Sacred Cows
October 1st, 2006 by Sonja

For those of you who don’t follow Brother Maynard, may I politely say, “You’re missing the boat.” He’s a Canadian with a fine sense of humour and grand sense of what it means to represent Jesus in the world today. He’s also got great taste in beer and coffee.

This week he’s been reimagining the sacred cows in church (his words). You know, authority, submission, leaders, all the biggies. How do we do church? Does it work? Are we measuring it properly? The series is meaty and I’d highly recommend it. It comes with many links that are also quite dense, but well worth the read, if those subjects interest you.

For me, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the idea of leadership within the church, or within individual churches. There’s a term that one hears around the church once you’ve been in it a while … servant leadership. The Apostle Paul writes about it in his epistles. Jesus refers to it tangentially by remarking that the first shall be last (among other things). But here’s the thing, everyone talks about this and no one ever thinks about what this might actually look like. I’ve been spending a lot of time turning this term around in my head for several weeks now. Here are some of the things I’ve come up with.

I began with the word “servant” and thought a lot about what that means. A servant is one who serves (of course). It’s someone who does a lot of dirty work. Someone who gets delegated to; they don’t delegate. Servants work behind the scenes, they rarely see the limelight. They also rarely even see the show. They are busy making sure the show goes on. They are busy serving the dinner, so they don’t get to eat. They are making the music, so they don’t get to dance. They are taking the pictures, but the memories are not theirs. They are all the people who grease the gears of our lives. I thought about how this happens. Servants grease the gears by looking ahead and around. They try to anticipate needs, wants and desires. To a certain extent, servants know those they serve. They know what’s coming up and what will make life easier and more desireable. In some cases (as in at a wedding or a dinner party) there are more guests than there are servants. In other cases (as with a king or emperor) there are many servants to one master.

One prominent characteristic I’ve noticed about servants is that they are team players. The team may be large or small, but it still operates as a unit. There are no stars. There are no duds. There is simply the team. Most of the team members can do most jobs; they may be better at some than others, but they can perform most of them.

I turned my mind to leadership. Leader characteristics seem to cross cultural and historic boundaries. Leaders are out in front, with the limelight shining on them. They do the delegating; making the tough decisions. Leaders are the show. Leaders are the reason for the dinner. They are the captains of the team, the stars. Leaders operate alone or in very small groups (two or three at most); they struggle with the group think necessary for good team operations. The inefficiency and messieness of team thinking frustrates them because they can see the clear path and want to just get there.

There are some cases where having a good leader operating in their comfortable milieu is important and necessary. During a war, having a good commander is crucial. Having a chain of command is even more critical in the armed forces. Lives depend on it. Some might say fighting a moral war (if such a thing is possible) depends on it. Governments depend on good leaders. So does business. I wonder, however, if the church might need another method of leadership.

The ideology supporting servants and leaders are almost diametrically opposed. Yet in the church, we blithely combine those two terms as if the mere speaking of them will force them to appear in thin air. No thought appears to have been given to how we might combine these two opposing visions in one person or position. Just speaking it, will bring it into being as if by magic.

How do we combine these two ideals in one position? How exactly does one become a servant and a leader in the same breath? How does one become simultaneously the delegator and the delegatee? The server and the recipient? How does one make decisions as a team and have the patience to sit through the messiness? Can that be done in the church? How do leaders stay in the background, avoiding the limelight and anticipating the needs of those they serve? What would that look like? How would having leaders from the bottom change the church in the world? How would that empower those who were being served to go out into their neighborhoods, tribes, and circles and really be light to those around them? Perhaps if we broke from the long history of tradition of men and sought after the mold set by God we might begin to see some of the changes we seek in the world.

4 Responses  
  • john o'keefe writes:
    October 2nd, 200610:42 amat

    i was turned on to this blog by a friend who placed a comment on my blog :) love the ideas expresed – it seems we think a great deal alike. you make some very cool points – thanks :)

  • Subversive Influence » Blog Archive » Level 5 Leadership writes:
    October 13th, 200610:33 pmat

    […] Read (and look) past the exceptionally nice things said about yours truly in a post at Calacirian and you’ll find some good further thining on leadership… particularly “servant leadership.” The post considers the meaning of the two terms separately and then asks how they are made compatible. Good question, given the phrase is used a lot, and it’s certainly one I’ve used as well. […]

  • P3T3RK3Y5 writes:
    October 21st, 200611:22 amat

    my thoughts / experiences with leadership:
    1. leaders are out front – the best are comfortable in their own skin while out front.
    2. leadership can get confusing while you’re the leader. i.e. you can start to believe your own press – e.g. that you really did all this stuff and are “all that”… this is where the the abuses of your position begin.
    3. leadership defined – which fits particularly well in the military – is “putting your people’s needs ahead of your own”. With this definition, and in the military, servant leadership becomes natural and really synonymous.
    4. leadership revealed – is when people naturally gravitate towards you because they know their best chance for “success” – whatever that is – is with your guidance / under your leadership. this works equally well if you have rank on – or not.
    there’s a lot of good and bad thought floating around corporations and the government and churches about what good leadership is – and this critique goes far in the the good direction – but i think we won’t find much resolution, or agreement, until we simultaneously talk about the yin to this yang: “what is good followership?”
    now there is a word that’s not in my spell checker…

  • Calacirian » Servant Leadership Revisited writes:
    November 29th, 20062:45 pmat

    […] A while back I went cow tipping with some friends.  We were having a grand time thinking about the sacred cows in the Church and then tipping them to see what they looked like from the bottom.  One of the cows I tipped was a Guernsey. If you click on the link, you’ll find some additional comments from my good friend, P3T3. […]

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