FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON SERVANT LEADERSHIP
AUTHENTIC SERVANT LEADERSHIP
April 8, 2016
One of the most important aspects of Church life that is missing is servant leadership. There are many who serve, there are many who are leaders, but there is a dearth of servant leaders. Most of those who serve and are leaders do not even really know what it means to be a servant leader (please read my book Servant Leadership). If they did, then there would be much less conflict and strife and disunity in the Church and in communities and parishes, and our Church can move forward on its mission in the power of the Spirit.
Today’s readings give us much input on critical aspects of authentic servant leadership. Following are ten basic principles.
First principle: everything starts with an authentic relationship with Jesus
“One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, to gaze on the Lord’s beauty, to visit his temple.” (Ps 27:4)
Nothing extraordinarily and divinely and lastingly good can truly be accomplished by a person who serves or leads unless he (or she) has a deep intimate personal relationship with Jesus who is Savior and Lord. Why? Simple; because we do God’s work. We need to take on the mind and heart of God. We need to become another Christ.
We need to pray and read the Bible every day. Not as something routinely done. But as a true expression of the relationship we have with Jesus. We look at Jesus and gaze upon him, meditating on who he is. Jesus of course is the perfect model for Christian living, and we look to him to teach and guide us. We decide to walk in his footsteps and to be like him.
We go to the Lord’s house to visit. Certainly every Sunday for the Eucharist, which we must grow to understand and love (please read my booklet Blessed by the Eucharist). We visit the Lord’s temple also at other times and in other ways, as we have the opportunity (or we make the opportunity). We encounter Jesus at Eucharistic adoration, at visitation of churches, at shrines, in pilgrimages, on recollections and retreats, and so on.
At the heart of it all, we long to be with Jesus, not just at times here on earth, but ultimately to be with him eternally in heaven. We do not just visit the Lord and give him some time and then go off to focus on our own pursuits. Our basic knowledge is that we are pilgrims on earth, with the basic desire to make it to heaven. Even as we live in the world and necessarily have secular endeavors, we are always focused on Jesus, seeking to dwell in his house all the days of our life.
Second principle: when the personal relationship with Jesus starts to fall into place, then God intends to use us as His instrument to accomplish His purposes in the world
“Jesus said, ‘Have the people recline.’ …. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, …. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over’” (Jn 6:10a,11a,12a)
In the synoptics, Jesus gives the loaves and fish to the disciples for them to distribute. So the multiplication and miraculous feeding are God’s work, but to fully accomplish them and have people benefit from them, human instruments are needed. This is God’s design.
Jesus already did everything needed to save everyone. By his death and resurrection, people are saved. But for people to experience such salvation, they need to call upon the name of the Lord, that is, to repent and to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. But how can they do this if they do not believe, and how can they believe if they have not heard this good news, and how can they hear if there is no one to proclaim it, and how can one proclaim it if he has not been sent? This is the one and only process. So Jesus, having done all he had come to do, having accomplished the Father’s purpose, just before he ascended into heaven, gave his final instruction. He sent, and started the process of experiencing salvation going.
How about work with the poor? Jesus says his mission is to bring glad tidings to the poor. Our Church is tasked with building the Church of the Poor. Jesus identifies directly with the poor–the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the ill, the stranger, the imprisoned. These are the least of his brethren. But who is tasked to feed the hungry and clothe the naked? It is Jesus‘ human instruments. It is us. And if we do not? Then they remain hungry and naked. Those whom Jesus loves so much, those whom he directly identifies with, will continue to suffer, and God will allow them to suffer, if we do not act.
Imagine, God intends to use us to do his divine work, to continue with the work of salvation, to help bring people to heaven. That is the greatest privilege in the world. And God does not have a Plan B. It is human instruments or nothing. As such, it is a great responsibility as well, and we will be held accountable.
Third principle: to grow in Jesus and be his effective instrument, we need to take on his mind and heart, and trust in him to provide
“‘Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?’ He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.” (Jn 6:5b-6)
Nothing extraordinarily and divinely and lastingly good can truly be accomplished by a person who serves or leads unless he does it according to the will of God. Why? Simple; because we do God’s work. Unfortunately many times those who serve or lead insist on doing God’s work according to their own ways, paradigms, agenda, priorities, etc. Then they are no longer doing God’s work, but doing their own work and claiming that it is God’s. What arrogance!
