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Reclaiming our call as servant leaders

Mar 23, 2015

We in the church have used the phrase "servant-leadership" so often that it seems to have lost its impact. So let’s reclaim it. Let’s look to Jesus as a model for the kind of leader I want to be and want you to be.

I’m writing during Lent, while the story of our Lord’s temptation is fresh in my mind and heart. That story shows us some of the great temptations to leaders, like false pride and fear. These things make it easy to rely on ourselves and block God. Instead, Jesus points to God as the focus of our worship, the source of our security and self-worth, and the "audience" of our lives and our service.

Even if you do not view yourself as a "leader," God as our focus is essential for every believer’s life. You interact with others, you constantly make choices and decisions. With God as our focus and guide, we can be at our best and stay the course. ("Trust in the Lord and do not rely on your own insight…" Proverbs 3:5-8). This applies to every one of us, in all of our lives, and all of our decision-making.

I’m assuming that you who are reading this are Christian, and as a Christians, are seeking to keep Jesus as the central focus of your life. I’m assuming that we want to stop blocking God in our lives, and that all of us want to follow Jesus as our true leader.

Yet there are many things that prevent this following from truly happening. Chief among them are pride and fear, the two great temptations and distractions for servant leaders. They separate us from God. They keep us distant from other people. They even prevent us from truly knowing ourselves. Giving in to pride and fear prevents leadership from happening because they are breeding grounds for cloudy thinking and misdirected actions. Pride and fear always generate unhealthy judgments because they lead us to base our own lives on the successes or failures of others. Pride and fear always distort the truth into either a false sense of security or a lack of confidence and diminished self-worth.

Whenever anything becomes more important to you than God, you are in effect bowing to it, adoring it, giving yourself to it. In short, you worship that thing. It may be an object, such as money, a house, a business, or even a new job. It may be a desire for power, recognition, or even appreciation. It may be a habit, an obsession, or an addiction. The story of the temptation, among many things, reminds me that I have to choose what is most important to me: that thing, or a right relationship with God.

We are called to worship God above all, and to rely on God as the source of everything including our own self-esteem and security. Our Lord Jesus is the supreme example of this kind of servant-leadership.

Leadership begins with us on our knees before the God of all creation. In that place, pride and fear disappear and we realize again and again that we are called to serve. Then we can be true leaders.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of The Lutheran New Yorker.



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