There is a growing call in the business world for Servant Leadership. Simon Sinek’s bestseller is entitled, “Leaders Eat Last.” Those in the business world have recognized that people are starving for selfless leaders. Jesus taught that the Christian is to be the servant of all. How do we do that?
Jesus and Service
Jesus taught his disciples to serve each other. He said to them:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — 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” (Matt. 20:25-28).
Jesus wasn’t abolishing the concept of authority or leadership — he was radically redefining it.
His disciples probably didn’t realize it but he was liberating them. Service allows us to say “No!” to the world’s oppressive games of promotions and “pecking order.” Jesus abolished the kind of authority that uses manipulation and control. Instead, Jesus calls his disciples to the authority of function, not status.
The night before his death, Jesus gave his disciples two memorable object lessons. These were the two things he wanted them to never forget.
The first was that he would sacrifice everything for them on the cross in order to save them from their sins. The object lesson was the sharing of bread and wine.
The second was that they were to love and serve each other sacrificially. The object lesson was the towel and water basin.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told them that they were to do the same (John 13:12). This was a radical call to sacrificial service.
Nine Ways NOT to Do It*
It is critical to distinguish between the sacrificial service of Jesus and a self-righteous service practiced by others.
1. Self-righteous service comes through human effort.
I want to stay busy serving to escape my own problems or to get my mind off my own pain. I can use up a lot of energy calculating how to serve and, in the end, it can be very self-serving.
2. Self-righteous service is impressed with the “Big Deal.”
I want to serve on the impressive Board of Directors, or the plum “Ministry Assignments.” I’m always looking for the “Bigger Better Deal.”
3. Self-righteous service requires external rewards.
I need to be applauded so that I can respond with proper religious modesty and humility. When I don’t get it, I become disillusioned with service.
4. Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results.
This is simply another form of reward-seeking.
5. Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve.
This is a basic failure to place others first. Service becomes all about “what I want to do.”
6. Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims.
This happens anytime I do something on my own strength.
7. Self-righteous service is temporary.
I easily weary of service when I do it for my own reasons. True service is a lifestyle.
8. Self-righteous service is insensitive.
I insist on serving others the way I want to serve them, instead of what they actually need. It is a form of selfish control.
9. Self-righteous service fractures community.
I place myself above the community, even in the way I serve.
The Problem with Service
There is an understandable hesitancy to embrace Jesus’ call to radical, sacrificial service. If you obey Jesus on this one people might take advantage of you and begin to walk all over you. Did Jesus really call you to be a “doormat”?
This is the most difficult move in the spiritual discipline of service — it is giving up control. There is a big difference between choosing to serve and being a servant.
When you choose to serve, you are still in charge. You can decide whom you will serve and when. In that case, you don’t have to worry about anyone stepping on you, because you are still in charge.
But when you become a servant of Christ, you give up the right to be in charge. Jesus is now in charge and he has promised to take care of you. The only question that remains is not will people take advantage of you, but will you trust Jesus to deal with those people.
Nine Ways to Serve*
What are the ways Jesus calls us to serve? This list is not exhaustive but rather a starting place.
1. The service of hiddenness.
This is the wonderful joy of doing something for another person without them knowing who did it. Jesus tells us that when we do this we will be rewarded by our heavenly Father (Matt. 6:1).
2. The service of small things.
Small things make a big difference. Like Dorcas, you can find ways to make “coats and garments for the widows” (Acts 9:39).
3. The service of guarding the reputation of others.
This is what Bernard of Clairvaux called the service of “Charity.” It is the act of always being kind to others even when they are not in the room … especially when they are not in the room.
4. The service of being served.
When Jesus began to wash the feet of those he loved, Peter refused. Jesus taught him that the ability to be served was closely tied to the ability to serve. When you allow others to serve you, then you have offered them an opportunity to be blessed.
5. The service of common courtesy.
Just be nice. All the time. The Apostle told us “to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all men” (Titus 3:2).
6. The service of hospitality.
This is the ability to make people feel loved and accepted. Peter urged us to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9).
7. The service of listening.
The greatest compliment you can pay anyone is to listen to them.
8. The service of bearing the burdens of each other.
People need other people to get through life. The Apostle Paul knew that no man is an island, so he told the Christians in the church to “bear one another’s burdens … ” (Gal. 6:2).
9. The service of sharing the Word of Life with one another.
Jesus said that when we give someone a cup of cold water in his name, we will be rewarded for it (Matt. 10:42). The greatest “cold water” we could ever give anyone is Jesus, the “Word of Life,” and the “Living Water” (John 4:14) that will never run dry!
Fall in love with Jesus and you will fall in love with sacrificial service!
* This material was taken from Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster