We live in a culture that promotes narcissistic arrogance. I fall victim to it like everyone else, it’s just the way it is. Everyone wants to succeed, get ahead, gain recognition. It’s so ingrained in our lives that it becomes difficult to achieve success without it. People use their status as (fill in the blank) to get what they want and need at all different levels, yet the Bible instructs us to humble ourselves as Jesus did.
I learned about extreme humility from the owner of a multimillion-dollar company. The first time I heard of servant leadership was when my sister got me involved with Premier Designs as a salesperson while I was in grad school. I joined the multi-level marketing company because counseling does not pay very much. Plus, the jewelry is so pretty!
As I got more involved with the company, I was surprised to learn how the founders of Premier Designs, Andy and Joan Horner, applied servant leadership to their company. They operate as they believe by putting people before profits. They take care of their jewelers, reinvest profits into ministry, the community, and employees.
Stories about Andy Horner described his interactions with everyone at the company, even those at the lowest levels, including asking about their families. He did this before “Undercover Boss” became a thing and his humility inspired thousands. At the time, I did not think much about it except that I liked that approach to business.
The business world today emphasizes something similar with transformational leadership, which seems to be a secular version of servant leadership. Transformational leadership encourages leaders to invest in their people to promote innovation. The idea is that a good leader provides a sound ethical framework, minimizes micromanaging, and gives employees the tools they need to get the work done.
As close as that is to servant leadership, there is a distinct difference between empowering people and serving them.
Humility is the key to service
The difference between servant leadership and transformational leadership lies in the humility of the leader. To humble oneself is to strip oneself the pursuit of status, recognition, and importance, putting others first. One does not need humility to empower others, yet to serve it is required. Genuine service comes from putting oneself below another person and Jesus provides the ultimate example.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul put it this way,
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5–8, NIV)
Jesus was God. Yet when He came here, He lived in service to others. He humbled himself to God so that His life would be an example for us. He humbled himself before people in that He did not use his status as God to achieve recognition, success, or to influence others. In fact, when He healed people, he told them to go to the priests for verification and purification, suggesting that His status was below that of the priests.
Jesus could have avoided death. He was God, therefore, above the rulers and high priests who ensured his capture and death. He could have put every one of them in their rightful place below Him, yet He obeyed God’s will for His life and died a gruesome, brutal death. He could have spared Himself all of it. Instead, He served us, healed us, and saved us through obedience.
Thus we are called to do the same. While we may not all be in leadership positions where we can demonstrate servant leadership, we can be servants to those around us.
How to adopt servant status
The first step to adopting servant status is recognizing God as the Creator and Director of our lives. We are not God, nor could we ever hope to be.
In Crazy Love, Francis Chan kicks off the book with a tug back to reality: life is not about us, it’s about God. He goes on to say that God is crazy in love with us and calls us to be crazy in love with Him. When we love Him that much, we obey and we serve His purpose, not ours. When we serve His purpose, we serve others.
Starting at home, families can adopt a status of serving each other, instead of competing for whatever they want to fulfill their own needs. By practicing consideration and service at home, those attitudes translate to extended family, friends, and anyone with whom we come into contact. Learning to put others first, to ask how we can make someone’s experience that day better, leads to empathy and compassion. Empathy and compassion overrule pride, narcissism, and arrogance.
A pervasive attitude of humble service would dramatically transform public life.
Bullying in schools would disappear. Violence forms would disappear. Political backstabbing for gain would transform into cooperation for the good of citizens. Countries would figure out ways to help all people and not just those who can contribute to increased status, influence, and power.
It’s not easy and can be a daily struggle, but adopting servant status instead of self-focused status fulfills God’s purpose for us. May Jesus be our example for choosing humility and selflessness.