Lecture 2: The Humble Servant

I. Introduction

Question: What’s the biggest mistake a leader can make?
This video from the Harvard Business School symposium asks: “What’s the biggest mistake a leader can make?” [footnote]“What’s The Biggest Mistake Leaders Can Make?” blogs.hbr.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://blogs.hbr.org/2010/08/the-biggest-mistake-a-leader-c/[/footnote] Here’s a summary of the answers:

Put their self-interest in front of their institution or organization
Bill George, Harvard Business School

Betraying trust
Evan Wittenberg, Head of Global Leadership Development, Google Inc.

Being certain. Why bother when you know!
Ellen Langer, Professor, Harvard University

Not to live up to their own values.
Andrew Pettigrew, Professor, Sïad Business School, University of Oxford

To be so overly enamoured with their vision that they lose all capacity for self-doubt.
Gianpiero Petriglieri, Affiliate Professor of Organizational Behavior, INSEAD

Personal arrogance and hubris
Carl Sloane, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School

Acting too fast.
Jonathan Doochin, Leadership Institute at Harvard College

It’s all about the leader and also not being authentic, consistent and predictable.
Scott Snook, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School and retired Colonel, US Army Corps of Engineers

Not being self-reflective.
Daisy Wademan Dowling, Executive Director, Leadership Development at Morgan Stanley

The common thread running through these responses is the danger of pride or over-confidence. And if that’s true in business, then how much more in the church.
In this lecture, we will consider the particular causes of pride, the perilous character of pride, the pastoral consequences of pride, and the personal cure of pride. The aim is that every Christian leader view (and conduct) themselves primarily as a servant.


II. The Particular Causes of Pride

Question: What Causes Pride?
Everyone is susceptible to pride, but the Christian leader is uniquely vulnerable to it.
1. Public gifts
As your gifts are exercised in public (unlike those with more private and unseen gifts and ministries), they are more likely to be recognized, admired, and praised.
2. Official status
As many of God’s people respect and honor the “office” of pastor or elder (sometimes regardless of who fills it), you may be inclined to think it is you they respect and honor.
3. Man-centeredness
When people are blessed under your ministry, they will often attribute it to you rather than to God.
4. Worldly ideas of leadership
You see yourself as “in charge of all these people,” rather than their servant.
5. Inexperience
The Church is quite unique in how it places untested and inexperienced young men into positions of the highest responsibility without going through the “humbling school of hard knocks.” Having never been led, they sometimes do not know how to lead. Pride is a special danger for young pastors and elders (1 Tim. 3:6).
6. Over-experience
Sometimes a man starts out in Christian service in humble dependence upon God, conscious of his need, and seeking God’s constant supply of gifts and graces. However, even Christian work can become routine. Tasks that were once mountains become easy. As need diminishes and disappears, self-confidence grows and strengthens. Older pastors and elders can also become embittered by various disappointments, and get into the habit of viewing God’s people with contempt and speaking of them derisively.
7. Misunderstanding of call to the ministry
Paul did not see the pastoral ministry as a prize he had earned. For Paul, it was as much a grace, an unearned gift, as salvation (Eph. 3:8).
8. Jealousy
Oswald Sanders says that envy of another’s gifts, position, or success reveals and promotes pride. He asks: “How do we react when another is selected for the position we wanted to fill? When another is promoted in our place? When another’s gifts seem greater than our own?” [footnote]J Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 156.[/footnote]


III. The Perilous Nature of Pride

Question: What does pride look like? What are the symptoms?
Best-selling author Jim Collins’ wrote about pride in his book, How the Mighty Fall. Collins shares research demonstrating that Stage 1 of organizational failure is “hubris born of success.” Confidence is an attribute that every leader needs to embrace and to foster in others, he says. But when confidence goes too far, it can become hubris. Collins warns that overdosing on confidence is easy to do but difficult to detect. He therefore offers some warning signs (summarized by John Baldoni):[footnote]John Baldoni, “How To Recognize (And Cure) Your Own Hubris,” blogs.hbr.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://blogs.hbr.org/2010/09/how-to-recognize-and-cure-your/[/footnote]

Signs of Pride

  • You make many decisions independently. No, dithering isn’t good. But bosses who make all of their own decisions without speaking to others are asking for trouble. How much do you ask for others’ input?
  • You can’t remember the last time you spoke to a customer (substitute “church member”). Failure to discover what people think about what you offer is not only foolhardy, it’s a recipe for failure in the future. If you think you’re “too busy” to connect with customers, that’s a warning sign.
  • You always have lunch with the same people. Socializing only with select peers cuts you off from people who might offer alternate views.
  • Your team always seems to agree with you. If no one has contradicted you in a while, you may have inadvertently created a no-bad-news culture. Surrounding yourself with people who can only do one thing — nod — is an invitation to disaster.
  • When something goes wrong, the first thing you ask is, “Who’s responsible?” This may be a sign that you overemphasize accountability at the expense of problem-solving — which your team may see as finger-pointing.

