Servant Leadership

Chānakya was a professor at Thakshashila University in 4th century BC, and later (c. 350–283 BCE) an adviser and prime minister of Maurya Emperor Chandragupta (C 340-293 BCE). His political treatises are called Arthashastra, The Science that gives meaning.  In one of his writings he talks about the qualities of a true king, which is: “the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]”

The one who is interested in the welfare of the people is the leader. This is one of the oldest defined concepts on Servant leadership. But a step by step process to get there was acted out by Jesus at this event we heard today which became the central theme of Christian faith and practice.
On this day in the evening at Supper with them before he broke bread, Jesus announced, “I tell you servants are not greater than their masters”. I like this statement because it leaves a door open to a world of interpretations and imaginations.

It does not say that servants are less than their masters. It suggests that you could be as great as the master.  It also suggests that the master could be equal to the servant.

Because, I believe the celebration of Last Supper was meant to be more than just a farewell meal. It was meant to be a moment when Christ empowers his followers to become what he was about to become. He set the stage for the evolution of true leadership. He set the example by becoming one. He verbally affirmed the fact that true leadership is in one’s making and potential. He initiated a process of creating leaders in the world He was about to leave.

When we delve deeper into this action of Jesus we find some basic teaching and process of becoming a leader.

1. Disciples were stuck in the cultural world of who should wash the feet of the guest as was the custom of the day. Jesus surprised them to no limits by breaking the cultural expectations to do what is right. He proclaims by action that a true servant leader is not afraid of getting up against all norms and taking action when needed. Being stuck in one’s own ideological world is not an attribute of a leader. Leader should be and will be able to grow.

2. Let us take a second cue from Jesus. He invites his close friends to shed the ego and all that he or she thinks are the only way of doing things. By taking off the outer robe, we are invited to take off our own outer robes that cover up our imperfections and expose the inner reality of who we truly are. This may expose us to failure, misunderstanding and sometimes fear. But given a chance in true humility true servant leader will emerge empowered to do greater things.

3. Jesus does not walk into the midst of the apostles waiting to be served. He was ready to do it alone if needed. He tied a towel around him, got water for himself, washed their feet and dried them. No one is left to pick up the piece and solve the problem created by the leader.

In all what He did, Jesus told them what William Arthur Ward has put in modern terms.

“The adventure of life is to learn.
The purpose of life is to grow.
The nature of life is to change.
The challenge of life is to overcome.
The essence of life is to care.
The opportunity of life is to serve.
The secret of life is to dare.
The spice of life is to befriend.
The beauty of life is to give.” ~ 
In the words of Henri J. M. Nouwen

“Servant leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need him or her.[1]
If you are a servant leader, it is allowing the other to become as much as you have become. If you are proud of yourself and your achievement, you will empower the other to reach at least up to the level you have gotten to.

This is the heart of ministry.

Servant leadership is not task oriented. It is a heart oriented action whereby one person is lead to the experience of love rather than completion of a project.

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” ~ John C. Maxwell
Our world is confused about the idea of being a leader and servant at the time. This is why Christianity is a radical religion because it denies what we have come to believe about words, concepts and ideologies. Servant leadership is a hard work.

This is what Maundy Thursday celebration all about. In all of us there is a servant leader hidden and waiting to be freed. Within us there is a Jesus waiting to be released with good news to the hungry, the lost, the fearful and the oppressed. 

Like an artist who releases the hidden images of a being within the wood, the clay, the rock, we are all asked to release The Christ who lives within us.


[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus.
(C) Jos Tharakan

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