I have much to learn in the leadership positions I hold, and I’m only just about to leave my teens. That being said, I have read a book that provides an excellent, even perfect, example of a leader. That book is the Bible, and that example is Jesus. He’s a pretty trustworthy guy to follow.
I believe being a leader, at its core, is being a servant. As Christ-followers, we cannot separate the two. Removing service from leadership would be denying Christ’s example, contradicting His instruction, and living for personal gain, not divine glory.
One of the most whole-hearted servants I know is the cleaning lady at my church, Ms. Doreen. She faithfully sweeps our sanctuary [gym] floor several times a week, takes out the trash when no one is looking, mops the hallway when she won’t be in anyone’s way, sometimes leaves candy in the church office, and is barely known by the majority of our congregation… She is a leader. She sacrifices much of her life to provide a functional space of refuge to worship, to rejoice, to learn, and to grow. Guys, Ms. Doreen rocks. People probably don’t tell her that.
But why do we need to be “servant leaders”? Why can’t we just avoid both, and get our participation ribbons after crossing the finish line?
I believe we can; but if we do, we’re missing out. We have the privilege of participating in the living God’s work while on this earth. That is grace. That is our means for worship. That is service. That is leadership. That is sacrifice with a greater, more majestic, more weighty, more beautiful reward than we could ever imagine, and certainly than we deserve.
Our perfect example, Jesus, had an established reputation of being a friend to sinners. He hung out with the people who knew they needed Him, and endured ridicule, questioning, and eventually death from those who didn’t recognize their need. “…When the teachers of the religious law, who were Pharisees, saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’” (Mark 2:16-17) He loved the unlovable and gave his time to those who wanted to learn. He invited Himself over to a short (not that being short is inherently bad – it better not be, because I’m 5’1’’), bitter, hated thief’s house, simply because Jesus thought that thief was worth His time, when no one else was giving theirs (Luke 19:1-10). If Thief Zacchaeus was worth Jesus’ time, isn’t your awkward, lonely, or “sinful” classmate worth your time?
Jesus’ example is worth following, regardless of the confusion or mockery it may solicit from others. We can rest in the knowledge that God recognizes our sacrifice, our service, and our leadership even when people do not. When the rubber meets the road, God’s recognition is better than people’s. He deserves so much more than we could give, but HE WANTS US, yes, literally died so he could have relationship with us. He walked to the Cross knowing we would fail him. Through his death, he gets a disobedient child; an unfaithful servant. We get a perfect Father; a gracious Master; a loving Friend; a redeemed soul; a new life.
Now, all that may be true, but this whole servant leader thing is easier said than done. I’m still scared of being a servant leader, because it sounds kind of miserable. I’m scared of being a servant leader, because it feels like a lot of pressure. I’m scared of being a servant leader because that means humility - not the kind of humility that prompts people to say, “OMG, they are just so humble!” but the kind where people don’t say anything at all, because they don’t notice. A dear friend once said, “Humility is scary, because humility is close to invisibility.” However, God’s promises remove the fear in servant leadership. “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor.” (James 4:10) “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)
May we, the Church, join together in servant leadership to each other and the world around us, in the peace-giving knowledge that we are not alone (Deuteronomy 31:6), our God is worthy (Revelation 4:11), and our reward is great (2 Corinthians 9:6; Matthew 5:12).
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:3-11)
Eliza Kosobucki, VP of Worship, Impact Christian Fellowship