Recently I had a sobering conversation with a close friend who leads a ministry to fatherless boys. He recruits older men to assist these young men as they learn a practical life skill from an expert alongside other young men and their mentors. Developing mentor-leaders is an art. And it’s not an easy task. Young leaders need direction. They sometimes need correction. And once in a while they need to be taken out of leadership due to an unwillingness to be coachable. And that was the subject of our conversation.
My friend had to make the hard decision to let one of his mentor-leaders go due to his persistent refusal to set a godly example for the young men he was influencing. After several attempts to bring correction and guidance it was time to sever his relationship as a mentor to the young men. Unfortunately, it was not well received. Too often correction is viewed as rejection by the one being trained. That was how it was perceived by this young mentor-leader.
A common spiritually immature response to being corrected is to attack the corrector and impugn their character. Worse yet, is the reaction to correction which results in the demonization of the corrector by attempting to turn the tables on their leader by telling them they are the problem and playing the “I’m more spiritual than you” card. “You’re spiritually under attack and taking it out on me. You’re the problem – not me!”
Knowing my friend well, my advice to him was: “Don’t give a second thought to that person’s immature reaction.” I knew the circumstances surrounding the confrontation and that the leader of this ministry was a godly leader. Never let another person’s lies about your leadership affect you negatively. Perhaps that spiritually stunted young man he corrected will be restored and learn to lead well another day – but not this day.
Leading others is not for the faint of heart. It IS lonely at the top. But it’s necessary to lead well if you choose to be a leader. Robert K. Greenleaf (author of Servant Leadership; A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness – //a.co/d9VVDapJ) coined the term “Servant Leadership.” He write, “Good Leaders must first become good servants.”
Serving people was a huge part of Jesus’s life. His whole purpose for coming to earth as God in the flesh was to serve. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NASB). Jesus constantly served his disciples. A godly man is a man who is willing to serve those he leads. Every disciple of Jesus Christ must eventually learn to serve others.
In Acts chapter 20, Paul gave a farewell speech to the elders of the church in the city of Ephesus. They were his disciples and fellow leaders. It’s a beautiful illustration of how to serve the people you lead.1
The first way Paul served those he led was by leading with his own life. Before Paul talked to his fellow leaders about the things he said, he talked about the things he did. Before he referred to his words, he referred to his life. In Acts 20:18 he said, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia” (NIV). In effect he said, “Remember the way I lived. My life was my message.” And then he said, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me” (Acts 20:33–34 NIV). In other words, “You know how I lived with you. I worked hard. I paid my bills. I treated my fellow workers and employees right.” Remember, when it comes to leading, your ways always trump your words.
The next way Paul served those he led was by earning their respect. Respect is earned. It’s never demanded. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had “… served the Lord with great humility” (Acts 20:19 NIV). Paul never used his position as leverage. He never reminded his followers that he was the apostle and they were not. He didn’t demand special treatment or honor. He knew that “colleagues lead people better than kings.” So he served with humility. And that earned their respect.
Here’s another thing Paul teaches us about serving those we lead: ache out loud with them. We read further that Paul “… served the Lord with great humility and with tears …” (Acts 20:19 NIV). Paul wept with the leaders of the church in Ephesus. You can do the same. You can “… weep with those who weep … and be full of sympathy towards each other” (Rom. 12:15 NASB; 1 Pet. 3:8 The Living Bible). Sometimes all you can do is cry together over a difficult situation. No words are necessary. Just offer genuine sympathy. That’s serving the ones over whom you have influence.
Here’s another way to serve those you lead: deliver an eternal vision. Paul said, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:20–21 NIV). In order to serve people, you must help them see that there’s more to life than just this life. At some point in your relationships with people, you have to put into words that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That He died for all of our sins. That He rose from the grave, conquering death, so that we can do the same. That he wants us to be his fully devoted followers while we’re on this planet. And that He promises to come back again to take us home to be with Him in His undisturbed presence forever. Help the people you lead and serve see beyond the earthly to the heavenly.
Paul also said in this passage that if you want to serve those you lead, endure your difficulties with grace. “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” (Acts 20:22–25 NIV). You best serve those you lead when you model how to face suffering. Sometimes the only reason you’re going through a time of suffering, like financial difficulty or unemployment or a physical challenge, is so you can model for those you lead how to face suffering with grace. You serve those you influence well when you show them with your life how to face difficulty with dignity. Model it for your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, your siblings, and your friends. Let them see in you someone who faces difficulty with grace.
Here is one final thing Paul teaches us about serving those we lead: remember Jesus. Paul told his fellow elders, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35 NIV). You get the impression here that Paul was always walking the words of Jesus through his mind. He told his disciple Timothy to “… remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descendant of David …” (2 Tim. 2:8 NIV). Get acquainted with the words of Jesus. Remember the words of Jesus. Then serve those you lead by sharing the words of Jesus with them.
So, to sum it up, godly men serve those they lead by being an example that others can follow with confidence. They earn the respect of those they lead by being humble, unassuming servants of the people around them. A true servant-leader also aches out loud with those they lead, “weeping with those who weep,” constantly pointing others to the life beyond this one and graciously endure suffering. Above all, a man who is a genuine servant-leader always remembers to keep the words of Jesus uppermost in his mind. He serves like this because he knows that one day, he will hear the words of Jesus that all Christians long to hear: “Well done, my good and faithful servant … Let’s celebrate together!” (Matt. 25:21 NLT).
To read more about becoming a servant leader see Every Man Jack – Becoming the Man God Wants You to Be, by Daniel L. Clubb. You can find it at Westbow Press //westbowpress.com/en/search?query=Every+Man+Jack and on Amazon at //amazon.com/Every-Man-Jack-Becoming-Wants/dp/1973680386 or wherever books are sold.
1 Thanks to Pastor Max Lucado for the outline and much of the content of this section from a sermon of his called “Bringing Out the Best in People,” published July 14, 2015