Ministry-Specific Signs of Pride

With some minor modifications, some of these are applicable to pastors and elders. But I would also add the following pastor-specific warning signs:

  • You dismiss criticism as personal dislike. Well there can’t possibly be anything wrong with my preaching or pastoring, can there!
  • You start shortening prayer time because you have so much ministry to do. In fact you can go long periods of time each day without a breath of prayer heavenwards.
  • You no longer need to read your Bible for yourself. I mean I know it so well now anyway.
  • You don’t listen to your members’ views on any text. After all, they don’t have Hebrew or Greek, do they.
  • You resent the twice-yearly meeting with the elders charged to oversee you. What impertinent questions they asked the last time about my internet use. And imagine counseling me to avoid visiting single females alone! What kind of man do they think I am?
  • You threaten to resign if you don’t get your way. They need me far more than I need them.
  • You stop visiting your flock. After all, that’s really for the deacons. Surely I’ve done my stint of hearing about Mrs. Moaner’s hip replacement and about Mr. Payne’s arthritis.
  • You stop evangelizing. That’s for the young people.

In Effective Pastoring, Bill Lawrence calls pride “Leader’s Disease,” and defines it as “a chronic condition of heart that is contaminated by expectations of self-reliance, position, power, recognition, and control.” [footnote]Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring, (Nashville: Nelson, 1999), 32.[/footnote]

IV. The Pastoral Consequences of Pride

Question: What are the results of pride?
If you fall into pride there will be serious consequences in your Christian service:

  • You will start depending on your gifts rather than on God.
  • You will become impatient with your less gifted brothers and sister in Christ.
  • You will become thoughtlessly insensitive to and scornful of the traditions and customs of the past.
  • You will resist personal criticism and mature counsel.
  • You will become discouraged and discontented because “I deserve better than this crowd!”
  • You will regard yourself as above the small/dirty jobs in the congregation.
  • You will stop learning because you know more than everyone else anyway.
  • You may fall into the “condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim.3:6).

Man-Made Authoritarianism

Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of someone who has left the servant model behind is that he becomes a controlling personality who morphs his God-given authority into man-made authoritarianism.
1. Mr. Controller is power hungry. He’s always trying to get more control over your life. He’s never satisfied with knowing what he knows about you, but always want to know more. He’s never content with power in one or two areas, but wants power in every area. He gets his biggest thrills from ordering other people around and making them feel subservient.
2. Mr. Controller never suspects he may be abusing his power. He never says, “Please let me know if I you ever think I’m overstepping my bounds.” He has little or no awareness about his own tendency to misuse power.
3. Mr. Controller gets easily and terribly offended whenever anyone questions his authority. “How dare you speak to me like that!” “Do you know who I am?” Any questioning is viewed as insubordination, rebellion, disrespect, etc.
4. Mr. Controller thinks of himself more as a King than a servant. He rarely thinks or asks “How can I serve you?” Instead, his prevailing attitude is “How can I rule you?” He’s out to gain more control not to give more help. He empowers himself rather than others.
5. Mr. Controller threatens when threatened. Whenever his authority or power is questioned or challenged, even when it’s done humbly and appropriately, he warns of unpleasant consequences for the questioner. He certainly never pauses to ask, “Did I exceed my authority? Did I handle this correctly? Have I made a mistake?”
6. Mr. Controller keeps a long record. His position of power has enabled him to build big memory files on his “victims,” which he does not hesitate to use (or hint at using) when necessary.
7. Mr. Controller tells rather than teaches. He orders people around without explaining why. “Just do it!” He doesn’t take the time or make the effort to explain himself or his “guidance.” He prefers law and sanction to teaching, instruction, and motivation. He’s afraid that if he teaches principles and aims at changing the heart, that people will then work out things for themselves rather than be dependent upon him for everything.
8. Mr. Controller clings to power. Unlike true leaders who love to train other leaders and delegate power to them, he clings to power and refuses to let go. Because, of course, no one is as wise and competent as he is.
9. Mr. Controller hates to be controlled. He’s often resistant to anyone being in authority over him or telling him what he should be or do. He’s often a vociferous critic of other sources of power and authority around him. He figures, “If I can weaken him/her/them, I strengthen myself.”
10. Mr. Controller lacks self-control. This is his weirdest characteristic. You’d think that such an addiction to control would produce a deeply disciplined person. Not at all. Most controllers have major deficits in the self-control department. Perhaps it’s because they are so busy interfering in other people’s lives that they neglect their own. Maybe it’s because they find it easier to direct and discipline others than themselves. I don’t know, but watch out for this. Behind most authoritarian personalities is usually a lack of biblical authority, often manifested in bad morals or bad temper.


