THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON SERVANT LEADERSHIP
LIKE A CHILD
Today’s gospel: Matthew 18:1-4
Leadership in the world is all about being great--power, position,
stature, recognition, influence, adulation. Oftentimes such
attitude also finds itself in religious organizations and
spiritual works. But the head of the Church is the diametric
opposite of heads of governments, corporations or social institutions.
Jesus is the One who came as least, emptying himself of glory,
taking the form of a slave, humbling himself even to ignominious
death on a cross. As it is with the Master, so it is with
serving Jesus and being in the Kingdom are of course among
the greatest things that can happen to a person. Being a child
of God is about greatness. Our end, life forevermore in heaven,
is the greatest ever. Perhaps a servant leader can be forgiven
the posture that he thinks he is so great, because in fact
he is. But what makes all the difference is that, unlike the
worldly greats, we and our Master do not stand on such greatness,
but rather, shed the greatness for the nothingness, the glory
for the ignominy, the adulation for the disdain, being first
for being last.
posture was impressed upon the apostles by Jesus who “called
a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen,
I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you
will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Lk 18:2-3).
That was a shock to them. Children had no stature in their
society. They even once prevented the little children from
coming to Jesus. Now they, leaders personally chosen by Jesus,
already doing the very work of Jesus, were being told to become
like these nobodies. It would have been perplexing, and profoundly
that was precisely the antidote to their pride, as they “approached
Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven?’” (Lk 18:1). James and John even jostled
for positions of glory at Jesus’ right and left, and
the other ten were indignant, because the brothers beat them
to it! So Jesus said enigmatically, “Whoever humbles
himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of
heaven.” (Lk 18:4).
is it about a child that equates with humility?
Children are pure of heart. They are not yet prone to
the wickedness and evil that adults manifest. They do
not know how to insult, malign, be intolerant, plot against
others, seek revenge, and the like. They are not out for
power, position or privilege. They do not seek to build
turf. They have no personal agenda or ulterior motives.
are totally dependent on their parents. On their own they
are unable to feed, clothe and protect themselves.
have nothing to brag about. They have no accomplishments,
no money, no developed talents, no family influence, no
extended circle of admirers. Their opinion, advice or
counsel is not sought.
are obedient. They are just told what to do and are expected
to follow and obey. They follow without even knowing the
basic reasons why.
trust in their parents. They know their next meal is forthcoming.
They know their security is in their hands. They know
they have someone to comfort them whenever they are in
pain. They know their parents will never fail them.
Now that is exactly the posture we need to have in relation
to our heavenly Father. Too often servant leaders begin to
depend on themselves, to trust in their own abilities, to
become proud about their achievements, to look to and insist
on their own plans and preferences, and even to malign other
leaders in order to have their own way.
Jesus says that those who do not become like little children
will not even enter the kingdom of heaven! Indeed, how can
one who does not relate to God in the right way enter and
be with Him eternally? How can one who has been given the
privilege of leadership but who does not follow in the footsteps
of the Master find his way to heaven where Jesus has gone
unfortunate would be the situation of a servant leader, who,
after serving the Master all his life (or so he thinks), finds
himself barred from the gates of heaven.
leadership is the greatest work we can be privileged to be
given by Jesus. There are trappings of human and worldly greatness,
so do not get sidetracked and even derailed by those. Instead
it is all about being humbled by being the last, the least,
the lowly. It is about being the little child, who is marginalized
at the sidelines, but who, at the very end, will be called
by Jesus and placed in the central place of prominence, in
the midst of all.