Monday, February 06, 2012

A Few Good Servants

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 6 Feb 2012

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as 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 slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
One of the most famous lines said by Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, and Daniel Craig is this introduction of the British secret agent: "My name is Bond, James Bond." Yesterday, I joked with one person. "Our name is Bond, Bond Servant." In a twist to the familiar line uttered proudly by the world famous secret service agent, 007, it reminds us that as far as Christian service is concerned, 'servant' is our lastname. We are bounded to one another in love, to God in Christ. We are bonded to Christ in service. The Greek word 'doulos' typically means being under the will and direction of the master. He follows the will of his Lord, his Master, his Superior. Paul, in his letter to Titus, begins with the following,

"Paul, a bond-servant of God. . . " (Titus 1a)

This is significant because of the very nature of Paul's illustrious past as a top solicitor, a famous Pharisee, and a prominent Jew. In a remarkable contrast to his glorious past, he submits himself to a lowly position. Servanthood is a mark of discipleship. Serving becomes a joy because servants of God serve the King of kings. In this article, I want to argue that it is more important for a few good men, than many unwilling people thrust into serving. People are not made for structures. Structures are meant to facilitate serving one another.

A) The Servant Leader

Servant Washing another's feet.
Sometimes I feel the term 'Servant Leadership' is an oxymoron. Can a lowly servant actually lead? The phrase 'servant leadership' was first made popular by Robert K. Greenleaf who published a book entitled: "The Servant as Leader." In that book, the key point is:

"The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?" (Robert Greenleaf)

Robert Greenleaf's inspiration for the Servant Leader concept comes out of a book by Hermann Hesse. In Hesse's "Journey to the East," there is a story of a group of men on a pilgrimage to find the great 'Truth.' Among the group, there is a servant by the name of Leo, a simple servant, but with a great joyful heart. Working behind the scenes, he serves the rest of the group. He serves them in every possible way. He sings to them. He encourages them. Leo demonstrates his servanthood through simple acts of kindness and service. He is diligent. He is cheerful. He caters to the needs of the group as much as possible. Unfortunately, he is taken for granted. Along the way, due to the group's distrust and suspicion of Leo, even accusing Leo of stealing their things, Leo disappears. From that point on, the group disintegrates, and the journey ends abruptly.

A lack of trust and a rise of suspicion spell the end of the servant relationship. The loss of the servant Leo leads to the loss of overall direction of the group. The one big lesson in this story is this: It is the presence of servanthood that sustains the health, the unity, and the purpose of the group. Behind every functioning organization is the presence of a team of people with a servant heart. For that, we need to create a culture of serving one another. Do not look for great numbers of people who are willing to serve as leaders. Look for a few good servants who are not just willing, but MORE than willing. We need a few good servants. In true servanthood, quality trumps quantity. Jesus didn't have hundreds of people. He had only 12 disciples.

B) A Few Good Servants

This ties in very closely to the way Jesus does discipleship. Let those who have, serve the have-nots. Let those who are strong, bear with the failings of the weak. Let those who know, take initiative to share what they know freely and graciously. A few good servants of high commitment and humble hearts are to be intentionally prayed for. It is much better than hundreds of half-hearted individuals who happen to volunteer simply because no one else is doing it. In fact, I am even inclined to suggest that if no one is willing to step forward for any particular ministry, mothball that ministry. I remember a time when no one is willing to head up the Evangelism and Mission subcommittee. I said to the leaders, "Why not just leave it for the year? Structures need to be made for people, and not people for the structures."

We need to pray for a few good servants. We give thanks for those who are serving behind the scenes all the time. Perhaps, instead of 80% of our time trying to look for new leaders, why not spend 80% of the time encouraging our present set of leaders? Encourage them to look for new leaders too. Disciple them. Motivate them from time to time. Build in rhythms of work and rest. Forbid them from serving for a year when they have done a continuous tour of duty for say, 4 years.

As servant leaders, we serve not out of our own strength, we serve out of a recognition of God's empowering us. A few good servants will rock the world. A few good servants will cover greater ground. Just like the proverbial saying, 'too many cooks spoil the soup,' too many mediocre servants spoil the overall effectiveness of the organization.

C) A Few Good Soldiers: Sparta

Recreated scene of the Battle of Thermopylae
Let me end with a story. In the fame battle of Thermopylae, mighty Persia with its huge army of hundreds of thousands, found stiff resistance in a small ragtag group of Spartan soldiers protecting a Greek land. Spartan soldiers are trained from young with discipline, grit, and utter courage to brave any kinds of difficulty. When a spartan man goes to war, the wife will come alongside him and motivates him to fight well for the higher purpose of the kingdom. Whole families are behind the Spartan men called to war. With such emotional support, with the intentional training by the military, with the courage of iron sharpening iron within the ranks of the army, the Spartan army is a formidable force to be reckoned with. The recent movie, 300, dramatizes how 300 Spartans manage to hold back more than a million Persian soldiers. Even though the Persians eventually won, the Spartans struck a death blow to the morale and emotional confidence of the mighty Persians.

As servants of God, leaders in the Church that God has given us, we are called to spiritual warfare to defend the kingdom from false teachings, and mediocre lifestyles. We are called to be bold, to be strong and courageous to serve. Let not the numbers or the lack of it discourage us. Leaders of the Church must lead from the Spirit of God.
"We must be silent before we can listen. We must listen before we can learn. We must learn before we can prepare. We must prepare before we can serve. We must serve before we can lead." (William Arthur Ward)
We serve because Christ first served us.


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