Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Serve: Servant Leadership

SERVE: servant leadership

RUMC 4/1/12

Yee Haw, here we are Palm Sunday and Jesus is coming into Jerusalem.  He comes riding on a blazing white stallion and kicking up a cloud of dust.  The people are in awe of his beautiful white horse but they are even more awestruck by the man who was riding it.  As Jesus passed by, you could hear the people say, "Who is that man?"

There were bad guys on the loose and Jesus had come to town to deal with them.  He is ready to save the people from trouble.  His disciple army is close at hand ready to strike down any troublemakers in Jerusalem. 

A large crowd of people gathered to see what the commotion was all about.  The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs.  When all his work was done, Jesus road off into the sunset, and you could hear the William Tell Overture in the background.  Du du dunt.  Du du dunt.  Du du dunt dunt dunt. 

That makes a great story and we might wish that Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was a bit more spectacular but that's not what happened on the first Palm Sunday. 

          There's no denying that there is a touch of glory in the entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was welcomed as a hero.  People heard how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, he healed people who were incurably sick, the blind, the deaf, and the possessed.  The crowd was excited that this miracle-working teacher was coming to town.  They waved palm branches; they spread their coats on the road; they shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord."  No wonder they cheered and paved the way with palm branches and clothing.  In the eyes of the crowd there was no doubt that Jesus was the promised king sent by God. 

This king, however, was different.  There was no white stallion.  No show of power and strength.  No William Tell Overture playing in the background.  Instead, he rode a humble donkey, a pack animal; Kings only rode donkeys when they came seeking peace rather than victory.  However, the people didn't want peace; they wanted victory over their Roman oppressors. 

I was trying to think of a modern equivalent.  We might expect a chauffeur driven, white leather seated, air conditioned stretch limo.  Or a sleek shiny black SUV with heavily tinted windows.  Instead, Jesus came riding into town on the tailgate of a rusty 1976 F-150… with a bad muffler …and a broken headlight… and duck tape holding in the back window.  Get the picture?

As Jesus rode along, he didn't smile or give royal waves to the people lining the street.  His heart was heavy.  Luke tells us that as Jesus got closer to the city, he wept. 

There can be no doubt about it.  Jesus is a king.  However, there is something different about this king.  He enters astride a lowly donkey.  On the tailgate of the F-150, no ordinary king… He is a servant king. 


Now, think about how you would describe a leader.  Do words like "tough, " "hard-nosed, " or "pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps" come to mind?  Or maybe you're thinking more like "popular", "smart" and "cool-and-collected." Wrong again!

How do words like "humility", "compassion", "gentleness", "merciful", "righteous", "pure-in-heart", and "peace-maker" sound?  Not exactly words that come to mind as we look at our world leaders today, are they?  If you heard last week's sermon, however, they sound familiar.  Those are the marks of a servant.

It has been said that our nation has a leadership crisis.  I'm not convinced that is true.  There are MANY people willing to experience the high of winning the election.  There are plenty of people who want the power and privileges that come with office.  There are plenty of people who seek to line their own pockets or manipulate the system so their friends can get wealthier.  There are plenty of people in our culture who want to be that kind of leader. 

Perhaps if the our administrative council ran more like congress, where the officers got all kinds of free perks, and influence, and kickbacks, and book deals and speaking engagements, and junkets--- perhaps if the ad council were more like that we would have people lined up to be committee chairs. 

No, this crisis both in the culture and in the church is not a leadership crisis.  It is a servanthood crisis. 

In politics and government, it doesn't seem that our elected officials perceive themselves as public servants any more.  Perhaps if we had more public servants and fewer career politicians who think the government is here to serve them, we would be one-step closer to solving our problems. 

The same is true in the church.  Too many members think the church is here to serve them, and seemingly don't understand that discipleship means not being served, but becoming a servant. 

When James and John wanted the seat on the right and left of Jesus.  Jesus said, "Well, that is the way it is in the world.  That is the way government would work.  I'll scratch your back, and you scratch mine is the way of the world.  But Jesus says "NOT SO AMONG YOU."  "Not so among you.  He who would be great must be a servant of all."

Jesus came not to be served, but to be a servant. 

In the Kingdom of God, the great ones are not the ones that write the books or have television shows.  The great ones are the ones who feed the homeless, rock crack babies, help children learn to read, empty the bedpans, and change the oil.  The great ones in the church are not the ones that stand behind the pulpit week after week.  The great ones are usually found in the nursery, or the 3rd grade class, or baking cookies for the bake sale, or changing a light bulb, or plunging out the toilet, making phone calls to recruit for something or another, doing the dishes after the meal, or serving on the education commission or trustees.  The great ones are not the ones that are most visible.  The great ones are the ones who are almost invisible, but don't mind because they only do it because they love Jesus. 

In the secular business schools in the early 1970s Robert Greenleaf, proposed the servant leader model.  However, the concept of a servant leader is not such a modern concept.  It can be found in the biblical account of the life of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, I see four qualities of a servant leader. 


First, a servant leader is GOD HONORING.  It is not that they do not care about people, (in fact they do very much), but their one and only motivation is to please God. 

A. T. Pierson wrote: The supreme test of service is this: 'For whom am I doing this?' Much that we call service to Christ is not such at all.  [i]  If we are looking around to make sure that someone is watching us, we are not being a servant.  If we are upset that we don't get a thank you, we are not being a servant.  If we do something because it makes us feel good, we are not serving God (of course serving God may make us feel good, but that is not our motivation.)  If we do something because we feel like we have to, we are not serving.  No matter what our motivation, if it is not to please God, we are not serving. 

