THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON SERVANT LEADERSHIP
Today’s gospel reading (Lk 17:7-10) teaches us about
our proper posture as servant leaders. The following reflection
is taken from my new book Servant Leadership, chapter 16.
are important to a master. A master gets things done by having
servants do tasks for him. We too are called to serve God,
and as such are important to Him. In fact, though God can
and does act directly in the lives of people, most of the
time He acts in and through human instruments.
problems come when the instrument given the privilege to serve
and empowered by the master for service begins to think that
he, having done great things, is himself great. When such
pride comes in, the fall inevitably follows. God wants to
avoid this, so as to keep His servants functioning well so
that He can accomplish His plan for the world.
key is in the servant being constantly aware of who he is
before the Master, and of knowing that apart from the Master
he can do nothing. If the servant simply obeys and knows his
place, then he will be used by the Master and be blessed.
The attitude of a servant
Jesus himself illustrated the proper attitude of a servant.
“Who among you would say to your servant who has just
come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come
here immediately and take your place at table’? Would
he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me
to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and
drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you. When you have done all you have
been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
A first observation is that it would seem Jesus is quite harsh,
perhaps even cruel. After all, servants, even with their lowly
status, should be afforded proper respect and due consideration.
think that is to miss the meaning of being a servant, or a
slave, during those olden times. Today we think of a servant,
or perhaps an employee, as someone who has rights, is paid
justly, has set hours of work, enjoys vacation and other privileges,
or can even go on strike. It was not that way in Jesus’
time. The so-called servants during those days were actually
slaves. They may have been taken captive in a war or in a
raid on a village, and then sold in the marketplace as a slave.
Once purchased, they became the property of the owner. They
had no rights, no identity, and could not complain if they
were overworked or not fed.
when Jesus told his disciples about a servant being called
by his master from the field and told to recline at table
for a meal, his listeners might have burst out in laughter
and engaged in good-natured ribbing. Such was simply unthinkable.
When the laughter died down, Jesus then told it as it really
is. What the servant needed to do, even after a hard day’s
labor out in the field, would be to serve the master at his
meal. Only after the master finished could the servant have
his own meal.
there is more. The master did not even have to thank the servant
for his service. Why? The servant was only doing what was
expected of him. He was only doing his duty. He was only following
the clincher. The servant’s own posture is simply to
accept that he is worthless or unprofitable. It was not a
question of what service he rendered, or of how valuable he
had been to the master, or how much he had sacrificed. Rather,
it was simply a question of who he was. He was a slave, a
nobody, one with no rights. He was one who did not need to
be thanked or acknowledged.
The attitude of a servant leader
We are servants of Jesus, our Lord and Master. We had been
under the dominion of the evil one, a situation of slavery
to darkness and sin. Jesus redeemed us with his blood. He
purchased us, and we now belong totally to him.
such, our proper attitude is the same as that of the slave.
In serving God, we are to expend ourselves, we are not to
look to our convenience or comfort, we are not to demand wages
or perquisites, and we should not expect to be thanked. We
are only doing what we ought to do.
fact, if anyone is to be thanked, it should be we the servants
thanking Jesus the Master. Jesus has given us the privilege
to do his very own work, to participate in that very wonderful
task of proclaiming him to the world, to care for the very
people whom he died for and saved, to help bring people to
their eternal destiny in heaven. Jesus allows us to stand
in his very own place, caring for his very own flock. Such
is a privilege like no other.
Such an attitude should manifest itself in different ways
in our service.
We serve without counting the cost, ready to bear any sacrifice.
do not serve according to our own priorities or interests.
are totally obedient to the Master, following his directions
think of nothing else but serving the Master, and how we
can be pleasing to him.
do not look to being thanked, and many times might be unappreciated
or even rejected by the very people we serve.
always realize the great privilege we have been given in
rejoice in our holy slavery to Jesus.
The attitude of Jesus
Our attitude is clear: we are merely servants or slaves of
Christ. We must know our proper place.
here is something very important. Jesus is not a cruel taskmaster.
He is in fact everything to the contrary.
Though he owns us, he respects our free will.
he is the Master, he washes our feet.
we are his slaves, he has made us his friends (Jn 15:15).
we are worthless, he has endowed us with dignity and honor
as his own brethren.
he holds our lives in his hands, he is the one who gave
his own life for our sakes.
we are unworthy, he has entrusted the very gift of salvation
into our hands.
we should serve him at table, he allows us to eat and drink
at his table in his kingdom (Lk 22:30).
Only the divine Master treats human servants in this way.
In that lie our great privilege and joy.
* * *
Other translations have “useless,” “unworthy,”
 Other translations have “our duty” or “what
we ought to have done.”
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Servant Leadership (Part 13) [PDF]