Leaders Who Belong to the Order of the Towel Love
- Thursday, March 15, 2012
What is servant leadership? This concept confuses us because these two words don't seem to go together. When most people hear the word leadership they think of things like power, position, influence, visibility, and platform -- all essential for leaders to be effective. Yet true leadership has another side, a relational, intimate, and often confrontational side that ultimately makes or breaks every leader in the world. This is the servant side of leadership. Leaders can climb to great heights while lacking this dimension, but no leader will stay at great heights without it. Eventually, all leaders collapse in a great Humpty-Dumpty fall without this relational and caring dimension of servant leadership. As pastors we lead by serving or we don't lead at all.
Servant leadership demands character to go with our competence and maturity to go with the greatness of our mission. People measure our character and maturity by how we relate more than by what we accomplish. Relationships tell what we're made of. As pastors, we must have the unique traits of appropriate intimacy combined with authority. Our relationships have to be born out of a Christ-like commitment to lead those who follow us by serving them. To gain intimacy and authority we must belong to the Order of the Towel, which Jesus instituted in John 13:1-17. This Order consists of leaders, both men and women, who are vulnerable and humble through dependence on Christ so He can use them to sanctify others in the leadership development process. We serve others when we lead them into a closeness with God they would never experience any other way, a closeness that results in their sancitification and releases them to minister with unparalleled power.
Sanctification is more essential for leadership than accomplishment. As servant leaders, we must both be sanctified and the instruments of sanctification in our followers' lives.
We are effective servant leaders when our followers are increasingly holier under our leadership than they could have been without us. In ourselves we cannot sanctify anyone, but Christ can use us to call others to holiness and cleansing, and this is our responsibility under Him. We grow in sanctification as we enter into the difficult relationships that call us to be Christ's cleansing agents in the lives of resistant followers. Such tense moments also force us to turn to Christ for our own cleansing and to depend on Him to confront others. We grow as leaders through these difficult times, and this is what qualifies us to serve as servant leaders.
". . . Jesus knew the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love" (John 13:1). He loved His men to the uttermost of His being and His life. Jesus had waited for this hour when He would face shame, suffering, and sorrowand be glorified. He knew He would be arrested, scourged, condemned, and crucified, yet He loved -- utterly, totally, absolutely. The Creator of the universe became the servant of His creatures because He loved them so greatly. Everything that happens from this point on in the book happens because Jesus loved. Even when He knew His men would deny and desert Him, He still loved them.
Leaders who belong to the Order of the Towel love in the same way because Christ loves through them. Though none of us will face an hour comparable to Christ's, all of us know we have limited time, so we must focus on loving and leading as Christ does. The ultimate measure of our ministry will be to love as Christ loved. The Doug Johnsons (fictitious name) of our world challenge this ideal because their resistant attitudes, their power plays, and their efforts to take over raise massive challenges to our love. After all, it's not only our careers that are at stake when a driven elder decides he can do a better job than we. Our wives also are at stake, the health and stability of our families are at stake, all that we have dreamed of and worked to achieve could be gone if we allow the Doug Johnsons to have their way. We are too threatened to love them because we don't feel safe with them. Where can we find the security we need to love a Doug Johnson?
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