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This is part 6 of a series of posts on leadership. In this post we continue our investigation of the qualities great leaders demonstrate. Not every great leader possesses all these traits, but they recur among those we commend as great leaders.

Servant vs Service

Great leaders totally get the whole servant leadership deal. They own John 13 and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. But they’ve mastered the reality that there’s a big difference between serving and BEING A SERVANT. Many are the would-be leaders who know they’re called to serve. So they do what they consider menial, trivial, degrading work. And think by doing so they’ve paid their dues. They work in the Nursery for three months, and think that earns them a promotion to Jr. High. Then after a year in Jr. High, they graduate to College ministry. And once they’ve paid their dues at that, they’ll be a senior pastor.  They’re serving, but they aren’t servants. In reality, they are play-acting posers.

The servant, the person who IS a servant, doesn’t assign value or importance to different kinds of service. Servants serve because they’re servants and whatever they’re doing is what’s important and needed at that moment. Great leaders are servants who are as content emptying trash as running a board meeting. They take as much pride hosing a sidewalk as expounding a Biblical text. Nothing is beneath their dignity to do if it makes the life of another better. Some years ago, I watched the pastor of one of the world’s largest churches pick up cigarette butts in the church parking lot; and he was happy to do it, though he was well in to his 80’s.

You can tell if you’re a servant or not by how you react when you’re treated like one. Please take careful note of this—Servants are especially sensitive to other servants and treat them with courtesy and kindness. Mistreating wait staff, counter-workers, attendants, and cashiers is a telling sign.  It’s been interesting going out to dinner with notable Christian celebrities. Fame does not always equal spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. Servants are attentive to the wait-staff and when they come to the table, turn their attention to them. Others ignore them and act as though they are being interrupted when it’s time to order, or the food comes. Servants defer to other servants because they know how difficult it can be to serve those who don’t get it.

We’re going to talk about the trait of being Appreciative later. For now, let’s take a closer look at the NEED, that is, our desire to be appreciated.
As servants who OWN our identity as servants we need to keep in mind Whose servants we are. We serve God. We serve Him by serving others. It’s crucial we keep our focus on Him as we serve. If we don’t, the danger is that our service can decay into performance. It becomes performance when what we aim for is words of appreciation, kudos, back slaps and atta’-boys from others.

1 Cor. 15:58 • Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Hebrews 6:10 • God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to (served) the saints, and do minister — Do still serve.

Here’s an important guideline for leaders: Those IN authority must also be UNDER authority. As followers of Jesus, though we are in authority as leaders, we’re also under the authority of our Lord (the word means ‘master).  Because we believe in the sovereignty of God, we know whatever leadership role we’re in is by His appointment and sanction. So just as the people under our authority are accountable to us, we’re accountable to our leader – Jesus. The above verses remind us He’s watching and will reward our faithfulness. He appreciates us. God digs your faithfulness. It’s crucial we remember this because a lack of visible gratitude from others can mess with our heads and hearts.

While gratitude is fitting and proper, both to give and receive, the leader must never aim for gratitude or appreciation. It’s nice to be appreciated by people, but our service as a leader cannot be tied to it. So that when we’re affirmed we’re more faithful, diligent, and happy. And when we’re not hearing appreciation, we slack off in these things, or worse, grow bitter because, “No one cares how hard I work.” We simply need to maintain our identity as servants of Jesus, and settle the issue that He appreciates us and rewards our faithfulness.

Consider this: Our work will either be performance or service.
Service flows from the confidence we are appreciated and our work is known.
Performance is work done to gain attention and kudos.

• Performance enslaves us to others’ opinions, makes it difficult to say “No,” and is prone to overwork.
• Service frees us to do what God wants, and because our priorities are right, enables us to say “no” to distractions.

• Performance presses us towards perfectionism, where we seek to do everything just right so that others will praise us.
• Service allows us to do our best, knowing God’s appreciation of us is secure, regardless of how our work compares with someone else’s.

• Performance causes us to focus on the “big things” and only do what’s highly visible or significant.
• Service allows us to do simple, humble, menial tasks, because if God’s called us to do it, there’s no such thing as “little.”

• Performing is where people are an audience and you want their praise.
• Serving is where God is the audience. It doesn’t matter if people see or know.

• If it’s performing, it’s not enough because the audience isn’t big enough.
• If it’s serving, it’s enough because the audience is One.

• When we perform we use people to gain a greater sense of our worth.
• When we serve, people are the object of our service; we give to them rather than seek to gain by them.
It’s the difference between “using” and “loving.”

A couple signs we’re reaching for the appreciation by people rather than resting in God’s appreciation of us in Christ . . .                                             • We feel the urge to tell others about how busy we are.
• Then, because inwardly we’re not sure that list is full enough, we exaggerate and make stuff up. You had 3 projects last week but say it was 5. You led 1 person to the Lord but say it was 2. Because in your head you assume you’re not going to BE appreciated unless you make yourself out to be more than you really are.

If you are growing in grace and walking in the Spirit, Jesus says “Thank you.” He wants to free you from the performance trap and let you enjoy serving like He did. No one got more done than Jesus, but it was service, not performance.

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