ON BEING A SERVANT LEADER
A few years ago, I was in charge of leading a team to India, to build a partnership between an organization there and our church. It was a big responsibility and I was looking forward to it. The team had been trained, visas obtained, itinerary planned, and tickets booked.
Two weeks before we were to leave, I fell and broke my wrist. The break was a bad one and I was given an external fixture — I looked like a bionic woman. My doctor ruled out any trip outside the country. I was crushed and my team was very disappointed. Around this time, I called my mother and poured out my pain to her: “I don’t know why God would do this to me. I’m supposed to be a leader and here I am, stuck.”
My mother, in her gentle, yet firm voice said: “Shanthini, you are not a leader, you are a servant, and a servant does whatever her Master calls her to do. If staying is what He has for you, then learn to do that well.” I never like conversations with my mother that are so convicting, but I am grateful for that one, because the long, pain-filled days of recovery were also days of learning servanthood.
A SERVANT LEADER
The Gospel of Mark talks about servanthood this way. “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)
The first mark of a leader is that of being a servant. Whenever God talks about those who we would call leaders in the Bible, He refers to them as His servants: Job, Abraham, Moses, David. What marked them as servants? They obeyed God, which is one of the marks of a true servant. More than that, their lives were lived with a higher purpose – they didn’t look for significance or success, but the core purpose of their lives was to glorify God. They didn’t look for power, but looked to serve and lay down their rights to see others thrive.
How do we live like this?
JESUS WAS A SERVANT LEADER
Jesus sets a perfect example of how to do this: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5)
Jesus knew who He was. He was clear about His identity. It was His starting point, the lens through which He viewed His life and ministry. He came from God. He knew his purpose. It was where He was headed. He was going back to God. Knowing both, He got up and served. Servanthood starts here.
Where we start matters: A race is defined by two points, the start and the finish. Our servanthood is defined by two points, the start and the finish. As we study the Bible over and over again, we clearly see that God wants to be our starting point and our finishing point, because when He is, that defines the way we run the race.
THE STARTING POINT OF A SERVANT LEADER
Our starting point matters.
If we start with our fears, then we’re going to go down the path of anxiety and struggle to trust those we lead.
If we start with our circumstances, then we don’t feel in control and will micromanage those we are supposed to serve.
If we start with our need for significance, then we will end up frustrated because we are never enough, and we begin to blame ourselves, others or our circumstances.
If we start with ourselves – anything other than God – then we set ourselves up for a life that revolves around us and our needs or circumstances, and we seek power rather than service.
If we start with God, however, then we begin to see that God has a bigger plan and purpose for our lives, we see ourselves the way He sees us, and then we can serve others without our egos getting in the way.
When we make God our finishing point, then our purpose becomes His “well done”. If we let go of our need for other people’s validation, we can take criticism with grace and can empathize with the needs of others, serving them, and empowering them to thrive.
Leadership starts with learning to be a servant.
A SERVANT’S PRAYER
Give me a servant’s heart, O Lord;
A soul that longs for you,
A spirit that daily seeks your will,
And strength to follow through.
Give me ears to listen
To the cries that go unheard,
A mouth that speaks in kindness
And proclaims your perfect word.
Give me eyes to see the things
That grieve your only Son
And hands that reach out for the lost
Until your work is done.
Give me legs that carry me
Swiftly through the race,
And when I’m finished let me leave
Footprints marked with grace.
Bible Teacher, Counselor, and Speaker
A powerhouse of talent and wisdom, Shanthini grew up in South India, with a deep love for God and world missions. She is a clinical psychologist by training, but a stay-at-home-yet-volunteer-for-everything mom in practice. She is part of the adult discipleship teaching team at her home church, and loves discipling small groups of women -- at church, in prison, and through teaching opportunities at home and around the world.
A mentor and guide to many, Shanthini is constantly learning and loves to share that knowledge with those around her.
She is happiest sitting out in her garden on a warm day with a good book, having dozens of people over for dinner on a Sunday night, or having God conversations over a cup of coffee. She and her husband Vinod have been married for 29 years; they have 3 adult children.
Understanding our God-given purpose is the reason something exists or was created, the reason we act or choose not to act, it encompasses intentions and objectives.