The heart of a servant leader is humiity.

I (who thought I had so many lessons to teach) was beginning to see that I had so many lessons to learn. (Bettie Gilbert)


Once upon a time, a servant leader stepped into my life. Even though I was only five years old and the leader was my first public school teacher, she impacted me so deeply that the years melt away when I think of those days.

At a time when teachers were being instructed to keep the upper hand, this teacher held me on her lap. She didn’t tell me that my crying and fear of the movie we were watching were unacceptable. She didn’t tell me to act like “a big girl” (something I had heard from other leaders). No, she brought me into a place of honesty and let me know that she cared.

The next day, a substitute teacher mistakenly showed us the same movie and treated me very differently. While both teachers hold a place in my memories, the first teacher was the one I longed to imitate as I grew older.

Over the years, I’ve sat under many servant leaders – and under other leaders who weren’t servant-hearted at all. I’ve also had my fair share of being a leader without a servant’s heart. I have realized that just longing to imitate my favorite teacher is not enough to carry me into that place of servanthood that Jesus described in Matthew 20:26-28:

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”



So, what changed my perspective?

A young child came into my life when I was a newly-minted Children’s Pastor’s wife. I felt so ready to teach those kids important lessons, but God used ten-year-old Robert (not his actual name) to teach me more than I could ever teach him.

In a time when the diagnosis of autism was barely known, I thought Robert was just easily excited. When I saw him staring at my legs during story time, the church girl in me bristled at his behavior until his mom told me that if I ever thought Robert was staring at my legs, he was actually looking at my shoes. They were his favorite. My heart hurt that I could have bristled at this sweet boy.

Robert’s first question to my husband was always, “How’s Fergie, Barry?” Fergie was the Children’s Church frog puppet that Robert loved. Whether Robert saw Barry at Children’s Church, down the hallway later in the week, or even ran into him at a store, his mind always went first to Fergie.



A heart full of joy seemed to bubble out of this boy (who was supposed to struggle with emotions) over those little gifts in life. How often had I struggled to express my emotions and then shoved them down to avoid letting my true heart be seen?

What if Robert’s eagerness over Fergie was meant to show me how to let my eagerness over God’s good gifts be known? What if my bristling over a young boy’s love of shoes was meant to uncover my fear of being seen and known?

Those lessons were coming from the very ones I was sent to lead.

In the decades since those Children’s Church settings, my husband and I have led many different groups. We have found that our most cherished times were those when we expressed our need to learn, too. Only Christ is our true leader. We are all walking together hand-in-hand to learn more about Him.

Sometimes, the teacher becomes the student as God weaves His lessons among us – and sometimes, a simple hug to share the love of Christ will be the most significant lesson a student could ever learn.

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)



Dear Lord Jesus, thank You so much for walking with us through the learning and the teaching, the mistakes and the victories. Thank You for showing us what it means to lead by serving. Thank You for humbling us so we can bow before You together with those we serve. Please reveal the beauty that You have placed in each of us. We long to grow deeper in Your love. We long to be taught by You. In Your precious name, we pray, amen.


  • Is there an area in your life where you see yourself as the one set above your students?
  • Could Jesus show a way for you to walk alongside your students instead of above them?
  • What lessons could God be showing you through those students?
Happy Bubbles
Bettie Gilbert

Bettie Gilbert

Chronic Joy Contributing Writer

You can find Bettie blogging from her home in the far north suburbs of Chicago at She is walking forward with Jesus in the middle of her pain and weakness from multiple chronic illnesses. The beauty of nature and her family (including nine young grandchildren) are Bettie's joys. She and her husband have been married for over 40 years and take great delight in their weekend coffee breaks together.

Servant-Hearted Leadership

What kind of leader am I? Am I drawn by God's call to serve the precious people He has placed right in front of me? Do I celebrate, encourage, and listen to others?

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