Jesus knows what he wants to do. He gives us the privilege of being his instruments. We need to be able to tap on to his mind and heart. When Jesus asked Philip where they would get the food to feed the large crowd, Philip was immediately stumped. He said they had no money and even if they did it would not be enough (Jn 6:7). End of story; there is nothing that can be done. Don’t leaders also act in the same way? When being led by the Spirit to do massive work, they readily come up with all the excuses why it can’t be done (I need not enumerate those excuses here; you know what your excuses are). They are defeated even before they start.
Sometimes there are those who would try to see how the Spirit’s leadings can be pursued. Andrew said there was a boy with five barley loaves and two fish, but again could not figure out how this could feed so many (Jn 6:9). Why? Because he saw things with human eyes and he figured things out with human wisdom. Is that not we also do? We try to honestly assess our resources, desiring to follow the Spirit’s lead, but we figure, and rightly so from the human standpoint, that it is impossible to do. We do not have enough money, we do not have enough workers, blah, blah, blah. We lose sight of the reality that if this is God’s work, and if we act in accordance with God’s will and plan, then the Spirit Himself will provide what is needed. And God will provide way beyond our wildest dreams. He is God after all. Well, you know that, but you do not act on that knowledge. Shame.
Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish, and there was even more left over than what they started with (Jn 6:11-13). Servant leaders, you serve a mighty God. Do not cut Him down to your size.
God is committed to provide in order to accomplish His purposes. As such, we must trust in Jesus and in the power of his Spirit.
Fourth principle: the authentic servant leader will be opposed and persecuted, but he can always look to God’s protection and care
“For God will hide me in his shelter in time of trouble, he will conceal me in the cover of his tent; and set me high upon a rock. Even now my head is held high above my enemies on every side!” (Ps 27:5)
If you do the authentic work of God, then you can expect to be opposed and persecuted. Why? Simple; because the world and the devil are opposed to Jesus and the Christian faith. And the whole world is under the dominion of the evil one.
Unfortunately, when opposition and/or persecution come, those who serve or lead back down, give up, are discouraged, lose their zeal. Then there are those others who, in order not to be opposed and persecuted, will flow with the crowd, and become politically correct. They seek not to offend, and just be nice and accommodating. They will not confront people with their sin. They are then those who have been co-opted by the enemy. If they not longer gather with Jesus, then they contribute to scattering the flock.
There will be opposition and persecution, but we look to God for protection and proper care. Why will God not care for His instruments? Does not the potter or painter or cutter not care for his instruments? Of course he does; otherwise his instruments cannot do the work he wants to do, no matter how skilled he is. If God Himself cares for us, then we have nothing to fear. Certainly not the devil who has already been defeated by Jesus on the cross.
But if God protects and cares for us, why do we undergo so much disappointment, setback, oppression, suffering and pain? Aha, this is why you need to go back to Principle #3. You must put on the mind of God. Why did the Father save us by sacrificing His own Son on the cross? This is God’s way! This is why the prosperity gospel is so wrong, because the authentic gospel is the gospel of the cross! We want to be comfortable so we become complacent and lose our passion. We want to become rich so we begin serving mammon and not God. We want to be well known and so we succumb to sinful pride. God’s loving way of getting us out of such dangerous human modes is to allow us to be cut down and laid low (different from laying low), so that in humility and nothingness, God can then raise us up. And God intends to set us high upon a rock! High above all our enemies and oppressors and persecutors on every side.
Fifth principle: as God uses us, in the process giving us His protection and care, and knowing we are so privileged and indispensable to God’s work, we must never look to our own glorification, as the glory belongs only to God
“Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.” (Jn 6:15)
People are impressed by good leaders. The problem is that they then look to the person rather than to Christ. Check out the mastheads of some evangelical preachers. It is their name that is prominent and not that of Jesus. Then what happens to the people when such preachers fail and fall into serious sin? The people fall away, because they looked to the preacher rather than to the God that he preached. It is the same in Christian communities. When people become disappointed in their leaders, they fall away. Why? Do they not realize they are leaving not the leader but Christ or the body to which Christ assigned them?
