I find that most Christians long to use their time and talents to advance Christ’s purposes. Their understanding of the path to such service, however, is deeply influenced by the assumptions of our culture.
According to popular leadership theory, we must use the majority of our talents in order to be successful. Many believe that if they could find a place of service, where their gifts and talents are fully utilized, they can succeed in their callings.
This personal fulfillment mantra stands in contrast to the servant leadership models exemplified in Scripture. God took delight in using the foolish and the weak to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). Moses found that his inadequacies were the means for accomplishing God’s greatest purposes (Ex. 3 & 4). The psalmist was content to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord (Psalm 84:10).
John the Baptist had to decrease so that Jesus might increase (Mark 1:7). Peter realized that only after his own resources of strength, freedom and determination were exhausted could he embrace his leadership destiny (John 21:18–19). Paul knew that his weakness was perfected in Jesus’ strength – that cracked and chipped earthen vessels ooze true power and glory that belong to God alone (2 Cor. 4:7).
No portion of Scripture has challenged my understanding of leadership more than Philippians 2:1–11. While soaking in this passage, the Holy Spirit asked me a sobering question: “Whose needs are you meeting as you lead—your own or those of the ones I entrust to you?”
Here Paul confronts the motivations of the heart, emphasizing the “why and who” of serving. Those who desire to serve like Jesus must unite around a commitment to humility, self-denial and other-centeredness. Actions and attitudes must be without selfish ambition and prideful arrogance.
I believe that those who will take up this call to servant leadership can confront whatever challenges are demanded by times like these.
While much of our effort is motivated and evaluated by what we get from it, our Lord desired to be what we needed so that our greatest good might be addressed. Laying aside his glory and privileges, he moved from Creator to the created, taking on our form in order to identify with those he came to lead. He came to serve and save and not be served or saved (Matt. 20:28). The Son identified with what we were, so that we could become all that the Father intended—heirs and joint heirs with him for eternity (Rom. 8:17).
I believe that those who will take up this call to servant leadership can confront whatever challenges are demanded by times like these. Here are some steps that could enable such a calling.
- Explore and give thanks for the unique person God is making you. Take advantage of the many strength-finder tools and wise counselors available to help you better understand your giftedness. However, do not be afraid to uncover your limitations. His strength is made perfect in your weakness.
- Surrender the hurts and disappointments of not being fully utilized or recognized. Use these experiences to celebrate God’s work in you, and examine your driving motivations.
- Look for opportunities to serve where needs are greatest even if you do not possess the skills and talents you think are required. Get outside of your cultural and performance comfort zones.
- Soak up the character of Jesus. Spend time in Philippians 2, the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1–12) and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16–26). What we do has its greatest value when it is conforming us into the image of Christ.
If Jesus is the gold standard for servant leadership, then we must serve faithfully those he has entrusted to us. Often, we will be working within the strengths he has provided. However, do not be surprised when the Master asks you to serve out of frailty and discomfort. Being forced into such responsibilities ensures that we are operating not in our own power and might, but by the Spirit’s (Zech 4:6).
And be prepared to be set aside from time to time. The stops, as well as the steps of the righteous, are ordered of the Lord (Isa. 40:31, Psalm 37:23–24). When Jesus is our only thing, as well as our everything, the excellence of the power is seen by all to be of him and not of us. In the end, the only leadership star will be the Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Such servant leadership God guarantees will work in times just like these.
David Gyertson, Ph.D., served as president of three Christian institutions: Regent University, Asbury University, and Taylor University. Currently he is Associate Provost and Professor of Leadership Formation and Renewal at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY. David specializes in leadership transitions, Board governance consulting and executive coaching primarily for faith-based organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.