Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Monday, February 27, 2012

Servant Followership

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. Mark 10: 42-44, NLT

As students studying for an MA in Government at Regent University, we are striving to develop and enhance our leadership skills. From a Christian worldview perspective, when we seek leadership skills first, we are placing the proverbial “cart before the horse.” Jesus set the standards for both leadership and followership by his complete obedience to the will of the Father. Jesus spent the first 30 years of his live obeying his parents, being an excellent carpenter, and serving the Lord in a humble fashion. Jesus was an effective leader because He practiced servanthood first! From conception to ascension, Jesus’ every word and action promoted the mission that the Father anointed Jesus to complete, the redemptive work of the cross.

Thus, we cannot learn to lead like Jesus until we learn to serve like Jesus. An excellent book on this subject is Jesus on Leadership by C. Gene Wilkes (1998, Tyndale Publishers). Christian servant leadership is birthed by servant followership in which employees develop the essential character traits (the fruits of the spirit) that enable leaders to use their gifts and skills in a humble, responsible, mature and unselfish manner. Servant followership entails such key attributes as enduring trials and tribulations patiently, learning from mistakes, teachability, obedience to authority, accepting responsibility for solving problems, exercising initiative, and helping coworkers and clients even when inconvenient or contrary to personal interests. Servant followers understand their strengths and weaknesses and select jobs based upon their gifting and passions thereby reducing stress on themselves and others.

Servant followership entails committing every aspect of our work to Godly excellence irrespective of the obstacles and situation (working for God, not man). Even when we work for unjust earthly masters, God is pleased when we endure suffering for righteous conduct. God is the only performance evaluator that matters. The Lord rewards those who pursue and practice Godly excellence and integrity at work with present and future spiritual and temporal blessings, and is the instrument for judgment and accountability for our earthly employers (vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord). These ideal standards of conduct entails a life long progressive sanctification of dying to the self that are never fully realized until we are face to face with the Lord. It is a high and lofty standard, in essence, another element of working out our salvation with fear and trembling daily. When we practice servant followership, we become that candle in the dark shining the light, hope and love of Christ into the dark recesses of our workplaces. I have listed below some of the key attributes of servant followership. Pray every day for God’s strength to serve with humility and obey the Gospel.

Twenty-five Key Attributes of Servant Followers

1. Obey the first ten commandants, to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Our adherence to these principles is the foundation for a personal relationship with Jesus and a necessary precondition for placing Jesus at the center of our lives. This entails the purposeful and enthusiastic adherence to Christian Spiritual disciplines (prayer, reading the scriptures, Christian fellowship) that enable us to develop and manifest the necessary character traits for workplace servanthood (love, humility, forgiveness, patience, perseverance, etc.)

2. The practice of 360-degree forgiveness (self, God, and others).

3. Serve just and unjust masters with excellence as modeled by David with Saul.

4. Asserting leadership when the situation warrants our intervention

5. The healthy pursuit of excellence (realistic standards of performance, accepting the inevitability of mistakes and embracing the value of trial and error in the learning process)

6. Practice initiative and creativity: Take responsibility for solving performance problems and exert the required effort (working beyond the job description and normal work requirements) when necessary.

7. Reliable and conscientious work performance in all situations

8. Honor your employer by avoiding a critical or cynical spirit by providing honest and constructive feedback in appropriate settings

9. Pray for your leaders, subordinates, peers, and customers

10. Practice gratitude for past, present and future blessings

11. Commit to the success of your supervisor and co-workers

12. Take joy in the success of others while being sorrowful over failures, even the “tough love” and “sandpaper” people that we dislike or who are at enmity with us.

13. Do not compare oneself to others. The goal is to learn from others, not to become someone else.

14. Humility: recognize our limits and be teachable, and seek out corrective feedback

15. Truth telling, provide honest feedback (voice) to protect the integrity of mission achievement, protect interests of other key stakeholders, and love your boss by providing input to avoid mistakes

16. Practice of personal transparency on weaknesses

17. Reject the temptation to externalize blame for problems and assume personal responsibility for creating and solving them

18. Be patient and faithful in trials and tribulations and communicate hope and optimism while avoiding complaining, grumbling and fault finding. Be willing to “pay your dues” and wait patiently for the Lord to promote and honor you.

