Ask any Christian what they see as the top issues facing the Church and/or their congregation and inevitably the lack of true, healthy, biblical servant leadership makes the list. Christians are frustrated with leaders chosen who clearly don’t meet the qualifications set in scripture – especially as they watch them lead with ineptitude, toxicity or other qualities that end up hurting the church more than helping it.
Part of the issue is that we do not proactively raise and train young people to step into any type of servant leadership role – whether it’s leading a service project, a children’s Bible class, a Bible study, their neighbors to Christ or eventually perhaps a larger servant leadership role like minister, elder or deacon.
So often Christians default to choosing people to lead who are somewhat successful in business or have the same engineering or accounting career as other leaders – without truly considering all of the spiritual requirements set forth in scripture. Is it no surprise then that toxic workplace leadership seeps into our churches, because the “servant” part of the equation is all but forgotten?
So if we want to prepare young people to be better servant leaders than we are, what do we need to teach them? This list isn’t extensive, but would go a long way to improving things.
- Scripture. Not just a glossing over of the most popular stories and scriptures. Effective servant leaders not only know, but understand and practice scripture.
- Prayer. Effective leaders have to have a strong prayer life to survive. There’s just too much stress and uncertainty that goes with ministering to people. That relationship with God has to be strong. It also helps if the person knows how to be still and “listen” to God’s response as well.
- A heart for serving others and a willingness to lead. This is an extremely rare combination, but one that is called for in scripture. It cannot be taught per se, but it can be taught – perhaps best at home. Help parents know the ways they can work at home to develop a servant heart that is also willing to lead.
- Accountability. Even the best of servant leaders rarely make it to the finish line as godly servant leaders. Why? Who do you think Satan is going to attack first? Encouraging young people to surround themselves with Christians who will hold them accountable can increase the protection they have from the tricks of Satan.
- Thorough understanding of the servant leadership of Jesus. Jesus was a complex leader that is too often painted as one dimensional. Young people need to understand the Jesus who washed feet as well as the Jesus who rebuked others.
- Detailed analysis of leadership or the lack thereof exhibited by various people in the Bible. Although there are enough stories about rulers, prophets and apostles to last some time – everyone in life and in the Bible has opportunities to step up and lead by example. Who did and how did they do it? Who didn’t but perhaps thought they did? These stories help flesh out an understanding of biblical leadership.
- Christian morals and character traits. True servant leaders don’t lie, cheat or steal. They are loving, patient and kind. Young people need to understand to be a truly effective servant leader in any role they need to accurately reflect God’s image in every way possible.
- Shadowing Christian servant leaders. Whether it’s a service project, a Bible class, a sermon or decision making, young people should be regularly shadowing the servant leaders in your congregation. These adults should be prepared to teach the young people how they make godly decisions, etc. David lived in the palace observing King Saul for years before he became king. I believe God set that up so David could learn what worked and what didn’t by observing someone else – instead of having to learn on the job and make unnecessary mistakes.
- Gift discovery, development and use. Often servant leadership roles are most effective when given to those who are gifted by God to perform those tasks. Helping teens discover, develop and use their gifts now will make it easier for them to find the roles which God created them to do.
- Service – especially inconvenient service. Servant leadership can be dirty, messy and exhausting. I don’t think it was fun for Jesus to wash dirty, smelly feet. Likewise, young people need to learn that not every service opportunity can be wrapped up neatly in an hour or makes them feel good when they are finished. Having regular opportunities for Jesus type service with guided reflection afterwards can help them process and learn what true service entails.
- Faith sharing. Christian leaders should expect to regularly share their faith with others in a variety of ways. Young people need training and practice in the various ways they can point others to God.
- Christian life skills training. There are definitely skill sets involved in servant leadership. Lay counseling (emotional and spiritual first aid), conflict resolution, organizational and planning skills, time management, financial planning and the like will also help young people be ready to serve others in their leadership roles.
- Christian and secular leadership books. Not all books are equal, but some secular books are written from a Christian perspective and contain real world examples that students can understand. Having book clubs discussing these books can encourage discussion and development of skills.
Yes, this list is long…. and possibly overwhelming. If we want things to get better though, it starts with raising up young people who are truly prepared to be servant leaders.