In my 30’s, I knew a priest from India. He attracted people easily, as he was gentle, peaceful, and kind. Yet he was also intelligent, exceptionally insightful on scripture and theology, and willing to share his wisdom in just the right measure. Despite obvious gifts, he never lorded it over anyone or touted himself. Instead, his encouragement and support, combined with the model of his life, built everyone up, and he sincerely rejoiced at their successes even above his own. To me, he fit the definition of a servant leader, and he inspired others to the same.
Gallons of ink have been spilled defining and promoting “servant leadership.” St. Paul lists several characteristics we’d all agree on: dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith and love, reverent, teaching what is good, chaste, maintaining integrity, rejecting godless ways, and living in imitation of Jesus who gave himself totally for us. Servant leaders, according to the Gospel, humbly do what is theirs to do without expectation of reward or recognition, and sometimes at cost to themselves. In short, servant leaders use whatever gifts and talents they have to serve others and to build up the reign of God.
Today, servant leadership seems in perilously short supply. Many leaders, religious and secular, are concerned primarily with their own power and control, demanding adulation, and enriching themselves. As Christians, that is the antithesis of our call, but it is hard to resist. I know how good it feels to be praised by others. I love being “right,” and can get defensive when my position is challenged. I can be very invested in what I want. It’s more comfortable to be in control than to trust someone else to lead. Even with my kids, I sometimes do things myself, knowing I’ll do it better, rather than patiently letting them learn over time until they are equally competent. Ah yes, I know the temptations!
I also know that if I want to promote servant leadership in our world, I need to begin with myself. So, my prayer this week is that I may grow in humility and service. May I open my mind to hear the challenges of others so that together we can discern the “right” path forward. May I offer my time, attention, and gifts freely without expecting reward or recognition. May I look for opportunities to build up someone else, especially someone who rarely gets recognized. Overall, may I become an ever more transparent instrument of Christ, who gave himself over for us. And may I do all of this so generously and well that I inspire others to do the same. Amen.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.