A brilliant young concert pianist was performing for the first time in public.  The audience sat enthralled as beautiful music flowed from his disciplined fingers.  The people could hardly take their eyes off this young virtuoso.  As the final note faded, the audience burst into applause.  Everyone was standing - except one old man up front.  The pianist walked off the stage crestfallen.  The stage manager praised the performance, but the young man said, "I was no good, it was a failure."  The manager replied, "Look out there, everyone is on his feet except one old man!"  "Yes," said the youth dejectedly, "but that one old man is my teacher."

Even if everyone one else is applauding, if everyone around you is patting you on the back.  If the whole world is bowing before you: if God is not honored, you have not served. 

In Galatians 1:10 Paul writes, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ"

A servant Leader lives to honor God. 


Second, a servant leader is OTHERS ORIENTED.  The servant leader is motivated by God, but acts the servanthood out for the sake of others.  Philippians 2:3-4 says, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  2 Other-centeredness is a trait that few exhibit. 

I am not saying that a servant has to have no self-esteem.  No, I am not talking about thinking less of yourself, I am talking about just thinking of yourself less. 

·        Who is more important, the child that needs a teacher on Wednesday night or you?

·        Who is more important, the hungry woman on the corner, or you with your comfortably pudgy tummy?

·        What is more important, putting that 20 dollars you have toward either the mission trip, or the sponsored child, or Homes for Haiti; or keeping it in your pocket to spend on stuff you know you don't really need?

When you have to chose between your comfort and convenience, and the comfort and well-being of others, whom do you choose.  A servant leader is oriented toward choosing others. 


Third, a Servant leader is HUMBLE OR MEEK.  They don't complain, they aren't preoccupied with what they gain from leadership.  They are not interested in status or comfort.  They willingly undergo hardship and suffering, humbling themselves in order to meet the needs of others.  They are not too important or dignified to undertake even the lowest of tasks and they do so with no thought of personal gain. 

During the American Revolution, a man rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier.  Their leader was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them.  Asked why by the rider, he retorted with great dignity, "Sir, I am a corporal!"  The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers.  The job done, he turned to the corporal and said, "Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again." It was none other than President George Washington.  [ii]

Washington could have Lorded his position over the corporal.  He could have gone past because he was too important to be bothered.  A servant leader, however, would never do that.  A servant leader is humble. 


Finally, a servant leader is hopeful.  Hopeful that what they do might make a difference. 

You have probably heard the story of the boy with the beach full of starfish.  Throwing them back in to the ocean.  The man says, "Kid you're wasting your time, you can't possibly make a difference." 

The kid bends down picks up another starfish and throws it as far as he can SAYING, "I made a difference to that one."

Servant leaders do not always see how their efforts can change lives, or bring in the kingdom, or make any difference at all.  They sometimes never get to see the difference they make.  Nevertheless, they do their work with hope.  Hope that they can make a difference to this child, this nursing home resident, this class, this church, this neighbor.  A Servant leader serves with hope. 


The leaders of this world and our country are not often servant leaders.  Some are I am sure, but not many.  How different would our world be, how different would our country be… if we had more servant leaders in positions of power?  People who really wanted to honor God in their service, people who were really other centered, people who were really humble, people who really served with hope.  The world landscape, Washington and Des Moines would be unrecognizable.  Oppression would be a thing of the past, wars would be rare, revolutions would be artifacts in history books.  Gridlock would be broken, budgets would be balanced, and citizens would benefit from the work of the government instead of living in fear of what they will do next. 

How different would our church be if we had more servant leaders?  I think most of our current leaders try very hard to be servant leaders.  We have some wonderful leaders in this congregation.  But we need more who will lead by serving. 

God needs more servants who truly and deeply want to serve God.  Not just be members that show up one hour a week in order to be seen.  But people who seek in all that they do, to serve God. 

God needs more servants who are really other focused.  Not focused on friends, or family, or sports, or self.  But focused on finding ways to serve God by serving others. 

God needs more servants who are humble and meek.  There are way too many people here who pat themselves on the back saying "I've have done my part.  It is someone else's turn."  What if Jesus would have finished with Palm Sunday saying that, and returned to Galilee?

God needs more servants to serve with hope.  There is way too much work, way too many hurting people, way too many opportunities, way too many lives to be changed for a few of us to do it all.  Sure, the job of ushering in the Kingdom of God is big, that's why God just gave us a little corner of the world to serve.  Let's all serve with hope. 


Palm Sunday teaches us a lot about how Jesus worked.  He could have come riding in on a white stallion and brought an end to all the silliness and sin in the world.  He could have, by virtue of his divine power, destroyed his opponents and whisked the rest into the kingdom.  He didn't. 

He came humble and riding on a donkey.  The servant king.  Thinking only of pleasing God, thinking only of serving others, humbly putting others before his comfort and even his life, plodding step by step toward the torture, pain and despair of the cross, knowing that on the other side lay the hope of resurrection. 

Let us not stand by and idly watch the events of this holy week.  Let these events fill our servant hearts with a renewed desire and commitment to serve the God who sent Jesus not to be served, but to serve, and to call us to be servants.  The Servant God who rides the humble donkey, washes the stinky feet, accepts the deadly lashing and gives his life to serve salvation to all who come to serve him. 



[i] A.T. Pierson, The Truth.


[ii] Today in the Word, March 6, 1991.


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