A SERVANT IN HIERARCHY
Personally, I don’t like the term ‘servant leader.’ My reason is that it is a contradiction in terms. One who is a servant is not a leader (certainly not treated like a leader), and one who is a leader is not a servant.
Those who talk about being servant leaders are without a doubt saying that a leader must be a servant. But it seems to me that there hasn’t been clear thinking on this.
First, take the fact that this is a topic that is taught in Christian leadership seminars and workshops. People attending such forums either consider themselves to be leaders or are aspiring for positions of leadership (read power and privileges of office).
Does anyone ever conduct a workshop for leaders to become servants, that is, for people at the top to climb downwards? Or, for servants to remain servants, because Jesus said that servants are the true leaders? No. Everybody wants to climb up. No one is interested in picking up basin and towel. That’s for Jesus, not for us. For us office, power, and perks in excess of others. (Having more than others is the key feature of leadership as we know it.)
So, let me rather to talk about leaders who keep in mind that they are first and last servants of God. A servant of God is, for that reason, never a tyrant: he is keenly aware of being under God, and answerable to God. Such a person is therefore equally aware that, even though he (or she) is a leader, he leads people who are not his servants, but a free people who are servants only to God.
Christians who want to lead others must have the following:
- Rock-solid theological foundation
- Moral determination
- Sense of mission
- Ability to mobilise cooperation
Rock-solid Foundation of Truth
A good leader stands on a rock-solid foundation of what he believes is fundamentally true. His essential beliefs are integral to him. They are his philosophy of life. He does not change his beliefs according to every wind of change that blows on him.
Jesus told the story of a man who built his house on shifting sand. It’s quicker to build a house if one dispensed with all the trouble of laying a foundation. But it won’t stand the storms of time (Matt. 7:26-27).
Any Christian who wants to be a leader must take a stand for what he believes to be true, like Martin Luther. When Luther was examined for his doctrinal teachings and writings, he is said to have concluded his defence with this declaration, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.” Historians say that he did not say it in those words. But that is indeed a dramatic summary of what he did assert. He announced that his conscience was captive to the word of God and that he could not go against conscience. Here is what he said:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason—for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves—I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen. (Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil , Yale, 1989.)
While a Christian leader may change his policies and methodology, he cannot change his beliefs, because his beliefs are not subjectively determined— mere personal opinion. For the Christian, all belief has an objective basis—the infallible word of God. Scripture is the final authority on theological beliefs. A Christian cannot sacrifice his beliefs to expedience or convenience. He cannot compromise. He cannot agree to ‘be practical’ and ‘give and take’. If a Christian leader did not stand by his beliefs, he would deny himself. He would not be himself.
There are church constitutions that have the provision for amending doctrine by a two-thirds majority vote. This is unconscionable and ridiculous. The doctrines of the Church are not man-made and cannot be up for the vote. They are given to us in God’s word. We cannot change them, for if we did, we would in fact be changing our God for another.
Political leaders make decisions by sensing the public mood. Once a politician figures out the current trend in society, he remoulds himself and converts himself to fit in with society. His election manifesto blatantly proclaims that he (his party) will give the electorate exactly what they want.
A Christian leader, on the other hand, does not take his cue from opinion polls or even from what has prevalence in Christendom. That’s because he is first and last a servant of God.
The Christian leader charts his course and makes decisions according to his sense of morality, which is closely linked to his belief that God is sovereign and has final authority over human conduct. He doesn’t make the rules, nor does he believe that other humans are eligible to legislate rules, neither for him, nor for any others.
A Christian is no relativist. He doesn’t believe that the basic and essential rules of conduct keep changing according to the times or according to the situation. Like his theology, his ethics is founded on the bedrock of God’s proclamation of truth. He believes in the absoluteness of the truth as proclaimed by God. What God has commanded is not negotiable. A Christian leader’s actions are thus rooted in a sense of absolute right and absolute wrong. That is why he calls a spade a spade. When something is wrong, he doesn’t disguise it or cover it up, but stands against it. And, when something is right, he gives it his backing, swimming against the current. Listening to another drumbeat than what those around him hear, he is often out of step with the world, but he is in step with the Spirit of God.
