Living and Teaching Overseas: Servant Leadership Part One

You may not realize it, but as a teacher living and teaching overseas, you are looked upon by friends, family and church members as a leader. The question is what kind of leader you are? Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges would want us to ask, “Am I willing to follow Jesus as my leadership role model?” (p. 12). If the answer to that question is “yes” then you must understand that for followers of Jesus, servant leadership is not an option; it’s a mandate” (p. 13). As a one serving in an overseas organization there are three vital components to being an effective servant leader:
1.) Putting people first: Servant leaders have people as their number one priority. Maybe, the most prolific writer in the area of servant leadership in recent times has been Robert Greenleaf. One of the strongest themes in Greenleaf’s writings is that servant leaders will put people first: “The first concern is for people. Do those served grow as people?” Are your students thriving and flourishing? While being served do they, become healthier, wise, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants” (Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, 13). In Reflections on Leadership, a book written about the ideas of Greenleaf the importance of putting people first comes through loud and clear. “True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a desire to help others” (Spears, 3), “The servant leader sees people as an end in themselves, worthy of full development” (Hennessy, Keller, Robins, 165) and finally “it all begins with the individual leader putting people first” (Fraker, 48). Jesus certainly put people first during his time on earth (1 John 3:16). This attitude of putting people first has also been expressed throughout New Testament writings. “Each of you should not look on your own interest but also the interest of others” (Phil 2:16).
2.) Practice Humility: It takes humility to put others first. It takes humility in the sight of God and humility in the sight of people. According to Blanchard and Hodges, “Humility is realizing and emphasizing the importance of others. It’s not putting yourself down; it is lifting others up” (p. 67). At the same time, we need humility because serving people can be a messy task, and one can never predict the results. Greenleaf acknowledges that as one sets out to serve another person, one can seldom know that the results will be as hoped” (Reflections, Tarr, 81). According to Stephen Covey, “Humility is the mother of all virtues because it promotes stewardship” (Principle-Centered Leadership, 54). Stewardship involves understanding who we are in Christ and our limitations. Humility understands we are accountable to God first, above all else. Jesus was the ultimate example of a humble servant before God and man. Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in Philippians Chapter 2 where Jesus who could have claimed all manner of authority showed himself to be a humble servant, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7). And we are asked to have that same attitude of humility as servant leaders. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
In New Testament writings we find, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 5: 6). James who called himself a servant of God first (James 1:1) admonishes us in that same passage to “humble ourselves before the Lord” (5: 10). Peter “a servant of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter) also tells us to humble ourselves before God. “Humble yourselves therefore under Gods mighty hand that he may lift you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). From these and other passages in the New Testament, we can see that humility is an essential ingredient for the servant leader.
3.) Lead like Jesus: Leading like Jesus is more than just the title of a popular book written by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges; it is the essence of servant leadership. Any leader in any organization can learn leadership principles from the life of Jesus and the New Testament writers. Jesus encompassed all the basics and all of the truth of what it meant to be a servant of God by always submitting to the will of the Father. Blanchard and Hodges use the acronym EGO to indicate how we need to put our ego (EGO “Edging God Out”) on the altar to (“Exalt God Only” EGO) (p. 63). The idea here is that Jesus depended on God completely. According to Blanchard and Hodges, “Jesus is the supreme example of this second emphasis of depending on God the Father as His source for everything…including self-esteem and security” (p. 65). In John 5:19-20, Jesus says, “The son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” In the same way, as servants of God, we need to be completely dependent on Him. We need to realize that outside of the Spirit of God we are insufficient to be the servant we would like to be. “By myself, I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (John 5:30).
Robert Greenleaf in his book Servant Leadership discusses what Jesus and his disciples knew all along, to be a leader is to be a servant first. Greenleaf states, “The great leader is seen as servant first”(p. 7). Greenleaf further explains, “It is who the person is deep down inside” (p. 7). The New Testament writers certainly knew this when they consistently referred to themselves as servants of God, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1), “James a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1), “ Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). These were great men of the faith who had been through many trials and tribulations and were worthy of high praise. However, they saw and referred to themselves as servants first.
I am not sure how much leadership, as we use the term today, is addressed in the Bible. But the idea of “being a servant first” once grasped can be compelling in a leader’s life. One person who was introduced to the principles of servant leadership commented, “The great idea of the servant leader is that it releases us by giving us permission to serve others” (Reflections, Rieser, 56). This is what both Jesus and the New Testament writers knew and practiced.

Next:  Part 2 Servant Leadership in the Overseas Christian School.