Maintaining community in the face of conflict, negotiating healthy interpersonal dynamics, and striving intentionally for an equitable distribution of power are all tenets of servant-leadership, a philosophy formed by the simple concept that true leadership springs from serving those whom one leads rather than striving to gain power and control over them; those who lead, serve.
The Gabriel Center is a non-profit organization based in Marietta, Georgia. The Center’s purpose is to help individuals and organizations develop a servant-leader approach to life and work by bringing together the vision, concept, and philosophy of servant-leadership with skills training in the applied human behavioral science disciplines of personal awareness, active listening, giving and receiving feedback, conflict resolution, understanding small group dynamics, casting a vision, getting others on board, and serving as an agent of change. Katherine Elberfeld founded the Gabriel Center in 1998 as the Servant-Leader Development Center (S-LDC) in Alexandria, Virginia. Since then, it has been dedicated to promoting and teaching shared leadership based on respect and inclusion for all.
Katherine recently wrote “A Better Way” for the Gabriel Center’s blog – many thanks to the Gabriel Center for the opportunity to pass these thoughts along to the KAE Writes community.
Visit www.gabrielcenter.org to learn more about servant-leadership and the Gabriel Center.
Jesus came into the world not to serve but to be served.
Yep, you read that right. Years ago in a grant application, the Servant-Leader Development Center, forerunner to the Gabriel Center, stated that Jesus’ entire purpose was to find ways he could be served rather than to serve others. Needless to say, we did not receive the grant! Obviously, we meant to say:
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
With this teaching, Jesus continues to reveal to the disciples – and to us – that he came not to uphold the world order as it was, but to turn it upside down. So that the first shall be last, the last first and so that the God of all bends down on God’s knee and serves others, serves us.
You may have seen a recent report about a killing at the Word of Life Christian Church, New Hartford, N.Y. Lucas Leonard, 19, was beaten to death by his parents, sister and fellow church members, according to authorities, reportedly because he wanted to leave the church. His brother Christopher, 17, was severely injured. When indescribable events like this take place within the fold of a church, questions abound. How could this happen anywhere, least of all in a church? What was going on in there – really? Why? It didn’t take many words for the pastor of the Roman Catholic church next door to sum it up. “This is not of God,” he said. “If this was of God, there would be growth. Not destruction.” Light, not darkness.
And it is servant-leadership that nurtures life and growth, creativity and spark. It is servant-leadership that is, indeed, a better way. Servant-leaders share power and control, share decision-making, actively listen, speak the truth in love and collaborate on casting visions.
Dr. Phil described servant-leadership succinctly in explaining the role of child protective services. He says that caseworkers look at the ability of each parent to act upon the needs of the child as opposed to their own. What if all of us were to apply that lens to our interactions with others?
A friend has a liturgical ministry at the church where I serve. She helps to make sure that the services go smoothly and that the leaders have what they need in order to be able to do their jobs. She has many tasks for which she is responsible, and she takes them seriously. At the same time, it is not through the lens of the logistics through which she approaches her ministry. It is through the lens of service. She considers herself not above the others, dictating orders and bossing people around. She does not come at it from a position of self-importance. She approaches her work as a servant; she knows that she is upholding the service leaders and the people of the congregation by her faith, her expertise, her spirit. And when she describes her ministry that way, light illumines the room and darkness skitters away. She is happiest when people don’t even realize she’s at the service. She knows that means she has done her job and done it well. Not from a self-effacing perspective, but from a serving others perspective. As Dr. Phil would say, acting upon the needs of others rather than her own.
And as we all look through the lens of servant-leadership in our own lives, as we seek to serve rather than to be served, as we act on the needs of others rather than our own, it is our lives and the lives of those around us who light up with the light of a better way.