V. The Personal Cure of Pride

Question: How do I cure pride?
As pride is a disease of the heart, any prescription must begin with the heart.

“Servant leadership is not a technique that can be adopted from the outside in. Instead it begins in and flows from the heart. Immature believers run into trouble with the concept because they try to execute a formula, rather than renew their minds biblically, resulting in a God-changed heart and leading to effective servant leadership. The impact of supernatural love cannot be packaged in three easy lessons.” –Bill Newton[footnote]Bill Newton, “Misunderstanding Servant Leadership,” WorldMag.com, accessed 5.28.14, http://www.worldmag.com/2013/08/misunderstanding_servant_leadership[/footnote]

Let these four phrases be the heartbeat of our lives:

1. I am a sinner (1 Tim. 1:15)

  • Remember what I was (think on the sins you’ve been delivered from)
  • Remember what I could be now (if God had not stopped you)
  • Remember what I still am (research your own heart )
  • Remember what I could yet be (if God removed His restraining grace)

Follow the example of godly men from the past who turned the devil’s deadly weapon of pride back upon himself by using it to keep them humble.

Robert M.McCheyne: “Oh, for true unfeigned humility; I know not how to be truly humble. I know I have cause to be humble, but I do not know one half of that cause; I know I am proud, and yet I do not know half of my pride.”

J. Edwards: (twenty years after his conversion) “I abhor the bottomless, infinite depths of wickedness and pride left in my own heart.”

Richard Baxter: “Pride not only goes with me into the study, but often chooses my very subject and sometimes my very words. Pride writes my sermon, pride goes with me to the pulpit; it forms my tone and animates my delivery. It takes me off of that which may be displeasing to the people and sets me in pursuit of vain applause from my hearers. And when I have preached, pride goes home with me and causes me to eagerly seek for signs that I am applauded, rather than signs that my message was useful in the saving of souls.”

2. I am saved. (Eph. 2:8-9)

A Christian leader must not only have a sense of his sinfulness but also assurance of his salvation. And it is out of that identity as a saved sinner that he serves Christ. Bill Lawrence has an excellent section on this in Effective Pastoring. He differentiates between deficit thinkers and abundance thinkers.[footnote]Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring, (Nashville: Nelson, 1999),  7-20.[/footnote] Lawrence says that “a deficit thinker is someone who thinks he is a nobody who must make himself into a somebody by what he does.” Deficit thinkers are marked by emptiness where there should be identity, and vainly try to fill the gap with achievements.
The difference between deficit thinkers and abundance thinkers is not in what they do but in how they think. Abundance thinkers serve God and His people out of their secure identity as a child of God. “All of their actions grow from the security of their identity. They are no longer trying to buy an identity through what they do.” [footnote]Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring, (Nashville: Nelson, 1999), 14.[/footnote]

3. I am small (Eph. 3:8)

Collins regards self-confidence as vital for business success. But his basic message is that “too much confidence is a toxic cocktail that can lead to a very long hangover.” That’s where Christian ministry differs from business positions because self-confidence in a pastor, even to a small degree, can be disastrous.
It is vital for the Christian leader to remember how small and limited he is. He has limited gifts, limited, effectiveness, limited knowledge, limited time.[footnote]Leadership Handbook of Management and Administration, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 52.[/footnote]

