This study guide includes teaching and questions about encouragement (from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12) and servanthood (from 2 Peter 1:1 and Mark 10:32-45).
The study questions for next week are on spiritual leadership and servanthood.
When we're not focused on the right things, we can tend towards nitpicking other people and finding fault in them. People inevitably sin. Jesus knows this and acknowledges it by saying, "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to happen" (Luke 17:1). We don't need to be the sin-police, pointing out to everyone else their own sin and making it worse for them. This is why Jesus continues, "But woe to anyone through whom they come" (Luke 17:1). In other words, woe to you if you make it worse for people by causing them to stumble.
The solution to this is simple: "Watch yourselves" (Luke 17:3). When we keep our emphasis on ourselves, we will pay attention to our own lives, how we live, and what particular sins we commit. Then we will be able to seek the Lord and improve ourselves, not someone else.
Later in this same passage Jesus teaches a method of watching yourself--do your duty. He teaches this through a parable where he takes the example of a servant to point out that when that servant has completed a day of serving, he deserves no special honor; he has simply done his duty. This is an example to us to serve and to keep our emphasis on serving with humility. We do not serve to show ourselves better than others and we do not serve to gain a greater standing for ourselves; rather, we serve because, in Christ, we are servants.
By serving in this way--by doing our duty--we will not become a cause for sin for someone else because we will be too busy following the Lord in our own lives to criticize them and lead them astray. In fact, we will more likely become a source of grace for them and an example, leading them closer to the Lord.
This is a 9 minute audio version of my homiletical essay, "Servant Leadership."
Amidst temptation to lead by control, manipulation, and coercion, godly leaders know that God calls them to serve others because it is their duty to God.
In this 4 minute audio, I look at 1 Timothy 5 and explain how you cannot adequately serve and love others if you have not first loved and served your own family.
Last week I wrote an article describing the difference between authoritative leadership and servant leadership. One commenter suggested I didn't use enough examples to adequately explain my points, so here goes on attempt number two!
I'll start with my simple definitions. For me, authoritative leaders lead by position; servant leaders lead by serving.
All leadership is influence. How you lead determines how you exert influence. Let's look at some examples.
In one church, there is a clearly defined group of elders. The culture of the church is clear that the elders are the "rulers" of the church. Decisions are made by them and any idea or project that someone wants to undertake must first be run by the elders for their "approval." Those who bypass this system, however genuinely, are directed to submit to the authority of the elders. For example, one church member started a home bible study. When the elders of the church heard, they called the church member into their meeting, demanding an explanation of why this was started. They explained that they, the elders, disagreed with home groups because they split the church away from the communal structure they desired (worship and one all-ages bible class). They told the member the home group would need to be disbanded. The structure of the church, seen through this decision, is clear--it is top-down leadership all the way. People submit more out of timidity and fear than out of love and respect. This is authoritative leadership.
This is an extreme example, to be sure. Not every authoritative leadership group is as rigid as in my example. But authoritative leaders who "lead" based on their positions exert authority more than influence. In fact, we might argue that their influence is negative, because it promotes fear and anxiety more than love and respect.
Another church operates differently. This church also has a group of elders but they call themselves "shepherds" and focus on relationships more than meetings and decisions. In fact, these shepherds encourage church members to be creative in ministry applications. In the course of visiting the church members, one member mentioned to them an idea to start a food pantry for needy families in the neighborhood, these shepherds commended this member for their creative thinking, offered to create space in the church building for the food pantry, and committed themselves to serving in it as a way to serve this member and the needy families who would be served. This is servant leadership.
In short, authoritative leaders use their "authority" (usually derived from a position of leadership) to make decisions, delegate, and dictate from the top-down. Authoritative leaders often struggle to relate to people.
Servant leaders have authority, but it's granted to them through their serving of others. These leaders exert real influence over others through their relationships. Relationships are key for servant leaders.
In a couple recent posts, I've questioned whether preachers serve themselves by spending hours in their office in lesson preparation and whether such preparation is even good for the congregation. I've argued that preachers and ministers should be the lead servants--out and among the people, visiting and shepherding, serving and meeting needs.
But what would such a commitment look like? The typical preacher teaches and preaches between two and four times each week. (I'm speaking from experience.) This is perhaps more true in conservative churches that focus most of their efforts on bible teaching, classes, and worship service. Mainline ministers may have it easier in that their churches don't tend to have as many minister-centric classes and services, but from my discussions with mainline ministers, their time tends to be taken up in more meetings.
The bottom line is that ministers give a lot of time to lesson prep and/or meeting administration and attendance. First, in order to give more time to visiting and shepherding in order to meet needs, a church needs to make a commitment to free its minister up from some of those demands. In some cases, it will mean different teachers taking over a class. It may mean canceling a class. It could also mean exempting the minister from needing to be at so many meetings.
Second, in order for ministers to give more time to visiting, shepherding, and serving needs, ministers will need to actively plan for this by giving up teaching and meeting commitments when possible. If a church frees the minister up, that minister needs to see and understand the risk the church is taking by changing their thinking on classes and teachers and get on board with it.
Third, ministers will need to leave the office and get out and among the people they shepherd and serve (both in the congregation and outside it; ministers should view themselves as community ministers) and spend their time there.
Fourth, this will mean in some cases that lesson prep will need to be done on the run. I wrote a report on four daily steps for sermon preparation that busy preachers can use to help streamline their sermons. Sermons may need to become shorter and pack more of a punch in a smaller dose.
These are some commitments churches and ministers will need to make in order for the ministers to become the lead servants, sharing the way of Jesus with others by serving them.
What do you think? Would you add or take away any of these commitments?
Relatively few leadership books discuss serving as a foundational discipline. I find this true whether the books are from a business leadership perspective or from a Christian leadership perspective. Of course, most books include a peripheral mention of serving people, but it's often in the sense of meeting needs, and this can be done through a leader's oversight of or delegation to another.
But real leaders lead by taking the initiative themselves and getting their hands dirty. I believe it was Peter Drucker who wrote something like (and I don't know where), "Any leader worth his salt will set up chairs." Serving people in the finer, minute, lesser details is what sets servant leaders apart.
This is the difference between authoritative (positional) leadership and organic, open-source, "from beneath" leadership (servant leadership). Authoritative leaders dictate out of their position and perceived authority. Servant leaders lead by serving underneath someone, serving "up to" them, leading them by exerting influence through the relationship.
Servant leaders have inherent authority because their authority emerges out of who they are and their own personality, not out of a vague or vacuous title given to them by someone else.
What kind of leader are you? How do you influence others?
This is a third post in my series reflecting on leadership in service. In the first post, I wrote about how ministers and preachers should be the lead servants in their congregations, out and among the people, serving them. In a follow-up audio, I explore how we need to be the lead servants because Jesus called us not to be served but to serve.
In this provocative 7 minute audio, I examine more about Jesus' teaching to serve and to be first by being last. I ask preachers especially to examine the tradition of spending hours and hours on sermons and lessons and ask themselves whether they do so on behalf of the congregation or to serve themselves.
Next week, I'll follow this up by exploring what sermons and lessons might look like if we spent less time on them and more time among people, serving them.
This audio picks up on my blog post from last week questioning whether preachers spend too much time in lesson prep and not enough time in actually serving people--individually and in groups. In this 3 minute audio, I explore Jesus' statement about his mission--he came not to be served but to serve.
This blog is for articles and book reviews. I post my sermons at my Sermons page, where you can listen to sermons online or download them in MP3 format.
Although I work for the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan, this blog represents my own thoughts and does not necessarily correspond to the views and workings of the Otisville Church of Christ.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.