A Conscious Choice That We Make

There was this couple, who lived very close to the Church. They could just step into the church from their home, pretty much like Abrahams when they attend our church. One Sunday the wife, decided that she will save time, in cooking, and put the Chicken to roast in the oven, and proceeded to the church. She knew that the pastor was a punctual man and she knew that she would finish just in time for the roast to be well done. Unfortunately for her, there was a famous guest speaker, who gave the sermon that day, (pretty much like me.. not the famous part.. the guest speaker part), and in his enthusiasm he went on a bit too long. The wife was getting restless, and her husband was sitting right at the front, while she was in the back benches. Finally she decided to write a note to the husband, and sought the help of the usher to take the note to the husband. The usher misunderstood, and instead, handed the note over to the speaker. The speaker read the note and abruptly stopped the sermon and sat down. After the service the pastor asked the guest speaker why he ended his sermon so abruptly. He said ‘ I got a hate letter from a member of your congregation”. Oh really! What did it say? The pastor asked. “ It said, “go home and turn off the gas”. I am not going to take any notes that come from you today. If you want to send any notes send them to Ashish.

I am sure at least some of you will be remembering my last Sermon on Servant Leadership. As I indicated in my last sermon, I intend to speak on this topic for many more future sermons (as long as you permit me to, that is…). Some of you might be thinking that I am doing this because I am researching on the subject, and hence it is convenient for me to speak on the topic. And you know what.. you are absolutely right. But, I am speaking on this subject, also because, I believe that all of us who are members of the body of Christ, need to make a conscious choice about the Leadership style that we want to follow, and hopefully when we are done with this series we will be convinced that Servant Leadership is the right style that we choose to follow. Victor Hugo is believed to have said “There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come”. I believe that Servant leadership is an idea whose time has come. At the risk of sounding repetitive let me remind you that once we chose to become followers of Christ, we do not have a choice but be leaders in His Kingdom. Remember John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” So we have a responsibility to be leaders, and when we lead, we have to choose the leadership style that we want to demonstrate. This morning let us see if there are reasons why we should choose Servant Leadership as the model that we should demonstrate. At my workplace I always draw the distinction between, “Have to do” and “choose to do”. When we “have to do” things, we do it to please others, we do it because our parents ask us to, we do it because it makes us look good etc. On the other hand, when we “choose to do” some thing, we do it with full ownership and responsibility. Servant leadership is not some thing that I would want us to “have to do” but it is my prayer that it will become a thing that we “choose to do”, in our fellowship, at our workplaces, at home, at our neighborhood. 

I believe that God makes divine connections all the time. My venturing into research on Servant Leadership has enabled me to make such divine connections with many experts on that field. One of them is Dr Jim Laub, who is the Dean — MacArthur School of Leadership, Palm Beach Atlantic University. I am using his research work as one of the base models for my research, and I have used some of his illustrations in this sermon.

Let us look at two contrasting choices on Leadership model, that two people in the Bible made.

Let us first look at the story of Rehoboam. He inherited the Kingdom of Israel arguably at it’s wealthiest best. When Rehoboam became King of Israel after the death of his father Solomon, he held an audience with his followers who proceeded to lay down conditions for their continued faithfulness to him. They told him “your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you” (I Kings 12:4). Rehoboam asked for three days to prepare a response and to seek the wisdom of his advisors. The decision he had to make was a choice as to the kind of leader he would be. Two different views emerged. One group of advisors (the elder wise men of the kingdom) instructed him to see himself as a servant to the people. They told him, “if today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants” (I Kings 12:7). The second group of advisors (the young men, Rehoboam’s contemporaries) gave different advice. They suggested, “tell these people … my father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” (I Kings 12:10-11). All of us know the choice that Rehoboam made. Rehoboam made the choice that many leaders have made before him (and after him). The choice was to not listen to his people but to claim for himself the right to use power over the people to force compliance. He chose power and authority over the opportunity to serve. As a direct result of his choice the Kingdom was irrevocably divided and he lost the majority of his followers. 