4. I am a servant (2 Cor. 4:5)

Servant leadership is bottom-up leadership.[footnote]J Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 156, 160.[/footnote]  It is the opposite of all the top-down models we are so familiar with (e.g., the royal king, the authoritarian tyrant, the distant guru, the superior academic, the bureaucratic czar, the CEO, etc.). Someone described top-down leadership this way: “The boss barks orders to the employee; the employee goes home and barks orders at his spouse; the spouse barks orders at the children; the children kick the dog; the dog chases the neighborhood cat.”
The top-down model is not only the most common; it is also the one that comes most naturally to sinners (as it reflects the devil’s nature). It is easier to order people around than to engage, motivate, enthuse, etc. It is also far more predictable and far less risky. I’ve seen so many pastors, elders, etc., decide things on their own rather than consulting or putting something to a vote, because they can control the outcome better.
a. Where are our models?
Old and New Testament saints saw themselves as servants (Gen. 18:3; 19:19; Ex. 4:10; Num. 12:7; Jer. 44:4; Rom. 1:1), as of course did Christ Himself (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:14-17; Phil. 2:5, 7). The last passage shows how Christ gave up His rights, his reputation, his recognition, and his royalty to become a servant.
b. Whom do we serve?

  • A servant of God (not independent but dependent on God for commission, authority, blessing)
  • A servant of God’s people (not their lord or sovereign)
  • A servant of sinners (do not look down on the unsaved but get down on your knees for them)
  • A servant of servants (don’t compete with other pastors and elders but serve them [Lk. 22:26])
  • A servant of the Servant (who said, “I am among you as one who serves,” and, “the servant is not greater than his Master.”)

c. How do we serve?
Someone once asked, “How do I know if I am functioning as a servant?” The answer, “By the way you react when people treat you like one!” I’d like to suggest also that we go back to the characteristics of pride outlined above and reverse them to produce the characteristics of servants:

  • You consult before making major decisions. People you should consider consulting are fellow-elders, other pastors, mature Christians, your wife, and anyone who will be impacted by your decision.
  • Visit, visit, visit. Pastoral visitation and involvement in the messiness of people’s lives keeps our feet (and our knees) on the ground.
  • Socialize with people from all walks of life. Don’t be too proud to lunch with the poor – or with the rich.
  • Encourage the expression of divergent views. Seek out those who you know will usually oppose your plans and decisions and ask them for their opinion and reasons. Make sure everyone on the elder’s board has opportunity to express their opinion, even if you know they will disagree with you.
  • When something goes wrong, the first thing you ask is, “Am I responsible?” Be ready and willing to point the finger at yourself, even if it is not entirely your fault.
  • Resist the default of viewing criticism as personal dislike. However excessive, imbalanced, or “personal” the criticism, try to find the grain of truth in it.
  • The busier you become the more time you spend in prayer and Bible reading. Cultivate and maintain a close and lively walk with Christ. Our ministries are not so much about communicating principles and precepts, as they are about communicating a person. And that person described himself as “meek and lowly in heart.” Whatever else our ministries communicate, let them communicate that. Because that is powerfully attractive and effective. And safe.
  • You welcome the insight of other Christians on texts and doctrines. You recognize that God often reveals things to babes that he hides from the wise and prudent.
  • You seek accountability. You ask your wife, your fellow-elders, a mentor to keep you accountable to Scriptural standards. And when choosing accountability elders, don’t choose the ones most like yourself!
  • You never use the threat of resignation as a lever. You persevere through difficulties and disagreements without resorting to worldly methods of manipulation.
  • You continue to evangelize. You recognize that however well-respected you are in church circles, you are still fundamentally a disciple and a witness to the resurrected Christ.
  • You take on the dirty jobs from time to time. Without abandoning the ministry of the Word and prayer, from time to time you show that you are not above the menial jobs in the congregation.
  • You keep learning. You make a point of listening to others sermons, reading others books, going to conferences, etc. And all because you realize your own limitations and needs.
  • You put the growth and development of others ahead of your own. Robert Greenleaf was one of the first to advocate for servant leadership in business. His website offers the following suggestion: “The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
  • You stay near to the cross. I heard Don Carson deliver an exegetical lecture at a seminary about 20 years ago. I had just started Greek and could understand little of it. However, he said one thing I’ve never forgotten: “No man can think himself big or make himself big beside the cross.’
  • You are more focused on what others can “become” than on what you can become. You are ambitious for them not yourself.

