Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership


X YOU'RE FIRED“You’re fired!” Donald Trump would shout as he eliminated contestants in the television reality show “The Apprentice.” Donald Trump portrayed a tough mean spirited business leader, who demanded much and gave little to those working for him. His model of leadership was certainly self-serving, I would say almost the exact opposite of the leadership modeled by Jesus. He built a fortune by borrowing money and filing for bankruptcy, again self-serving in the extreme.


X PHARMACEUTICAL PRICE GOUGING The “Trump kind” of self-serving leadership seems to have permeated our entire culture.   We read about CEO’s who take billions of dollars out of their companies in compensation, while downgrading employee benefits and raiding the pension funds of employees. Or we read about pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli who acquired the patent on the Aids Drug Daraprim and then turned around and raised the price 5,000%. A pill costs about one dollar to produce, and he raised the price to $750 per dose.

Or consider Valeant Pharmaceutical’s purchase to the rights to a pair of life-saving heart drugs, Nitropress and Isuprel. The same day, their list prices rose by 525% and 212%. Neither of the drugs was improved as a result of costly investment in lab work or human testing. Nor was manufacture of the medicines shifted to an expensive new plant. The only change was the drugs’ ownership.

Valeant spokesperson Laurie Little defended the price increases by saying, “Our duty is to our shareholders and to maximize the value of our company.” Again we are witnessing self-serving leadership.


X SERVANT-LEADERSHIP    While servant leadership is a timeless concept going all the way back to Jesus himself the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. As Greenleaf wrote: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions… The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps other people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Jesus was a servant leader. He led by example. He sought to enhance the lives of others. He empowered others to teach, feed, heal and lead. How different Jesus was from most of the models of leadership we see in our culture today.


X ROMAN EMPIRE LEADERSHIPJesus was offering an alternative to the kind of leadership in the Roman Empire based on fear. Even the Roman army was run on fear. If a military unit did not perform with adequate courage, they were “decimated.” The unit was lined up and every tenth man was executed – talk about motivation. Crucifixion was practiced as a form of execution to maximize pain and public humiliation and to incite fear in the subject peoples – sort of like Trump’s, “You’re fired.” The Romans were brutal and cruel, and that is how they ruled the world. The way of Jesus was to lead with love and compassion. He brought people to the Sharing Table, where they could be fed, healed and affirmed.


X INSTITUTION AS SERVANT LEADERRobert Greenleaf also recognized that organizations as well as individuals could be servant-leaders. Indeed, he had great faith that servant-leader organizations could change the world. In his second major essay, The Institution as Servant, Greenleaf articulated what is often called the “credo.” There he wrote: “This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance of organizations as servants of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”


X SELF SERVING CHURCHESNow we could point fingers at government, corporations and a whole host of not for profit NGO’s that have become self-serving institutions, and you could name them also. But let us first be honest and forthright about our churches. Too often, rather than functioning as servant leaders our churches become self-serving. We have a great temptation to become religious clubs dedicated to serving the needs of our members, rather than becoming communities of faith, who are dedicated to reaching out to the needs of others and transforming the society in which we live through mission, service and prophetic witness. It is not enough to perform charity for those who have been run over or left out by the rest of the institutions of our society.


X UNITED CHURCH SUPPORTS CHARITYNow certainly we help to support the Huntsville Assistance Program and FOODline and other agencies that seek to alleviate the suffering of the poor. We support NAMI in its outreach to the mentally ill and their families. We support Alix Morehouse in her efforts to take food, water and now as the weather grows colder, warm clothes and blankets to the homeless camps.


X CHURCH CAN ALSO SPEAK PROPHETICALLYAnd as a transformative institution we are called upon to prophetically speak truth to the powerful who have gutted the funding for Medicaid, closed almost all of our hospitals for the mentally ill, have refused to adequately fund our government, closed parks and driver’s license facilities in the poorest counties with the highest percentage of African Americans registered to vote, have increased taxes on the poor, taken money from the educational trust fund, while refusing to ask the wealthy to contribute their fair share. An institution that is a servant leader dares to speak truth to power.


X JESUS DIED SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWERSadly so often our churches afraid we might alienate some of our donor base keep our mouths shut, rather than providing leadership for social change. Jesus would be deeply disappointed. He was tortured and executed, because he dared to speak truth to power. When the church is following the way of Jesus, we have the courage to become advocates for social justice.


X COACHING TO DEVELOP SERVANT LEADERSHIPI want to mention how coaching in this congregation will move us toward the goal of servant leadership. The primary purposes of engaging a congregation coach is to help us to mentor new leadership in the life of our congregation, and to insure a smooth transition of leadership in the future. Servant leaders look for the hidden talents in all members of the community, bring out the best in others, and helps followers to learn from failures, equips others, and raise up successors. The objective is to achieve goals as part of a wider vision, the old leadership model puts goals first before people, if people get in the way of those goals then they have to go. The goal is still important, it is just recognizing that you cannot reach a goal without other people owning and working toward the vision. As we engage with our congregational coach we will seek to understand who we are at our best, embrace the vision of United Church as a Servant Leader organization, and become a permission giving community that frees people to give the best of their gifts in service to others.


X HUMBLE LEADERSHIPTrue leadership requires humility. As Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can get done, if you do not care, who gets the credit.” Or in the words of Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu: “A leader is best when people barely know she exists, when her work is done, her aim fulfilled, they will say: “We did it ourselves!”


I am not sure how best to change our political system that seems so broken. But maybe we begin here and now in our life together as a congregation. If we can make the principles of Servant Leadership work in our life together, and if as a congregation we can seek to become a Servant Leader organization, perhaps we can provide a model for changing our larger society.

X WE DON'T HAVE TO WAIT“For you have observed how politicians and corporate rulers throw their weight around, and how when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great among you must become humble. Whoever wants to be first among you must be a servant.”


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