by Amy Fenton
“Earn your success based on service to others, not at the expense of others.” –H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Servant Leadership. It seems that this phrase is thrown out a great deal in our culture. It is almost as popular as say, skinny jeans or a slouch beanie on your head in July. But, just like skinny jeans can be hard to squeeze into and a beanie can make your head hot and itchy . . . servant leadership can be very hard to navigate. Especially in a large church environment.
I feel like I have so much to learn on this topic. I have researched this post more than any other I have ever done. And in the process gathered more great quotes, thoughts and ideas than I can process. Here are a few things that I have learned through experience.
Servant leaders value character over talent. If you have ever taken the DISC personality test, you know that D stands for dominant. I remember the first time I got my results and the test said I was a “D,” aka: direct, demanding, forceful, strong willed, driven, and determined, fast-paced, etc. We read the results out loud to our team and I recall everyone looking at me as if I had a third eye. Obviously being a “D” was a terrible thing and I was going to require years of therapy to help me become “un-D.” Maybe there was some type of surgery that could remove this. Worst case scenario would be shock therapy.
The results I had been given said that Ds feared looking too vulnerable and feared being taken advantage of. So true! Now doesn’t that sound like a great personality to have? And doesn’t that just scream “let me serve you”? I think not.
That is the funny thing about the words servant leadership. It often takes someone with some “D” or drive and dominance in him or her to bring “leadership” to the table. But, the older I get, I have also learned that character, a leader’s character—my character and your character—has to outweigh their talent, gifts or natural bent that is reflected in a personality test. Character is where we find the servant part of servant leadership. I believe we all have the same command from God’s Word, to put on the character of Christ. No matter our personality—be it a D, I, S, C or Z.
Servant leaders value the relationship over the position. Sometimes when I tap into the very parts of me that make me a leader, I do not reflect Jesus to anyone. I remember years ago I was in a staff meeting. We were talking over our personality tests and my boss at the time said, “I am a ‘high-D’ on the personality test, but thank God I am a broken ‘D.’” In other words . . . he could have been a tyrant leader, but by the grace of God he had learned to die to self and to serve those that he loves and leads.
I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I knew this particular boss of mine loved me deeply. He cared about me more than being right. If I ever needed him, night or day, he would be there for me. And when I yelled for help, he would come running. He was the boss. He had all the power, and yet he was the one during our VBS week who stood in the parking lot in 90-degree weather directing traffic . . . because that was what I needed. And because of that, there was nothing I would not do for him. I knew he had my best interest in mind. I knew he loved me. His servant heart set the example for me.
My pastor, Pete Wilson, says: “Everyone is a mess. We all need God.” To be a true servant leader, you have to believe this. It is our tendency to change that phrase to say: “The rest of you are a mess. You guys need God.” (And I am the super great awesome servant leader that can fix you.) It is only through true humility that we can change this phrase to: “I am a mess. I need God.” I am broken. Therefore, I can humble myself to serve you and lead well at the same time. That makes for a beautiful picture!