Posts Tagged ‘Serving others’

El Lavatorio, by Tintoretto (1518-1594)via Wikimedia Commons

El Lavatorio, by Tintoretto (1518-1594)
via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, a class assignment required me to write some evidences that Jesus demonstrated a strong leadership style, but also modeled true humility. The assignment turned out to be a fitting extension of some earlier posts on humility and dynamic leadership:

The Intersection of Humility and Dynamic Leadership I

The Intersection of Humility and Dynamic Leadership II


Evidence that suggests Jesus had strong leadership style:

Choosing the disciples. Mark 16:13-35, John 15:16a – “you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you.” Jesus accepted anyone who came, but He hand-selected the Twelve. I see this as a sign of a very strong leadership style.

Speaking to the Pharisees. Matthew 23:1-36, and others. Jesus’ polemic against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is unbelievably harsh. There is no wishy-washy, tolerant element in His condemnation of the Pharisees.

Driving out the moneychangers. Matthew 21:12-13. This was the first example I thought of. In John 2:13-16, which may be a separate incident, He used a whip. Interestingly, in Matthew, immediately after doing this, the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. Were they unable to enter the temple before He whipped the moneychangers out of it? If so, although this is definitely an example of strong leadership, He is also modeling humility, by taking it upon Himself to remove a barrier that kept the “unable”  and disenfranchised from worshipping.

“Get behind me, Satan”. Matthew 16:23. Pretty strong words directed toward the leader of the disciples. Jesus puts him in his place with no ambiguity.

The Cucifixion. All the gospels. The demands, but the bravery required. Although I thought of the Cross as an example of modeling humility, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the personal strength required for Jesus to go through with the Cross. Perhaps not an example of strong leadership style, but definitely an example that the Servant was no wimp.


Evidence of Jesus modeling humility:

Baptism by John. Matthew 3:13-17. Just as He was initiating His public ministry, Jesus willingly submitted to John baptizing Him, modeling humility and obedience for us.

The Cana miracle. John 2:1-12. When we read this passage, the story is told in such a way as to imply that Jesus wasn’t planning on beginning His ministry yet, but performed the miracle of turning water into wine because His mother boxed him into a corner. He asks her why she is involving him, and her reply is to tell the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Instead of continuing to insist that His hour has not yet come, He humbly turns the water into wine. Of course, my Catholic friends in Poland see some much further implications for His submission to His mother (they would probably prefer that I capitalize Mother), but it is hard to avoid seeing His humility toward her.

Footwashing. John 13:1-17. After He washes the disciples’ feet, He tells them: “ Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” This is more than just symbolic. As far as I know, there is no contemporary account of a leader doing such a servile act for his followers.

The Cross. Every gospel. This is the ultimate example of humility. He lay down His life, so His followers could live (forever).

Can we use Jesus’ example for our own roles in leadership?

Near the end of 2011, I wrote about our African friend who had escaped from an unbelievably intolerable existence. That story is here. In short, our friend, Susie (not her real name, of course), had married a Polish mercenary in Liberia. This man, with a history as a wife beater, brought Susie back to Poland, where she lived   in his unfinished home, frequently with no heat or electricity, and with a growing pile of garbage in the garage, since he never paid any bills. He continued to beat her and do other awful things to her, but a number of factors made it difficult for her to leave.

However, as you can read in the linked story, she was able to leave, and find refuge in our church building. We organized legal assistance for her, a Nigerian friend helped her get her immigration status squared away (her husband had lied to the authorities in her name), and other friends have helped her figure out how to make it on her own. Although life is still difficult for her and her daughter, she feels free, finally, and no longer must live in fear.

Which is not to say she isn’t still afraid, sometimes. As with most victims of domestic violence, the simple thought of her husband can bring feelings of dread, and panic. However, we can see growth here, too. Thank God for his healing power.

When I first wrote about Susie, her husband had been in jail for 3 months, but then had been released. In Poland, a person can be sent to jail for up to 3 months, while an investigation is conducted, simply on the request of a prosecuting attorney. Now, my American sensibilities think this is unfair – but it didn’t stop us from being very grateful for it! However, after the 3 months were up, he showed up right away at our church building and began harassing Susie again.

