Servant-leaders function well in structure and may adapt to disorder to fulfill a mission. Servant-leaders practiced organizational skills before they were appointed to leadership, because they understand that they must dedicate themselves and their leadership to the organization’s mission. The servant-leader’s calling to serve requires an ability to listen and perceive the needs of others. Servant-leaders create space for individual voices to grow and be heard. Robert E. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership tells us that, “Servant leadership becomes a living and breathing way of life when we respect and value the act of listening that allows us to increase our knowledge base and be able to empathize with another point of view.” The lives of servant-leaders grow when they tune into others and “share communication in a space of reciprocity.”
Working in the reverse, servant-leaders also call upon others to also serve. Many of the pastors I surveyed agreed that they were comfortable in asking for help from the leadership and congregation. One pastor stated that he believed it develops and enhances the church. Congregants often appreciate pastors who invite and encourage involvement in ministry. They sense a level of cohesion in the church. Another pastor stated to his church, “If I do not get help with ministries, as well as visitations and outreaches, then they will not take place.”
David Keck said, “Pastors are called to model their ministry after the example of Jesus, who came ‘not to be served but to serve.’ They follow the Good Shepherd who risks his life for the sheep. In their role as shepherds, pastors lead, but they do so for the sake of the flock under their care. Therefore they are called to be servant leaders.”
An expectation of servant-leaders is that they encourage and build other leaders. There is a common leadership quote that I asked the pastors: “Does your congregation exhibit the 80-20 phenomenon—20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work?” One of the male pastors stated that their church has exceeded such expectations and achieved a new phenomenon. He said, “Thirty- percent of the congregation does most of the work, because they are coached and mentored by me and other leaders. This hands-on approach triggers a positive reinforcement that rewards most who are active in the ministry.” The female pastor believed this phenomenon is true in any congregation. She described, “a core of people do most of the work...the only way you can change this is to impress upon them that they need to get involved. We need to encompass those and encourage them to participate in ministry.” Another male pastor stated that it is not true for his ministry because they are fairly new. He said, “I encourage them to understand that we need everyone to participate in building the Kingdom of God together by using their talents and gifts that the Lord has given unto them.” Raising up leaders in the church requires encouragement.
I also interviewed two leaders who serve in the same church (one female and one male). I asked: Does your pastor seem more like a servant, leader, or a servant-leader? Both agreed that their pastor is a servant-leader. The male leader stated, “Many members of the congregation have seen Pastor picking up trash, cleaning the bathrooms, and shoveling snow on the church parking lot.” The female respondent noted that the pastor is not only involved with the congregation, but he also does community outreach. He facilitates evangelism training and mentors other pastors and ministers. Keck noted, “Healthy congregations thrive because their pastors consistently keep everyone’s attention on Christ. Faithful pastors thrive because their congregations are focused on God.” The key to pastors maintaining a proper balance in ministry and keeping people on task, is redirecting their attention back to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:14).
As we reflect on servant leadership in the 21st century, we recognize that there are some pastors who are demanding to be served instead of embracing Jesus’ example of servanthood. Some have taken Proverbs 3:27 out of context, which says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” At any moment, one might hear a pastor say, “People are to give honor where honor is due.” Therefore, they have concluded that church members serving them is an act of honor. Throughout Scripture, Jesus was very direct in the importance of servanthood as he explained, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). Jesus also said, “Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent Him” (John 13:16). Furthermore, Jesus directed us to, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Luke 4:8).
As simple as the concept of service may seem, Jayson Bradley stated, “A pastor’s relationship with the church is complex. Negotiating the various expectations that individuals place on pastors can be tough, especially when they seem arbitrary or mutually exclusive.” He concluded in his 10-point research that church members are seeking shepherds who spend time with God, study, and are able to expound on the Scriptures, being self-aware, and working toward the vision for the church. Conversely, John McKeever researched the expectations of every congregation and stated, “In a very real sense, believers who support the work of the Lord with their tithes and offerings and time and energy have a right to expect certain things from their shepherd. That’s what this is about.” It is possible that such thinking contributes to some pastors feeling overwhelmed and burnt-out in ministry.
It is not incorrect or inappropriate to have expectations in the church.
Expectations shape relationships. Expectations become a burden when pastors embrace an image that God has not ordained. Usually, this image leads to an assumption that church members seek an invincible shepherd, instead of one who will walk alongside them, teach them the Biblical truths, and love them unconditionally. As Keck emphasized, “Faithful pastors and healthy churches must agree to communicate covenant expectations in order to thrive together.” Such conversation will help maintain balance between expectations and servant leadership.