On Chiefs, Indians … and Servants

5 Apr

I laughed at the grocery store the other day. A frustrated mom, pushing one child in a stroller, scolded her other child – a misbehaving little girl.GrumpyChild_Freedigital_cropped

“Knock it off, Angela,” the mom yelled.

The little girl folded her arms across her chest and pouted. Then, as her mom resumed shopping, little Angela walked to the front of the stroller and pointed her finger at her wide-eyed brother.

“Well, I’m the boss of YOU!” she said with a sharp nod of her head.

Clearly, this disgruntled child wanted to be in charge … of something or someone!

I once worked in a busy office. Everyone around me wanted to get ahead – to climb the ladder of success. The problem was, no one wanted to do the detail work. They avoided the menial “service tasks” that had to get done in every department. Their attitude was, “Let the other guy do it; I’m too busy.”

One day my boss fumed, so fed up with everyone’s attitudes.

“This office has too many chiefs,” he said, “and not enough Indians.”

We’d all heard that before, but coming from the boss, the words stung and we hung our heads.

He then gave every one of us extra “busy work,” as some called it … but in other people’s departments. He said it was to teach us to serve one another. It was a shock to those who were puffed up with their leadership. File clerks scrubbed toilets. Executives swept floors. It was a humbling, critical lesson.

This kind of attitude crops up on athletic teams too.

John Wooden once described players on a struggling team as more concerned with improving their own statistics than improving the overall success of the team. There isn’t anything wrong with strong individual leadership, but as Wooden acknowledged, successful teamwork requires people who know how to work together. Unselfish players – even if they have strong individual leadership skills – must understand the importance of service to the group in order to accomplish team goals.

Years ago, when I ministered on a revival team, our director noticed the same “I don’t have to do this; let someone else serve” responses. He went right to the heart of the problem in a pointed team meeting, saying,

Pride is the enemy of servanthood.”

Whether in an office setting, on a sports team or even in a ministry the greatest leaders are servant leaders.

Leadership pride is an age-old, human nature problem. Even Jesus had to address  it in His disciples.

Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest,” the scriptures say, “But Jesus intervened: ‘Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant'” (Luke 22:24-26, The Message).

God called His Son, “My Servant” (Matthew 12:18a), and indeed, Jesus is our prime example of servant leadership – illustrating service by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). He has a right to demand service of His followers (Luke 22:27). There’s a difference between serving God by serving others, and trying to gather power for ourselves (see Romans WashingFeet16:17-18).

Christ’s service cost Him something (Philippians 2:5-8; Mark 10:45). True servant leadership always does, but those who follow Christ are willing to pay the price. Following Christ is a part of our service, and when we serve Him, the Father honors us (John 12:26).

It’s never a matter of Chiefs and Indians – who’s in charge and who’s not.

It’s a matter of serving others as we all serve the Lord God. It’s a matter of humble obedience; doing our duty as servants (Luke 17:7-10). It’s a matter of loving, sacrificial giving – the willingness to go the extra mile and serve with fervency (Galatians 5:13b; Matthew 5:40-41; Romans 12:11).

Is the Master calling you to a higher level of servicethe kind that requires bent knees?


Graphic of little girl: adapted Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Towel and Basin graphic: source unknown


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