He would follow her as she walked their daughter to school, cursing and insulting her. He regularly tried to take the daughter out of school, and once succeeded. Thankfully, he brought her back after a couple of days, but he tried everything he could do assert some sort of power over Susie. Once, he pushed her down in the street. When we went to the police to make a report, the officer in charge told me that such things are  allowed in Poland. Evidently, you can hit someone once, without being charged. (No, I didn’t ask the officer to step outside – pretty sure that rule doesn’t apply to hitting a police officer . . .)

One time, he came to the church, saw Susie outside, ran up and starting hitting and choking her. Thankfully, our building caretaker saw what was happening and called the police. The police made the daughter (who was 7), tell what her dad had done to her mom, but didn’t arrest the man. These kinds of things continued for about a year, until the prosecuting attorney did some follow-up investigation, talked to us again, as well as the director of the school, and had him put back in prison.

Along the way, we have seen God intervene over and over. Both times that he was imprisoned, it came as a surprise – but a welcome one. We have seen how a number of Poles have sacrificed to help her – even risking retaliation from her husband. God has worked through all of these people. And I get a kick out of telling them so, since a few of the most helpful don’t really want all that much to do with God! But God is using them, too!

At the same time, though, we have seen some of the uglier parts of the Polish system. Some of the police have treated Susie with disdain, partly because she is black, and a woman, but mostly because she can’t speak Polish. During the first criminal hearing, a translator for Susie was not supplied, and she ended up agreeing to something that would have hurt her case. However, when another friend of ours informed a journalist, and organized some observers from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights – somehow all the records from that first hearing had been deleted from the computer. . . This was good for Susie, but certainly raised some questions in our minds!

Today, Kaye and I were supposed to be witnesses in the next criminal hearing. Our testimony is pretty significant, since we were the primary witnesses to the beating that preceded the police intervention that finally began the criminal process – after a number of other beatings that the police responded to, but never initiated an investigation. And of course, we have been witnesses to the husband’s continued harassment, stalking, and violence.

But – Susie’s husband is in a mental institution, under observation. So, the case has been delayed, again. However, no one from the court told us. No – the court secretary phoned a Polish witness, and asked her to tell us, and Susie. Oh, well.

Please keep praying for Susie, and for us – especially Kaye, and for all the people helping Susie – her lawyer, friends from church, a kind lady from Family Services, a nurse who has helped immensely, and of course for Susie’s daughter.

McNeal, Reggie. A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2000. 224 pp.

Sometimes when and where you read a book means almost as much as what is in the book. Although the what in Work of Heart is pretty significant, the time and place in life when I read it made the book so much more valuable.

I was in the middle of my lowest point ever in ministry. Thinking strongly about packing up and “going home” back to America. But we had committed to being part of a Luis Palau evangelism outreach with several other churches in town, and as a part of that, we rented a couple of rooms in the center for a prayer vigil leading up to the campaign. We always had someone there, on duty, while people came and prayed. I needed something to read during my shift – so I picked up this book that my supervisor had given me a few months earlier. Am I glad I did!!

Reading this book, during a time like that – a low point, but also a spiritual retreat time – made the message much more meaningful, and allowed me to work through the questions the author includes for personal growth.

Here are my three best thoughts in the book:

1. The call we are discussing as a heart-shaping subplot in the leader’s story is the specialized and specific setting aside by God to some special lifelong task in His kingdom. . . The call is not invented, it is revealed. . . The point is this: it is tough enough to serve as a Christian leader with a call. Without it, the choice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (98-99)

I had struggled with understanding my call to Poland. I thought I was to come as a church-planter, but church-planting was so tough, and I, at least then, gave up after the first failure. Meanwhile, some elements of planting a church had no appeal for me. I think I had tried to invent a call – but based it more on a need, than on the way God had gifted me. This book was extremely helpful, beyond even the chapter on call, in helping me come to grips with this. It led to a crisis, where I almost left Poland, but we needed to go through that to come to an assurance of God’s leading.

