Leading by Serving

I want my children to make an impact for the kingdom of God.   It is my heart’s desire that they be leaders, though not necessarily that they be well-known.    But I do want them to have a godly influence on their friends, coworkers, our culture, but most of all, within their own family.

Leadership and servanthood are not mutually exclusive.     Whenever God sought for a leader He didn’t measure their intellect, but He measured their heart.   The Bible indicates what God is seeking as He looks in our hearts and that is a willingness to minister to others.   This is one of the foundational requirements to be effective in leading and influencing others.

For example, when Joshua was promoted to take Moses’ place as the leader of the nation it was on the basis not only of his competency, but of his willingness to serve others.  This is clearly seen by God’s description of him.    He is called “Moses’ minister” (Joshua 1:1), “the servant of Moses” (Numbers 11:28), “Moses’…minister” (Exodus 24:13), and Moses’ “servant” (Exodus 33:11).    Inherent in being a spiritual leader is that one be a servant; humble and thoughtful ministry is a prerequisite to effective leadership.

The word “minister” that is used of Joshua means “to perform menial tasks”.   He cared for the smallest details and was more concerned with helping Moses to be successful than making a name for himself.  It is when we care for mundane, simple responsibilities that we prove our ability to be trusted for that which is more significant.

Paul, the great Apostle and leader in the early church, used one’s willingness to serve in small areas as a test to promote others to places of leadership.    He wrote of Timothy, “…I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.   For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.”    (Philippians. 2:20-22)    The “proof” of Timothy’s ability to be an effective leader was his track record of faithful and humble service.

If we would have our children to become effective leaders we must first help to mold them into servants and ministers, willing to do the most menial tasks without complaint, even seeking out opportunities to do so.    This is much easier said than done!

But there is a payoff.   When each family member has a mindset of servanthood the byproduct will be an atmosphere of closeness and love.    Teach your children to look for things that others need, even in the most simple of areas, and care for them.    They should be focused on making the lives of their parents easier and carrying a load for their siblings even when it is not required of them.

What would you do if your child did some of the following without being asked: picked up trash in the yard, brought in the mail and newspaper, washed and vacuumed the car, cleaned their room, started homework assignments, mowed the yard, cared for the laundry, ironed clothes, dusted the furniture, or cleaned the bathroom?

It would draw your heart to them.   So simple, but so few practice it and we live with the results of fractured, isolated families living under the same roof.

Even this afternoon my heart was deeply touched when my son, Jordan, came to me when he got home from work and said, “Hey Dad, I’m going to Steak Out to get me something to eat.  What do you want me to get you?”   Even though I wasn’t hungry, I felt loved that he would think of me.    It is good and right that children should serve their parents.

Brothers and sisters ought to serve one another, too.   One of the small ways I have seen my children do this is when we are eating at a fast food restaurant and as they stand to get a drink refill they check and see if anyone else needs a refill .   I have done this for years (I learned it from my Dad), and I hope they have seen it modeled in my life and it has encouraged them to do the same thing.

What an easy way to communicate love and concern, but the impact is powerful!    Such actions are not transactional, but transformational.   They literally change the dynamic of the relationship.   And one of the effects is a desire to be close to the one that serves you.

There are so many applications for this in a home.   When you see clothes set out to be folded or put up in their proper place, take the initiative and be a minister.   Take note of a favorite candy bar of a family member and next time you are out, buy a couple of them and give them to them.   If you borrow the car for an errand, fill it up with gasoline.    Their heart will be turned to you and there will be a desire to be close to the one that has served them.

I suppose I ought to mention a warning about living this way.    You won’t do this over the long haul if you are using it as leverage to get something for yourself.   It will be seen as pure manipulation – and that is what it is.    Rather than experiencing closeness, there will be suspicion and reluctance, wondering what you really want from them.

Also, you won’t do this over the long haul if you are keeping score!    When we “keep score” our service and ministry has degenerated into something that is transactional.    Relational closeness is a byproduct of fulfilling the “one another” commands without expectation of reciprocation.

Warren Wiersebe noted concerning church leaders, “We have too many celebrities and not enough servants”.     Someone else wisecracked, “The problem in our business is that we have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians”.     I think that is true in our families, too.  Everyone wants to be served, but no one wants to pay the price of being a servant.

When God called Joshua “minister” and “servant” to Moses it was the highest title He could have given to him.   While everyone knew Moses was the positional leader, Joshua was learning to be a leader by developing a pure heart of a servant.   I believe there was a closeness between Moses and Joshua because of Joshua’s heart to serve him.

Years ago I looked in our bathtub at home and noted that it was dirty and needed to be cleaned.   So, my first thought was, “I need to mention that to Paula”, as she cared for the cleaning of the bath tub.   Immediately it hit me, “Hey, why do you have to tell Paula about the dirty tub?   Why can’t you clean it?”

My mind kept running on the same theme, my thoughtlessness to help out in different areas, especially when I was part of the problem.   I recalled when I was a teenager and played football (for over ten years) and would get very dirty at practice and would come home and shower.    I’m ashamed to say that in all those years it was my dear mother that cleaned and scrubbed our bathtub.   Yet, I was the primary one responsible for making it dirty.   She never complained about it, but I allowed her to clean up after me – and I was totally blind to the issue!   The problem was that I was selfish and didn’t want to serve, but to be served.   I wish that I would have thought about it forty years ago.   It would have been a blessing to my mother.

Christmastime with my sweet Mom!

I hope that you can learn this lesson quicker than I did.    In fact, I am still learning it.  If we want our children to be effective leaders they are going to have to learn to be servants.    And they learn that more from our example than anything else.

I’m so blessed to have had two great examples in Cotton and Linda Johnson, my dear parents.  They served me well.   I want to do better for my own children and for my wife, Paula.    It will make us closer as a family.

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About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 37 years with seven children and six grandchildren.
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