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Servant Leadership Among the Poor

Willy has lived at the mission for at least a year. He is young, handsome and captivates people with his winning personality. If you met him on the streets you might think he was a successful business executive. But, Willy is an alcoholic and drug addict who comes from an abusive family. He loses job after job due to his addictions.

Lonna is a middle-age woman who suffers with bi-polar disorder. She takes lithium and cycles back and forth, using meth and other illicit drugs between periods of sanity. Yet, she has a keen mind and strong determination to better herself. She, too, has lived at the mission on-and-off for more than two years.

Pagan Culture's Definition of Success: Dignitaries, Rich&Famous

How can we help mission residents like these? What type of leadership do we seek to help the most destitute people in southern Oregon? Certainly not those who fit our pagan culture's definition of success. Jesus aptly described our "modern" successful leader:

"Everything they do is for show… they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called 'Rabbi'" (Matthew 23:5-7, NLT).

Pagan role models include honorable dignitaries, heads of state, the rich and famous and aggressive go-getters. They are our "take charge" people, the physically fit and tanned, winners, PhDs and MAs. They are the best society has to offer us. But, perhaps we should remind ourselves of what our Lord thinks of "successful" men like these: …"for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15, NASB). Ouch…

Jesus Christ's Definition of Success

Instead, Jesus said that the "greatest among you shall be your servant." Don't call yourself "leaders" because only one is your leader, that is, Christ. In fact, don't "pat yourselves on the back" for your successes, because those who exalt themselves will be humbled while those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:10-12).

(See Willard 1998, Ch.6: Escaping the Deceptions of Reputation and Wealth).

Servant Leadership Model

In fact, Jesus completely turned upside down our idea of true success and leadership. He warned us to "Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven" (Matt. 6:1, NLT).

I don't think Jesus was just kidding.

Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990)&Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Living in the early 1900s Robert Greenleaf decided that a corporate model of shared power, putting the needs of others first so that they might grow and become all they were meant to be, was the best form of leadership. "Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built" (Nixon 2013, 2).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer studied the teachings of Jesus and came to the same conclusions. "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35, NASB).

Combination of Nationalism&Cheap Grace

Certainly, there is no question that those who choose to follow Jesus will be persecuted. Living under Hitler's regime, Bonhoeffer clearly saw a danger to the downtrodden and disenfranchised Jewish population. The church of his day had made a terrible error in judgment. They had combined nationalism with cheap grace and had become ineffectual spiritual leaders as a result.

Confessing Church

In response, Bonhoeffer started a seminary under the auspices of the Confessing Church. He practiced servant leadership, even to performing everyday household chores. He also developed mentoring and accountability among his students, practicing what he preached. Sadly, in 1945 he was hung for conspiring against Hitler.

Servant Leadership Within

In a similar way Servant Leadership is what we strive to develop at the mission. We empower residents such as Willy and Lonna to grow in their faith, become Resident Assistants and to teach others. Residents helping residents…staff helping residents and one another…

For instance, Willy has played a huge role in taking charge of building projects at Wagner Hall. Lonna has spent time studying an excellent DVD series and now teaches bible studies to our Fikso ladies. Both are involved in the daily supervision of resident activities.

Willy and Lonna (not their real names) are good examples of servant leadership that we seek to develop within the ranks of our Grants Pass Gospel Rescue Mission facilities. Servant leadership is what we seek to develop among our employees and chapel teachers as well. We look for humble, kind-hearted diligent workers to faithfully carry out what Jesus commanded.

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3, NASB).

References&Recommended Reading:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995 (1st ed. 1937). The cost of discipleship. NY: Touchstone.

Nixon, Brian. 2013. Eric Metaxas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and servant leadership. Assist News Service. 15 April. Available from: www.assistnews.net/Stories/2013/s13040083.htm. (accessed 15 April 2013).

Willard, Dallas. 1998. The divine conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life in God. NY: HarperOne.

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