2. Commonplace: Discovering that the ordinary is extra-ordinary. Habits: look for God, keep learning, say yes to God, stay grateful. (175-186)

Seeing God in the commonplace was probably what helped us survive the crisis we faced. When my ministry partner had an affair, when our church plant fizzled, when the dollar dropped by 50% – all at the same time – some of these reminders here helped us survive, and eventually see God’s leading.

3. The reflection questions from the conclusion. I worked through all of these, reflecting on most of them with my wife, and they really helped me see myself, my world, my heart and my call. (188-192)

            As I mentioned, working through these reflection questions was so helpful. I had never done anything like that, and I’m so glad I did. I’m very grateful to my supervisor for giving me this book, and I would have to say it was one of the most positive influences in my life – ever. I’ve shared ideas and questions from this book with Polish leaders that I mentor, as well.

Personal follow-up note: I had a class with Dr. McNeal at Columbia. During a break, I told him that this book had saved me in ministry. His response? Not just “thanks” or “praise God.” He said (without really knowing me) “you are worth it.” I got a lot out of the class, but to be honest, it’s those four words that I will remember the longest.

You can buy a revised version of Work of Heart here: Work of Heart at Amazon


McNeal, Reggie. Get a Life!: It Is All About You. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2007. 179 pp.

Dr. McNeal is one of my favorite authors, so I’ll be reviewing a few of his books in my blog. To be honest, I am definitely not objectively critical toward his books, and my reviews will undoubtedly reflect that. In each review I’ll share a few insights from each book, and what impact it had on my life.

The books centers around five key questions that we need to return to frequently throughout our life:

1. Why am I here?
2. What is really important to me?
3. What is my scorecard?
4. What am I good at?
5. What do I need to learn?

For me, the three best, most insightful ideas in the book were:

  1. Passion distinguishes people from the pack. People with passion stand out from other people who are involved in the same work or activity without it. For the latter it’s just a job or something they have assigned to them. For the people operating from passion, it is an expression of who they are and what makes them tick. (page 12)
  2. Talent matters. Developing a strengths philosophy begins with a clear and honest assessment of your talent. This is the flip side, the antidote, to the philosophy of self-imposed mediocrity through trying to achieve “balance” in your strengths.(page 102)
  3. The single best strategy to avoid dying before you are dead is to practice lifelong learning. If you want to get a life, the learning needs to be intentional, guided by what you want to accomplish. . . Specifically, this learning quest will help you make your next move, knowing how to get to where you want to go in life. (pages 131-132)

As I read this book, I realized how much passion was missing from my life. I had already struggled with burnout and boredom, and tried to deal with it improperly, instead of dealing with the root issues. I was not living from my strengths.

I especially was not maximizing my talents. In an effort to be humble and servant-hearted, I had downplayed some natural leadership gifts. I felt guilty about preaching, and enjoying it, because American missionaries are supposed to have the nationals do that. Of course, multiplying leaders must be my task, and humble servanthood is the heartbeat – but I was expressing both of those values in unnecessary ways.

This book was one of the primary prompters for me to go back to seminary (Columbia International University) Just beginning, at age 41, with family and ministry pressures, was a significant victory. Now, God and my professors willing, I’ll finish this spring, and I’m already looking forward to a Ph.D.

I had two copies of this book, but I gave both away already. However, Get a Life! is available here: Get a Life! at Amazon

My dad pastored a couple of churches, including one that he planted, before leaving the ministry to start his own lumber business. I still haven’t plumbed the full extent of his impact on my life and ministry, since sometimes I don’t notice his influence until I am in the midst of a ministry conflict or crisis, and see myself doing what I saw him do. He served faithfully and humbly, ready to give anyone anything. For years, he had a personalized license plate on his car: “OTHERS”. That word summed up his view on ministry and leadership.

Of course, when we think about leading a team, church or organization, a key task of the leader is helping to develop a common vision, strategizing to reach the goals that that vision mandates, building unity around the common dream, and motivating his teammates, especially when adversity arises and their self-motivation begins to wane. Dynamic leadership can then be understood as “understanding the direction to be taken, and inspiring others to go in the same direction.”  Or, as Robert Clinton defines it: “Leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences God’s people toward His purposes for that group” (The Making of a Leader, 14).