Now people do not see Jesus, and people have to be impressed. The early Church grew because there were many signs and wonders performed by the apostles and disciples. And as we have been saying, if we do God’s work, then His divine power will be manifest. It is natural that those who do well will be admired and even adulated. The people thought Paul and Barnabas were gods because of a healing they performed and even the priest intended to offer sacrifice to them. Prominence and renown are used by God to bring people to God. But we need to be careful not to let it inflate us with sinful pride. It is not we but the Spirit who accomplishes mighty works. Rather than being proud, we must in fact be humbled. Who are we to do such wonders?
So people will look to effective servant leaders. That is part of God’s design. Our part is to deflect any glory intended by people for us, and give the glory only to God. Paul had the right posture. He did not tell people not to look to him, but he told them to look beyond him and see Christ. Imitate me as I imitate Christ.
Sixth principle: if you do the authentic work of God, you will suffer persecution
“After recalling the apostles, they had them flogged, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40a)
Since the world and the devil are vehemently opposed to the Christian faith, those who effectively share Christ can expect to be opposed, maligned, lied about, assaulted, oppressed and persecuted. At times (or oftentimes?), these even come from those who are brethren and co-workers! The greatest conflicts, and the subsequent divisions and splits in communities, are not because of arguments over politics or sports, but about how to serve God!
Why can’t God just give his servants victory after victory, why can’t they just be in an environment of perfect acceptance, so they can go about their task with great satisfaction and joy? Do I need to send you back to Principle #3 again? God thinks differently than we do (thank God!). If things were easy, we would not grow in many virtues, such as patience, endurance, forgiveness, perseverance, persistence, etc. If things were easy and so nice, we would very quickly take God for granted, rather than as it is, in facing great challenges, we fall down on our knees before the only One who can truly help us out.
Suffering and pain are salvific. They humble us, they keep us utterly dependent on God, they move us into a deeper relationship with God, they enable us to understand more the mysterious ways of God, they teach us endurance and perseverance, they help make us true disciples who are told to embrace our cross each day, they bring us to holiness. Suffering and pain are a great privilege, as we participate, albeit in a much smaller way, in the sufferings of Jesus, especially in his passion and death on the cross.
A true servant leader is another Christ. What did Jesus experience? Glory turned to suffering and pain. From treading on palm branches to being nailed to the cross. From being hailed with “hosannas” to hearing the words “crucify him.” Such is the way of Christ. Such is the way of a servant leader as well.
Seventh principle: despite anything and everything, be not afraid
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1)
The evil one and its worldly powers are formidable. They are a dark and diabolical army that is overwhelming the whole world. They are a formidable war machine that is crushing everything under its path.
But Jesus is the stronger man who has already defeated the strong man the devil. If Jesus shows us the way, the enemy cannot mislead us. If Jesus is our salvation, then there is nothing at all to fear. If Jesus is our refuge, then we will always be properly cared for. Even as we are assaulted by formidable forces, God can cut them down as He wills. “When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, these my enemies and foes themselves stumble and fall.” (Ps 27:2).
When we do the authentic work of servant leaders, then we engage deep into spiritual warfare. We are in the thick of the fight, at the forefront of the battle, on the cutting-edge of God’s counter-assault against enemy forces. Again these forces are vast and awesome. The assaults against faith, family and life are led by powerful earthly forces, including the USA under its President and liberal leaders, the European Union, the bureaucrats of the United Nations, billionaire philanthropists, and many others. It is a classic David and Goliath battle for us. But you already know who won that fight! We are already on the winning side. “Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.” (Ps 27:3).
So when you stand eyeball-to-eyeball with an awesome enemy, do not blink and do not slink away. Do not lose heart. Know who it is who stands behind you, already wearing the victor’s crown. Charge!
Eighth principle: be not afraid because God’s victory is already yours
“But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:39)
How I wish those who assault authentic servant leaders or who oppose God’s work would know this wise word from Gamaliel. Indeed, how can you fight God and hope to win? But that is what the enemy forces continue to do. That is expected. Unfortunately, many times supposedly friendly forces are also the ones doing the work of the enemy.
