Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Servant Leadership

This week's scriptures are Psalm 1 and Matthew 23:1-12.

This Tuesday evening I watched the person I supported defeat a person I admire for the presidency of the United States. What draws me to both of these men is the times when I hear them-at their best-speak in language which is often associated with what, years ago, was referred to as "Servant Leadership."

Robert Greenleaf wrote a book by this title some 25 or so years ago. Building on his writing Max Depree wrote Leadership is an Art (a book that made a tremendous impact on me), and other books on the meaning of leadership in this 'Servant Tradition'.

A look at Wikipedia indicates that Kautila, a famous strategic thinker from ancient India, was writing about it in the 4th century B.C. in around 6000 B.C. Lao Tzu wrote that the "greatest leader forgets himself and attends to the development of others." Larry Spears identified ten characteristics is a servant leader: "listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community." Greenleaf said that the best test of leadership was, "do those served grow as persons, do they grow while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?" (italics mine)

Finally, Wikipedia quotes Mark's version of this week's Matthew passage, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all." (Mark 10:43-44)

Aside from a very real hope that our country may be turning a bit toward the concept of Servant Leadership as a possibility; and my prayer that this will be the model that President Obama brings into office; why do I raise this subject here?

As we as a congregation move into the new church year with both our fall programs and Advent; as we look to new congregational leaders; and as we seek our next can we apply this model to our work and ministry. Can we see the "Hospitality" that we've spent the last few weeks talking about as a variety of "Servanthood"? Can we hold up as governing questions to our work as a congregation together and our individual lives as Christians seeking to live out Jesus' message in our daily encounter with others the questions: Am I listening empathically? Is this person I am encountering (be they my child, my spouse, or the cashier at the store) a little 'healthier, wiser, freer' because we've encountered one another? and are they more likely themselves to become servants because we've met/encountered?

As I look back on our scriptures for the past few weeks and see the passages from the parables that say, 'he sent his servants to tell them that the party was ready'; I ask myself, does my/our servanthood help folk get to the party of the Kingdom of God? Does it aid them to see the great invitation that they've been given? Does it demonstrate to them that the party is already going on if they'll just step in the door?

It isn't just persons in great and visible positions like John McCain and Barack Obama who are called to moments of great leadership and great servanthood. You and I are called as well.

Hope to see you Sunday.

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