"If you want it done right, do it yourself." This phrase, usually told by people who are too busy to see the value in working with other people, is a limiting phrase. It limits because it presumes that you are capable of actually doing it right yourself and that no one else will be able to add any value to your work. What a sad way to live, alone in the world, emotionally excluding others while carving out space for yourself as the only one who knows which end is up.
I worked in a McDonald's restaurant when I was in high school. One thing that McDonald's offered that was really good for some of its employees was a manager trainee program. The company would take college age students in each store and promote them to a "swing" manager, which meant they had to have very flexible hours. It was a way to see if promising workers could make the leap into a management mindset. If so, they would then enter into full management training.
Most of the "swing" manager were very good. In fact, we often liked working with the "swing" managers more than the actual managers! But one guy became a "swing" manger who shouldn't have. While most of the "swings" led by helping out when times were busy and pretty much leaving you alone the rest of the time, this guy "managed" by being right up in your face. He'd criticize when food wasn't moved as quickly as he wanted it to be, he'd control by reworking the break schedule to reward workers he liked, and he'd manipulate by sending home workers he didn't like, just to call in someone he did like. He had no respect and he didn't earn any, either.
This is what it's like when people who are supposed to be leaders don't lead properly. In business, the worst that can happen is a company is destroyed. (I do not minimize the personal problems this creates for workers.) In the church, the worst that can happen is a church is destroyed. Woe to the worthless manager who selfishly controls, manipulates, and coerces in the name of "leading" the church.
But we've all seen this. We've seen the man selected to be an elder on the basis of his church attendance over decades. He's "earned" it. But a deeper look would have revealed his non-involvement in service ministries over the same time. He attended bible studies to be served, not to serve, and now he'll lead the same way.
We've seen the man selected to be an elder because he's "good in business," which is always an aka for, "he has a lot of money and we don't want to offend him." It's clear that what works well to make money in business doesn't always translate to the spiritual. Sadly, some churches find this out too late when this type of elder becomes the de facto leader of the elders, everyone answering to him, while he leads top-down and from his own sense of what needs to be done.
We've seen the groups of elders who act like bullies, requiring every little thing to be run by them so they can say "no" because it wasn't their idea. No one remembers how these elders were even elected. But they have their little meetings, sometimes hauling in a member or two for a rebuke, and then they announce what they've decided without every visiting the members to gather input and gain insight. The church is fearful of these groups.
Of course, in the New Testament, this type of leadership is never advocated. In one of the clearest examples, Peter teaches that elders in the church are to be "eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to [them], but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Likewise, in the gospels, Jesus never teaches leadership by control, criticism, coercion, or manipulation. Rather, over and over he teaches that if you want to be first--meaning, if you want to truly lead others--you will become last; you will become their servant. Not many who aspire to "leadership"--with its glamor and prestige--aspire to be a servant. And this is why not many are cut out to lead, because it first requires an inner transformation.
In fact, Luke relates two parables that Jesus tells to teach about servant leadership. Now, Jesus' immediate context is not church leadership. In Luke 12, Jesus begins teaching about discipleship. This teaching block is long and ongoing, providing shades of instruction all the way through until his passion narrative begins. As he teaches about servanthood in these two parables, we can draw principles to apply to leadership. After all, church leaders should be the lead disciples in the congregation, pointing the way by example.
In the first parable, in Luke 12:42-48, Jesus teaches about servanthood by using the example of a manager who oversees servants. (The manager is a servant himself, answerable to his master.) His specific responsibility is to give his fellow servants their food allotment at the proper time. In other words, he is to be responsible for the health and well-being of these servants.
This parable immediately ties in with the theme of stewardship. For this manager to do his job well, he will need to be a good steward over the resources he has been entrusted with. The implication here is obvious: "It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns" (12:43). But what of the manager who beats the servants and takes the food and drink for himself? Well, that servant will find himself "cut...to pieces" (12:46).
Jesus' principle is this: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (12:48). Now, while this serves a discipleship context which encourages us to be good stewards and servants over those we are seeking to influence, the leadership application is clear: Those who have been entrusted with a flock to shepherd must do so well, because much is expected. Church leadership is a high calling and a high aspiration. It is not for unbalanced people who seek self gain above all else.
In a second parable, in Luke 17:7-10, Jesus teaches that servants recognize their role as servants and do their job without seeking reward or to "gain credit" with their master. In response to the apostles' request for more faith, Jesus indicates that faith is grown through obedience to God. That obedience is seen in service to others.
Jesus begins this parable by asking his hearers to place themselves in a position of having a servant. After that servant has worked all day, do you give him the night off before he has prepared your meal? Of course not! You indicate to him that he needs to prepare your meal first...then he can have the night to himself. Why? Is it because you are mean-spirited? No, it's because that is his job, to serve you as your servant.
But then Jesus turns the tables and says, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" We are the servants. The Lord is our master. Those of us who see ourselves as masters over others are living outside the truth of this parable.
Again, the application is clear: to be faithful to God, we must view ourselves as his servants who carry out his work for us. When we have done this, we have only done our duty. Those leaders who apply this by viewing themselves as the masters who oversee the servants have missed the point. They need to be the lead servants, leading by serving others because it is their obedient duty. Godly leaders recognize this.
So I ask again: Look around you--who are the spiritual leaders that you recognize as serving others in obedience? These are the ones you follow, because they provide an example of obedience...and good leadership, because they focus on others first.
And if you want to become a leader yourself? Begin serving others in obedience to God.