This is really all about the difference between two kinds of power: influence and authority. Although focused on education the Tomorrow’s Professor blog[footnote]Derek Ruff, “Sources of Power in Education,” derekbruff.org, accessed 5.28.14, http://derekbruff.org/blogs/tomprof/2013/04/01/tp-msg-1242-sources-of-power-in-education-2/[/footnote] article on this distinction can also help us distinguish between two very different kinds of power in the church.
Authority is legitimate power which is vested in leaders within formal organizations and involves a legal right to make decisions which may be supported by sanctions.
Influence represents an ability to affect outcomes and depends on personal characteristics and expertise. Here are seven distinctions between authority and influence:

  • Authority is the static, structural aspect of power in organizations; influence is the dynamic, tactical element.
  • Authority is the formal aspect of power; influence is the informal aspect.
  • Authority refers to the formally sanctioned right to make final decisions; influence is not sanctioned by the organization and is, therefore, not a matter of organizational rights.
  • Authority implies involuntary submission by subordinates; influence implies voluntary submission and does not necessarily entail a superior-subordinate relationship.
  • Authority flows downward, and it is unidirectional; influence is multidirectional and can flow upward, downward, or horizontally.
  • The source of authority is solely structural; the source of influence may be personal characteristics, expertise, or opportunity.
  • Authority is circumscribed, that is, the domain, scope, and legitimacy of the power are specifically and clearly delimited; influence is uncircumscribed, that is, its domain, scope, and legitimacy are typically ambiguous.

Church leaders/officers such as elders and deacons certainly have a degree of God-given authority, but influence is almost always preferable to authority if at all possible.
The post then identifies six forms of power in educational institutions, but the parallels can, again, also be found in churches:

  • Positional power: the power of individuals who have an official position in the institution.
  • Authority of expertise: the power that is vested in someone because of their acknowledged expertise.
  • Personal power: individuals who are charismatic or possess verbal skills or certain other characteristics may be able to exercise personal power.
  • Control of rewards: power is likely to be possessed to a significant degree by individuals who have control of rewards, and are inevitably perceived as powerful by those who value such returns.
  • Coercive power: the mirror image of the control of rewards may be coercive power, and rests on the ability to constrain, to block, to interfere, or to punish
  • Control of resources: control of the distributions of resources gives power over those people who wish to acquire them.

To these I would add:

  • Administrative power: The use (abuse) of procedure and bureaucracy to further a personal agenda.
  • Political power: Decisions are based on considerations unrelated to the particular issue or case.

I could go on, but the list is sadly already way too long. How wonderful it would be if we could simply trust in spiritual power, authority, and influence; and prayerfully pursue God’s glory and the good of souls by the power of the Holy Spirit alone.
d. How do we lead as servants?
Having said all this about service, it is important to remember that the servant-leader still leads. They do the things that leaders do – direct, organize, delegate, etc. – but they do so as servants. Bill Lawrence says that servant qualifies leader.

“Servant leaders exercise authority but they do so with motives, focus, values, methods that differ from those of other leaders. The servant leader exercises authority motivated by a love for Christ, a focus on his interests, the values of the cross, and the courage to wash the feet of those who follow Christ with him.” [footnote]Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring, (Nashville: Nelson, 1999),  100.[/footnote]

But they still lead:

“Servant leaders serve or they don’t lead at all. And servant leaders lead, or they don’t serve at all. Stated another way, servant leaders lead by serving and serve by leading.” [footnote]Bill Lawrence, Effective Pastoring, (Nashville: Nelson, 1999), 104.[/footnote]

Greenleaf puts it like this:

“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. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature…”

But let me conclude with a warning, a warning from Mark Galli, Editor of Christianity Today:

“I have to say I no longer believe it is possible to be a ‘servant-leader’ in our culture. In our culture, the lure and pride and glory of the word ‘leader’ swallows up ‘servant.’ Every self-described servant-leader I’ve met, in the end, has turned out to be mostly leader, and very little servant. This may seem a harsh and sweeping generalization, but I have encountered so many ‘servant leaders’ who have no idea what servant means (except to lead more boldly from the top, ‘Because after all, when I use my leadership gifts, it helps the church!’ they’ll say), I’ve given up believing in ‘servant leadership.’ Please notice that Jesus, while recognizing this his disciples would, in fact, be leaders, never used the term ‘servant-leadership’ or anything like it. Servant was all. Jesus is the main one who gets the title of leader, though it comes in the form of ‘Lord.’ There is a reason that pastors have been called ‘ministers’ for centuries.” [footnote]Mark Galli, “Pastors in a Changing World – Chaplains or Leaders?” bolslinger.blogs.com, accessed 5.28.14, http://bolsinger.blogs.com/weblog/2011/12/mark-galli-responds-pastors-in-a-changing-world-leaders-or-chaplains.html[/footnote]