Whatever. For our part, we first seek to ensure that we indeed are doing God’s work. If we go on our own human wisdom and strength, especially if we veer away from God’s intent, even as we are well-meaning, our work will not truly prosper. “For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.” (Acts 5:38b). So our first enemy is often ourselves! If fact, whatever good we are able to do is often in spite of ourselves!
So whenever things seem to go nowhere, try to look with spiritual eyes and see where God is. Is Jesus there beside you facing the enemy, or is he on the other side facing you?! If he is on the other side, it is not because he is on the side of the enemy, but you, perhaps without knowing it, are the one who has joined the ranks of the enemy! You of course know that whoever is not with Jesus is against him.
If we however are with Jesus, if our work is truly of God, then our enemies are not fighting us, but God! And they will not be able to destroy us. In fact, they may not know it, but they are the ones who have already been destroyed.
Ninth principle: rejoice in suffering and dishonor for the cause of Christ
“So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” (Acts 5:41)
Can you picture that scene? The apostles had been savagely beaten, their backs bloody with the flogging, but they had big smiles on their faces! They were doing high fives and jumping up and down with joy! What craziness is that?! Paul himself told the Corinthians about all the suffering he endured–imprisonments, beatings, flogging, stoning, shipwreck, dangers, false brothers, sleep deprivation, hunger and thirst, fastings, cold and exposure. Whew! But was Paul complaining? No! He was wearing all these as a badge of honor!
Suffering is part and parcel of the authentic Christian life, but more especially so for the servant leader. For him, suffering is not a negative but a very big positive. If he is not suffering, then he is probably not doing much in assaulting the enemy, because the enemy does not bother to assault him! The authentic disciple is told by Jesus to embrace his cross daily. What a blessing then that there will be suffering as crosses to embrace. What a privilege to walk the very path of Jesus, offering ourselves on the cross.
The suffering is not just physical, but oftentimes is emotional, caused by such things as suffering dishonor. Servant leaders are maligned, gossiped about, put down, insulted, lied about, their reputations attached unjustly. When these happen, rejoice! To receive glory would threaten our humble selflessness; to receive dishonor, for good work done for the cause of Christ and for the sake of his name, is what is truly desirable.
Once we are able to accept and live by this posture, then nothing can ever faze us or bring us down. If we are exalted, then fine. If we are demeaned, then fine. The only thing that matters is the Lord. The only acceptance that we desire is from him, to hear him at the end of time say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into your Master’s joy.”
Tenth principle: with the foundation of all of the other principles above, now go and share Christ with the world
“And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.” (Acts 5:42)
Evangelization is the most important work we will do, as it is the foundation for everything else–family renewal, pro-life advocacy, work with the poor, environmental stewardship, political reform, economic renewal, etc. Unless people undergo conversion and a change of heart, we cannot expect that all the wrong things happening in the world can be turned right. First things first.
So we do the work of evangelization. First in our homes. We help renew our children and our family, and make our homes places of Kingdom ground. Then second, in our Church. She is a missionary Church, but is not now accomplishing her calling. So we also evangelize in the temple. Then third, in the world. This is not of course chronological, as all three should be ongoing at the same time, but they show us the importance of laying a right foundation, which is Christ, to be able to do a wider work. First personal, then family, then Church, then world.
We do rapid, massive and worldwide evangelization. All day long. Everywhere. Always teaching about Christ. Always proclaiming the Messiah in our day-to-day environments. That is the life of a servant leader.
Such is the life of an authentic servant leader. It can be the most satisfying life in the world. I pray that you might discover it.
“I believe I shall see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.”
* * *
As is obvious, this is the longest From the SG article I have ever written. I believe it is one of the most important. This is especially so during these critical times in our life and mission.
At the risk of offending you, I will say that you may experience right now a failure in servant leadership. How? (1) By not reading this article at all. (2) By just skimming it and telling yourself you already know it all. (3) By just skimming over it because you do not have the time or the patience. (4) By reading it but quickly, just to get it over with.
Please read it line by line and pray about it. It can take you days. Only when you can say a resounding Amen to what I have written can you say that you truly understand servant leadership. And of course, living it out will be a lifelong effort.
It would be good for households to take this article up. Perhaps even over more than one meeting.
God bless you.
* * *