And this should not surprise us. Let us look at an interesting view point about the fall. We know that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. It is interesting see how Satan lured them into the fall. What was the crux of the temptation that Satan put in front of them? Let us look at Genesis 3: 4-5 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He tempts them by telling them that they will be like God, if they eat the forbidden fruit. When they were created, they were already like God, isn’t it? Then why should another offer of “being like God” be so attractive to them? I think the answer lies in the choice of being like God in Character or being like God in Power and authority. Adam and Eve fell for the need for power and authority, as against the character of God that He wanted them to imitate. To me , this is the origin of the Power and authority model of leadership, the desire to be “like God” and have His power and authority. The origin of the Power and authority model of leadership is the fall itself. In today’s world, if you need followers, all you need is some crazy idea or doctrine or, philosophy, and the ability to speak about it with authority, and you have a following. Look at the historical figures, like Hitler, Stalin, Mussoulini etc. They had huge following and some of them led the world into such misery, that it still pains us to think about them. Most of the cults have their origin in this. The sad part is, the Church history is no different. We see the power struggle between the clergy and the political powers over and over again. Time and again we see, “larger than Christ” leaders emerging, even today. I don’t have to name any one, but I am sure you recognise some of them. Just the past week, Prema and we were discussing one such possible personality in Bangalore itself. One of my Hindu colleagues, who had no idea about true Christianity, once asked me, if I was a disciple of Dhinakaran. When I explained my discipleship to only one Jesus Christ, he explained that his mother was a “disciple” of Dhinakaran. I asked him if she ever spoke about Jesus, and what Jesus did, and he said “never”. You get what I mean. Humanity craves for some one to lead them, and that is the result of the fall. And there are many leaders who use the “power and authority” model of leadership to lead them, many times to their own and their follower’s destruction. There are many leaders who “want to like God” and provide leadership.

You might have heard this illustration before. On a foggy night, the ship’s captain saw what appeared to be the lights of another ship heading towards him. He instructed the signal man to contact the other ship and send out the signal which said. “Change your course by 10 degrees north”. The reply came “change your course by 10 degrees south”. The captain got a little annoyed and decided to use his position, and signaled “ I am a Captain. Change your course 10 degrees to the north. The response came back. “I am a seaman. Change your course 10 degrees south.” If you did not know the naval ranks, sea man is one of the lowest ranks. This response made the captain really mad. He signaled furiously “ I am a battleship. Change your course 10 degrees north” A calm reply came back “ I am a lighthouse, you change your course 10 degrees south”. The leaders who use power and authority model are many times like this, and can lead the ship to disaster, in their need to prove their power and authority.

So I am really not surprised that Rehoboam made the choice to go with the Power and authority model. He was part of the fallen world after-all. However for us the situation is not the same. We live in the time of Grace. The reality of Rehoboam’s choice and the prevalence of the power and authority model of leadership was confronted by Jesus Christ many years later, as he presented a different leadership model for the new Kingdom that he offered.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

It is clear what choice Jesus would have made if he had been in Rehoboam’s position. The choice of controlling others or serving others is always present in the dynamics of leadership. Jesus, by all accounts one of the greatest leaders of all time, saw himself as a servant to the people that he led. He made it clear that he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). And we need to remember that he did it with the full knowledge of the power and authority He had. Let us look at the scene just before the washing of the disciples feet, an act that I hold as the greatest demonstration of Servant Leadership, John 13:3-4 puts it this way. “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” You see, servant leadership is not the lack of power and authority. It is conscious choice not to use that power and authority to “Lord over” others. Some of you might have studied Shakespeare. Let me quote part of his Sonnet No 94,

They that have power to hurt and will do none,

That do not do the thing they most do show,

Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,

Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,

They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces.

In effect, the leader by definition, has the power to hurt, yet the mature servant leader will rarely, if ever, use that power. Servant leadership is seeing your role as leader to be a servant to others. It is refusing to use the position of leadership to gain service from others, but to use your power to provide appropriate service to them. Jesus also addressed the tendency of leaders to put great emphasis in their positions and titles. He said “if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Servant leadership does not rely on position, status or prestige. It is not holding onto leadership position at all cost. 

This radical view of leadership was difficult for the followers of Jesus to handle. As history clearly tells us, most of his followers found the traditional model of power and authority leadership to be the best suited for their purposes. There are occasional glimpses of the servant leadership model in practice. Saint Augustine wrote the following to his followers.

“For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received. One is danger; the other is safety. If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall, as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant”

This morning Jesus is asking us to make a choice, a choice between the Power and Authority model of leadership or that of Servant Leadership. Let me close with this call from Jesus.

John 13:12-17 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Let us pray 


“Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work.”

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