When the Christian leader aspires to a high office, there are things he simply will not do to get to the top. He is a person of integrity and will not compromise on his beliefs and values. Only such an uncompromising stance can lead with moral authority and command the respect of those he wants to lead.
Sense of Mission
A Christian leader never forgets what the agenda is. It is a one-point agenda. The mission is to make Christ Jesus known as Saviour and Lord, to proclaim the good news that anyone and everyone can be saved from sin and its effects and consequences. He is no Christian who is not committed to this one purpose. The Christian can do nothing else because he is commissioned by Jesus Himself to do this (Matt. 28:18-20).
It is not spiritual arrogance and bigotry that makes a Christian proclaim that salvation comes only through Jesus. (How can it be arrogance to say that one could not save oneself, but needed a saviour to rescue him?) It was the Lord Himself who declared that He is the only Way to the Father. Jesus Himself affirmed that there is no other truth than Him. (Jn. 14:6).
A Christian who takes up leadership is not to feather his own nest or to build his own empire. His one (and only) aim and purpose has to be to build the Kingdom of God.
A Christian leader’s work is about his Lord. He is like a friend of the bridegroom, who does nothing to divert attention from the bridegroom (3:29). He knows that if he carries on with his work, Jesus must increase, and he himself must decrease (v.30).
During the Emergency (1975- 77), in an act of sycophancy, Dev Kant Barooah declared “Indira is India, India is Indira.” That sort of sentiment was and is not unique. Every political party gives their founder/leader the same sort of adulation. Every institutional head wants to hear that sort of acclamation from their subordinates.
Contrast that with how Hudson Taylor, the pioneer of China Inland Mission, defined missionaries:
I look on foreign missionaries as the scaffolding round a rising building; the sooner it can be dispensed with the better - or rather, the sooner it can be transferred to other places, to serve the same temporary purpose.
All Christian workers and leaders must keep in mind that they are only the scaffolding. They are not the building itself. Nor are they to hang on to the project. When the building is done, scaffolding has to be taken down. The reason for having scaffolding up is temporary. It is never meant to have a permanence. If the scaffolding stays on, it will diminish the beauty of the work.
Ability To Mobilise Cooperation
A Christian leader cannot go it alone. He must make an effort to involve others in the service of Christ and His mission.
The Master came to earth alone. No angel accompanied Jesus. But when the Lord started to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, He gathered people who would serve as His disciples—student-apprentices. First there were 12 (Mk.3: 16-19), and then there were 70 (Lk.10: 1), and finally 120 (Acts 1:15). They preached the Gospel, healed the sick and cast out demons so that the Kingdom of God could grow. Of course, Jesus could have done it all single- handedly. God had made humans in His image, and Jesus recognised that and gave them the honour of being involved with Him.
Humans are not robots who can be programmed to receive the Gospel mechanically. They are not slaves on whom the Gospel can be forced. Humans are free agents who can choose what they want to be involved with. By involving His disciples in the programme of enlarging the Kingdom of God, Jesus opened the door for others to follow suit.
When the Christian leader involves others in Kingdom- building, it is in keeping with his belief that he is merely the scaffolding. He shows awareness that he must gather people to learn what has to be done and carry it forward. He does not arrive at this as a matter of merely being logical. Again, his conduct is mandated by scriptural teaching:
Take the things you heard me say in front of many other witnesses and pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others (2 Tim. 2:2, CEB).
Often, he may experience loneliness because no one else wants to pay the cost of serving Christ. Others may not be willing to make sacrifices and give up personal ambitions and benefits. But the Christian leader doesn’t give up on mobilising others for the task, because he is only the scaffolding. The Kingdom- building must go on and on and on.