19. Learn to live in the present to promote patience and perseverance

20. Unconditional altruism: help fellow employees in need (mentor and coach new employees, support and assist coworkers) even when inconvenienced or disadvantaged

21. Practice courtesy, tact and politeness to all

22. Practice active listening in which we listen with the heart as well as the mind. Listen more than we speak.

23. Supporting coworkers through encouragement and holding them accountable (tough love)

24. When in a position of bargaining strength relative to your employer, do not make excessive or unreasonable demands that take advantage of an employer’s vulnerable situation

25. Be uncompromisingly conscientious and honest in using organizational resources (money, time, equipment, supplies, etc.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unconditional Love

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4: 19-21 NIV

Do you possess an inborn need to receive love? Most of us would answer that rather basic question with a resounding “yes.” However, as with many issues in the Kingdom of God, the conventional answers fail to receive endorsement by careful review of scripture. An excellent book on the subject is by Edward T. Welch “When People Are Big and God is Small.” The thesis of the book is that when we need people more than we love them, it creates the idolatry of codependency and the fear of man. Modern psychology and many Christian psychologists embrace the “loving cup” view of human nature that states “wounded and broken” we become if God and others fail to fill our vessels with love, support, and encouragement. Is this image correct?

Welch makes a convincing argument otherwise. First, we must grasp our creation in God’s image. God loves purely and perfectly not because of His need to fulfill an unmet desire, but because “God is love” and love is His foundational and immutable attribute. God first loved us unconditionally because that is His nature (Seamands, 2004). The trinity embodies this wonderful but mysterious principle. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a perfect “love triangle,” they give and receive love in a completely self-sustaining and fulfilling relationship. Each member of the trinity grants unconditional love to the other, and in turn, receives unconditional love. This reflects the other great mystery of the universe as God is the “uncaused cause,” setting in motion all other forms of existence and being. As human beings created in the image of God, Adam was given Eve so he could be an image bearer of God and love Eve unreservedly, just as Adam was originally created by God for love and fellowship.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the foundational relationship element of unconditional love was corrupted and reduced to the self-serving and idolatrous love, which ultimately enslaves. We can never achieve Christ likeness by employing the humanistic psychology approach of placing our needs at the center. God calls us to imitate Him by loving others first without conditions. As created beings, we cannot manifest the perfect self-contained love manifested in the Trinity, but the Body of Christ, the church, is the God-given means to develop our ability to grant and receive love. We cannot practice unconditional love without Christ as Lord and the body of Christ to teach and model these behaviors. Our sin nature continually redirects our attention to meeting self-needs and desires through the many forms of counterfeit love. This is why the family is “ground zero” in terms of spiritual warfare. If our parents and families fail to model and practice Christ-like unconditional love, Satan instills spiritual, physical, and emotional wounds that lead us to medicate our pain with love counterfeits further accentuating the power of sin over our lives. We become needy, fearful, and develop a warped sense of self-esteem.

However, the solution the world offers is to convince us that the problem is not our sinfulness, but the fact that others are not meeting our needs or we are the victims of circumstances and outside forces. What is the solution? The first step is to admit our brokenness and our own inability and that of others to cure what ails us. We must take responsibility for the sin, forgive those who hurt us, and ask for forgiveness for our sin and the dysfunctional means that we use to cover our pain and shame. God will meet our legitimate needs (not all our desires), and He will give us the love and security so we can love Him and others without condition. This is clearly an ongoing, long-term process imperfectly completed in this life, but the more “we learn to need others less and love them more” as Welch states, we grow in freedom.

These lessons are important for the workplace as well. Just like Jesus, our calling is to work with excellence, serve others, and love them unconditionally. Even if others treat us unfairly, our self-esteem and identity does not depend upon the attitudes, actions, and support of others. They can no longer manipulate our reactions. We are hurt, but the arrows and stones do not break us. We receive deep comfort from Christ for the wounds, and are able to move forward. As servant leaders, we love and encourage others and hold them accountable. We hope that others will model the Golden Rule and return the love, accountability, and encouragement. When this occurs, the workplace is blessed. When others fail us, we reject anger and bitterness, pray for our brothers and sisters, practice forgiveness, and move forward. We then achieve an amazing level of freedom and love as we exhibit the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To God be the Glory!

Seamands, D. A. (2004). Healing for damaged emotions. Paris, Ontario: Cook Communications Ministries.

Welch, E. T. (1997). When people are big and God is small. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing.