I am a huge University of Kentucky fan. I live and breathe both football and basketball seasons where I get to enjoy watching the Cats play. I grew up near Danville, Kentucky where there are two schools that are very well known in the high school football world.
There is so much about sports to enjoy and so many lessons that can be learned from both watching and playing. If you are a football fan you most likely know that from 2012 to 2016 Peyton Manning was the leader of the Denver Broncos’ offense… but what many don’t know is that there are often quiet leaders in the locker room that we don’t hear about. Those leaders can set the tone for the team.
When players from the Denver Broncos were asked about the leadership on the team one name came up repeatedly… Jacob Tamme. Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver, said,
I would have to go with Jacob Tamme. He sets a great example. Jacob comes from starting last year, to now he is doing special teams and playing on the offense. He’s on time for everything. He makes sure that everybody from offense to defense is all right. He speaks when he is spoken to. If he has something to say, everyone listens and he gives great advice.
Virgil Green, tight end, said,
Jacob Tamme is a great leader. He’s done a lot in this league. He’s somebody who’s been through a lot leads on special teams and offense. He takes a more serious approach to special teams, understanding that it often times wins and loses games. Having a guy that has been in the league for awhile and understands that his role is important no matter where it’s at is great for a young player like me.
Tamme had made a mark on the team with his experience, humbleness, and faithfulness to work hard on and off the field each and every day. He viewed each and every job and position as vital and that earned the respect of those around him. The cool thing about Tamme is that he grew up in little Danville, Kentucky. He went to high school just down the road from where I grew up, he played for my Wildcats, and despite his humble upbringing he got to be an influencer to many within the NFL because of his hard work and good attitude.
There is a cool, and well known, story in John 13:3-17 that goes like this,
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Here in this story is Jesus, sharing the Passover meal with His disciples. He is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man, and as part of the Godhead He is responsible for the creation of everything in that upper room. He brought life to the oak tree that made the table, He knew each of the Disciples before the beginning of time, He was fully aware of the state of their hearts and minds, and He was responsible for the dust that dirtied their feet, but yet there He was with a towel and washbasin… a humble servant leader.
Luke 22:27 Jesus says,
For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
If we want to know and love God, the Creator of all that is, then we are called to serve as He serves expecting nothing in return. He says to us, “I am among you as the one who serves.” How might we follow Christ to serve others out of a meek and lowly heart?
How do we humble ourselves, receive God’s grace, and serve? How do we avoid the trap of our culture that tells us to look after “number one” the big “numero uno?”
Serving is hard. It’s especially challenging if we find ourselves in positions of influence. A thousand subtle temptations arise to promote ourselves, take credit, misuse our authority, and desire recognition. Whether we’re leading a team, a church, a family, or a Fortune 500 corporation, building a life inspired by serving can turn the “me-first” mentality and ambitions upside-down.
The life Jesus led models for us what it means to be a servant leader in all areas of our life.
All professing Christians agree that a Christian leader should be a servant leader. Jesus couldn’t be clearer:
Luke 22:25–26 says,
The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.
Where there’s not always agreement is how servant leadership should look in a given situation. Sometimes servant leaders wash others’ feet, so to speak (Like our story out of John 13), but other times leaders have to rebuke the ones they love and lead. Matthew 16:23 says,
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Sometimes a leader is called to discipline. Matthew 18:15–20 says,
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Sometimes they serve at their own expense. 1 Corinthians 9:7 says,
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
The world looks at the word “leader” as a lofty title… whereas Scripture paints a different picture.
The pairing of the words “servant” and “leader” is a little bit like the pairing of the words “jumbo” and “shrimp.” What seems to be an oxymoron, or an apparent contradiction, is really a redundancy, like “free gift.” A gift, by definition, is always already free. A leader, by Christ’s definition, is always already a servant.
But sadly, not all leaders are servants. In a 2014 nationwide survey by the Christian research organization The Barna Group, 62 percent of working Americans say they “wouldn’t follow their boss if their paycheck didn’t depend on it.” Roughly 30 percent of Americans report that “their boss makes them feel controlled, manipulated or defensive,” and an equal percentage reports that this unhealthy leadership is a source of great personal stress. A “slave-driver” employment culture is more common than we realize.
Yet God calls us to influence our culture. Whether in corporations, churches, coffeehouses, grocery stores, baseball fields, and communities one of the most powerful transformational agents that exists is the act of serving. Through serving, we humble ourselves, experience God’s grace, and we lead others to do the same.
The phrase servant leader was coined in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf in his essay, “The Servant as Leader,” in which he contrasted two types of leaders.
The first type of servant leader desires to lead above all. Serving is just an afterthought.
The second type desires, above all, to serve. Serving is primary; leading is secondary, the consequence of serving.
What type of leader are you?
What many of us fail to realize is that everyone is leading someone. Maybe you are a parent and you are leading your children, maybe you are a coach and you are leading your team, maybe you are a seasoned employee that others secretly look up to and model their work ethic after… everyone leads someone.
Dr. Mark Berry once said,
A servant leader leads from the heart and not necessarily the mind… As leaders, if we see ourselves as superior to others, then we will never gain their respect and admiration. We may have the knowledge, but if we don’t reach the hearts of those we serve, they will never understand our strategy. Without a servant’s heart, people will never catch our vision.
Without a servants heart people may never catch our vision, or see our relationship with Jesus modeled and lived out in front of them.
Dr. Michael Reagan once said,
The servant leader creates or embraces a vision of the future that encompasses not only the individual, but the community. These leaders work for long-term growth of many rather than short-term, personal gain.
Just as Jesus’ disciples were mentored and trained by a servant leader, so we must be committed to developing others. After all, isn’t life about giving ourselves away to others?”
Just as God’s grace is sufficient in our serving, His grace is made perfect in our failure to serve. Following Christ isn’t about loving perfectly, but receiving love imperfectly, despite our brokenness, and then giving love away in meekness and lowliness of mind and heart, with Jesus the Servant-King by our side.
In the Wycliffe translation of Philippians 2:7, we read that Christ “meeked himself” as he took on flesh and the form of a servant, although He was King of kings. As we live to follow Christ the Servant Leader, here is the challenge to each of us, no matter our calling or career: we are invited to “meek” ourselves, esteem others above ourselves, and serve.