This past Tuesday, we held our Veterans’ Day commemoration at the elementary (we have it a week early to help ensure a lack of conflicts for our veterans). I am acutely aware that I say this about a lot of things, but our Veterans’ Day commemoration is one of my favorite things we do at our school. Not only does it honor men and women who have given so much to our country and our way of life, but it serves as a profound reminder of our faith, the life and leadership to which Christ calls us.
Like so many other things in life, leading as a Christian, in our offices, our homes, our churches, our workplaces, and our schools, is counter-cultural. Christ said as much. As his disciples were jockeying for position in His Kingdom, Jesus told them not to do as everyone else did but, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20. Leading in God’s Kingdom is about service, suffering, and sacrifice.
These things are in short supply today. Most people think that leadership is about being in charge, telling others what to do, or the “perks” that come with the job. That’s an abuse of power, not leadership. Michael Lindsay, author of the leadership study A View from the Top has recently said that to lead is to be misunderstood. Leaders are often misunderstood because of what he calls “the Iceberg Effect”- they are either trying to keep bad things from happening or making good things happen that don’t work out. Either way, they are unable to tell people everything that’s happening. Others, who think they have all the information, judge leaders on the part of the information they know. As a leader, one has to be okay with being misunderstood, to not worry about being defended all the time. As Lindsay says, “A leader’s best work never sees the light of day.”
Servant leaders suffer not only by being criticized and misunderstood. They sacrifice for their people, as well. When someone has to stay late to get something done, the leader steps forward. He or she cannot afford to have an “off” day; every day is “game on.” Everyone looks to him or her for encouragement, for wisdom, for direction, for vision. To some degree, a leader’s family suffers, not only from the loss of family time, but from bearing the criticism that comes with leadership. In our society, when there’s a problem or something goes bad, the leader is the one who takes the blame. In many ways, this is as it should be, because he or she is ultimately accountable. In other ways, however, our society’s expectation that leaders “get it right” every time, coupled by demands for resignation and removal when they do not, are crushing.
Servant leadership is good and noble and pure and holy. It is a blessing, but it is not easy and it is not comfortable. That’s probably why there is such a dearth of it in our society–everyone wants to lead, but no one wants to pay the price that leadership exacts, or they want to avoid the price once they have the position. Servant leadership requires daily submission to the Holy Spirit for His filling, His provision, His grace, His mercy, His humility, and His wisdom. It is supernatural in its origin and in its purposes, and can only be accomplished if motivated by deep, passionate, unyielding love.
Servant leadership is what we teach at Grace. It’s in short supply in our society, but it is still alive and well in our nation’s military. And, that’s why we do Veterans Day. So our kids can see living examples of what it means to lead through service and sacrifice and suffering and love. Thank you to all of you who have served all of us so well. My prayer is that we’ll honor your legacy by going and doing likewise in our homes, work, churches, and schools.