This is the third installment a four part series on servant-leadership.
Jesus was a leader in the same vein of other leaders in the biblical narrative. He was reluctant whose mother had to encourage him to start his ministry. He was a poor guy from the country with few connections. He had a spotty family tree: his lineage included murders, adulterers, harlots, and non-Jews. Often speaking in parables and sometimes poetry, Jesus failed to articulate in ways that the most people could understand. He didnâ€™t work real hard spending a lot of time having dinner and taking walks by himself. He was a really ineffective networker hanging out with people with really poor reputations. Looking at Jesus in terms of modern day leadership practices, he was no Zig Ziglar and for sure refuted most of those irrefutable laws.
How he did choose to lead was extraordinary. He was the consummate servant-leader weaving humility, bravery, and forgiveness into everything he did. If we want to have success at the art of servant leadership, this Jesus guys is a pretty good example to follow. There are three areas he expressed his leadership; as prophet, priest, and as king. Understanding these three expressions of servant leadership will help us each serve those we lead (or lead those we serve) well.
In a biblical/historical context, the prophet has been Godâ€™s voice to call Godâ€™s people to responsibility, repentance, and reconciliation. The prophet addresses the current social, economical, and relational issues and provides a road map for restoration and transformation. In the bible these guys and girls are responsible for proclaiming the â€œWord of the Lord.â€
In regular everyday English, these guys were the vision casters. In the biblical context a prophet did not so much predict the future as they did paint a picture of who God is, who we are, and how the two could be reunited. Jesus was the ultimate vision caster for Godâ€™s plan, purposes, and programs.
The art of servant leadership, invites us to be leaders whose hearts are directed by a vision for those we are called to serve. A vision is something weâ€™ve seen, but its also something weâ€™ve been given. You know you are in the right neighborhood of vision when the image you have for those you serve causes you to ache for what could be. The vision is always bigger than the leader; therefore, vision casting brings a sense of powerlessness and insufficiency.
In the bible, one prophet describe it this way: he lips quivered; decay crept into his bones, and his legs trembled. That is the risk of the servant leader. They cast a vision so big and so personal for those they serve that people will hate them or think they are foolish.
The vision that burned inside of Jesus was complete reconciliation between God and his creation. He saw how distant we are from God and was compelled to dream and speak of how things could be.
You know that you are casting servant-leader-type vision if people around you want to erase the picture you paint or judge it as unreasonable, impractical, or illogical. You know you are doing a really good job at vision casting if others come to hate you and want to kill you. In this way prophetic servant leadership requires bravery and a sure sense of hope.
The second role of a servant leader is that of priest. The Priestsâ€™ role in the history of Israel was to administrate the law. In this way the priest was responsible for two things; 1) guard, interpret, and teach people about the covenant between God and themselves; and 2) to minister the rituals of sacraments and sacrifices on behalf of the Israelites. In short, the priestly role in the bible is to facilitate reconciliation and tell the stories about it.
As the priest, the servant leader becomes a receptacle for the stories of his community. Story provides context for everything and makes it easier to internalize values. The servant leader knows that stories help pass on lessons and shape the memory and reality of those we lead. This is why Jesus spent so much time telling stories. Itâ€™s like every time he opened his mouth he was telling another tale.
In the priestly role, servant leaders hear stories, tell stories, and help interpret (reconcile) stories. For this reason, servant-leaders must be able to tell the truth about their own story so that they can identify the truth in others. And the part they need to know the best is the conflict and loss.
Conflict and loss is an unavoidable part of leadership, therefore, as the chief priest of the community, the servant leader is responsible for helping reconcile the conflict and loss of those he leads. A servant leader needs to have a willingness to experience pain along side and on behalf of those he serves. As priest a servant leader must be prepared to walk through sorrow.
This means that a servant leader must know the true tragedy of his own story and how that impacts his relationships. In his priestly role, a servant-leader will sacrifice his own agenda, profit, and wellbeing for the wellbeing of those he serves. Another way of saying that: is to the extent that a person has and can suffer well on anotherâ€™s behalf is the capacity they have to lead well.
This is a central theme in the story of Jesusâ€™ life. As priest, Jesus was willing to suffer so that others could have what they so desperately wantedâ€”reconciliation with God. In his suffering he facilitated forgiveness.
Servant leaders facilitate reconciliation reminding those they serve of the story being told and how suffering together has helped them in the past. By looking back and retelling the story, the servant leader is invoking a faith in reconciliation: God is who he says he is because in the past God has done what he said he was going to do. It is through this lens of faith that servant leaders help those they serve know who they are, where they have been, and where they are going.
The third role of servant-leader is that of king. The role of the king in the history of Israel was a compromise that God allowed in recognizing that Israel had again rejected him. It was a way for Israel, prior to the coming of a messiah, to have a picture of Godâ€™s advocacy.
As kings, each servant leader has been granted a realm of creation to tend to, nurture, shape, and maintain. How we do this gives a picture of our hearts. Whatever our own little kingdom looks like is a pretty good representation of what is going on in our hearts with God. And as king, the servant-leaderâ€™s job is to protect the vulnerable through two primary functions 1) confronting injustice and 2) demonstrating mercy.
Injustice is seen anywhere power is misused. (Injustice is really just a little nicer word for abuse.) As the king, the servant leader must be actively working to protect the vulnerable from the misuses of power. The king must bring together his resources to guard his people. Likewise, the king must bear unrelenting concern for those who in his care who are less powerful. The servant leader demands that the king give those in need the resources that they need. The king as servant leader is a blending of strength and tenderness.
The nature of kingship is a love that is born out of humility. Itâ€™s desire to rule for the greater good. Being a servant leader means that in recognizing your own vulnerability and neediness, you become willingness to stand up for others and give to those in who are in need.
Jesus was the total incarnation of prophet, priest, and king. Jesus was the perfect prophet, being himself the Word of God and proclaiming the vision of the Kingdom. He was the ultimate priest as he took the form of a suffering sacrifice, offering his life for the salvation of creation. And Jesus was the ultimate benevolent king expressing a perfect blend of strength and tenderness.
In his mercy,