Some basic principles serve as a starting point, then, for a biblical leader:

  • People are made in the image of God and therefore have intrinsic worth (Ge. 1:27-28)
  • People are motivated to perform with excellence in recognition that everything is to be done to the glory of God (Col. 3:23)
  • People will not grow and develop unless they are trusted and given freedom both to succeed and fail
  • A leader is appointed by God and assumes authority from Him (Ro. 13:1)
  • Successful leaders view others as friends, not as subordinates, and interact with them in a spirit of openness and humility (John 15:15)

A biblical leader-servant exemplifies the following characteristics:

  • Maintains and builds unity (Eph. 4:3). Avoids needless arguments about ownership, credit or territory.
  • Is not threatened by others’ strengths and accomplishments. Recognizes the value of these strengths and uses them to help achieve the goals of the group.
  • Builds others up. Encourages and lifts up others in every possible way. Celebrates the victories of others, no matter how small.
  • Is pro-active to move issues ahead, while maintaining meekness and consideration of others.
  • Speaks well of others at all times.
  • Seeks to build a broad base of leaders to lead with her.
  • Recognizes and uses authority appropriately.
  • Does not draw his meaning, worth or reputation from the position he holds.
  • Does not make decisions based on his progress, advancement, comfort, increase of authority or position at the expense of those he serves.
  • Is committed to his followers’ progress, ministries and their increase.
  • Develops other servant leaders.

(Both the list of principles and the characteristics are from Omega Course: Practical Church Planter Training, Manual 4, 77-78)

The truly humble leader realizes that he isn’t better or even more accomplished than those he leads. And he doesn’t care. He lives to serve them, and is truly happiest when THEY succeed.

The Intersection of Humility and Dynamic Leadership I

The Intersection of Humility and Dynamic Leadership III

Humility, at its most basic biblical definition, means knowing who you are in Christ. Our identity in Christ is the only sufficient tool that helps bring us freedom from arrogance and pride. We understand that in ourselves, we don’t measure up, will never measure up, but in Christ, all things are possible, including submission to God and others. Humility is most often demonstrated through sacrificial love of other people.

Radical submission to Christ can be practiced by doing whatever we know Christ wants us to do –whatever the anticipated consequences. We put His desires first, and in so doing, our own desires are, over time, transformed to be like His.

Dynamic leadership can be understood through three words: vision, influence and motivation. A dynamic Christian leader casts a big dream vision and helps others discover the big dream vision God has for their lives. She influences and motivates people to move forward in their walk with Christ and personal growth.

When we look at all three concepts together, we see an upside-down model of Godly leadership. Instead of a leader who uses and manipulates people to meet his own agenda, we see a leader who lives to serve others, and meet their God-given agenda. Of course, this is the opposite of what we frequently expect from our bosses and CEO’s, and it is only possible for the leader who understands his identity in Christ and realizes the incredible power of submission and service.

Philippians 2 provides an excellent picture of the leader-servant, and Paul bases the picture on the example of Christ. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. . .Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:3,5-8).

If we look more closely at Jesus’ teaching and example, we can see that Jesus’ ministry was founded on helping others achieve success (John 15:15-16). If our Creator, Lord and King can humble Himself to be one of us, call us “friend,” die for us, and take on the nature of a servant – I have a hard time coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t have a similar attitude.

Paul also taught and practiced a similar form of leadership. In 1 Thessalonians 2, he emphasizes how he was not a burden to the Thessalonians, but instead was gentle, like a mother caring for her children. In Galatians, he encourages us to “bear one another’s burdens.” And of course, we already saw in Philippians how Paul encouraged us, on the basis of Christ’s example, to have a humble, servant attitude.

In 1 Peter 5, the apostle Peter also highlights the need for elders to be “eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to them.” When Peter uses that last phrase, he is harkening back to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 20:25-28, where Jesus says that the one who wants to be great must first be a servant – just as Jesus himself came to serve, not to be served.

The Intersection of Humility and Dynamic Leadership II

The Intersection of Humility and Dynamic Leadership III