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Leadership from a Servant Perspective

Submitted by Les Comee

Introduction

Some of us in Young Life have had the extraordinary privilege of working with visionary leaders who approached their calling as a way to serve others. We could sense that the primary concern to them was not their program, goals, and vision ‑ all of which were very important. They were led by a vision of the Gospel and touching kids’ hearts. They exercised their power and influence in significant ways. They expected a lot from us and we wanted to give them the best. But deep down we knew their primary desire was that we would grow into the people God wanted us to be. We were more than just a way to get a vision accomplished. They led us not just by assigning work, but by being with us in the work.

We also knew that this was not a strategy on their part. It was grace. God’s grace had given them something. They were bearers of grace in a special way. People grew in their presence. Gifts were utilised. Risks were encouraged and we continued to learn more about reaching young people in new ways.

One of the descriptions of Jesus I have most appreciated is “the Man for others.” That seems to me to be at the heart of servant leadership. Some wonderful books have been written about servant leadership. I want to discuss some of the simple implications for people who want to ask God to lead them in this way.


i. Leadership from Within

Each year, for the past several, I have encouraged our staff to listen to God for a special scripture, then to ponder that scripture and let it shape their vision, shape their prayer, and shape their speaking. Jesus did this with Isaiah 61. He used it when He preached His inaugural sermon in Luke 4. It under girded His ministry. It focused His prayer life. When the disciples wrote the Gospels they remembered that Jesus’ vision was not His own ‑ it was given to Him. He listened first.

If we are going to be servant leaders, we begin with a listening posture, to our Lord in Scripture, to the leadership God has given us, to the people we are called to serve.

It is an important question we need to ask ‑ how am I doing at listening? How clear am I on what I am being called to do? Am I being faithful to that vision in the midst of whatever struggles I face?

All leadership begins from “within.”

There are a lot of different ways to talk about this. For the leader, the real issue is always an internal one. This is a hard lesson for me to learn. I want to change or blame everything but myself, “Young Life expects too much. Not enough leaders are committed. We do not have enough money.” All this may be true. The issue for a leader is to begin to understand what is blocking him or her from hearing God’s Spirit. What are we to do that will allow us to be open to God’s grace? What, in me needs to be transformed?

This is another way of saying the servant leader has to be open to change, to listen, to hear the voice of God. So, the leader has to live with the paradox of being clear about a sense of call and vision, plus open to God and others. This is one of the many tensions with which a servant leader lives and works.


ii. Servant Leadership and Cost

John Stott, in Imitating the Incarnation, said, “Evangelical theology is essentially a theology of the cross.” There is no other way to understand Christian leadership than leadership that is self-giving and costly. Four times in John 10 Jesus talks about laying down His life for the sheep. It is something He does by His own free will. It is not something pushed on Him by a “program” of any sort.

A good deal of my ministry has been spent trying to understand the meaning and implication of these ideas. How do you lead and serve in this way? Being honest/vulnerable with the people we serve is one thing that we see in Jesus’ ministry. It was misunderstood then, and we can expect the same response now.

In America, we are taught to expect to move from victory to victory. Our lives and ministry grow and grow from one mountaintop to the next. I have never heard an area director take scripture and teach his or her leaders how to deal with lack of response (or failure). Jesus took the time to warn the disciples in Mark 6 as He sent them out in mission by twos. Everyone will not “buy” the Gospel (Mark 6:10‑11), and He gave them a sign to allow them to “let go” when people did not respond. He helped them deal with one of the outward stresses of ministry. He told them the truth. People do not always respond. They had not responded to Jesus in Mark 6:1‑6. Do we ever talk with our leaders like that?

But, soon after the sending of the disciples, Jesus begins to prepare them for the inner cost of leadership. He begins in Chapter 8 of Mark and continues in chapters 9 and 10. Like me, the disciples are not interested in hearing about this. They want things to go smoothly, painlessly. In fact, in Chapter 10 they want glory and honour. Jesus then gives His most clear teaching about servant leadership. It has to do with suffering. It is the way God has chosen to transform us. In fact the primary paradigm for the Christian life is death (deny self/let go/give up) and resurrection (new life/gift/renewal). Jesus modelled it and the disciples misunderstood it.

It seems to me there are numerous ways we may be called to suffer. We may be called to walk with brothers and sisters through their pain, suffering and darkness. The disciples did not want to do this with Jesus.

Then there is the more subtle call to death that comes with facing our own need to let go of power and control. It may be the call to face our own places of sin and darkness and surrender them to Jesus and our fellowship. How do we lead when we are tired, in pain, or not “together?”

Tom Wilson has amazed me with his vulnerability as a senior vice president. I invited him to our region one year to “G-up” the troops because I was too tired to do it. Instead, he shared his own struggles he and his family were facing. The whole meeting moved to a new level of honesty. Leadership can confer this gift if leaders serve by honestly sharing the suffering they face ‑ suffering due to ministry or our personal lives.

When teaching the disciples about the cost of being a servant in Mark 10:45 or in Luke’s more expanded account in chapter 22, Jesus never says that being a servant means giving up leadership. He redefines what leadership means, but He expects them to be “the greater” or “the one who rules” (in Luke). He just does not want them to rule by “lording over” people like the Gentiles. Their calling was to lead ‑ Jesus’ purpose was to reframe the meaning of leadership.

How have you worked in your own life with the inner cost of leadership?


iii. Anger and Hostility / Shooting Straight

I do not know why, but I am always surprised by the amount of hostility that leaders face. In time, I have come to believe that the ability to face hostility (to work with it and through it) was an important task of a person who wanted to serve. I have always wanted to believe that if I am “nice” enough people will not get upset with me. That is the opposite of what I am talking about. I am called to be open about my struggles and encourage the same in others. All of us bring our own pains and wounds into ministry. The context a leader creates either encourages us to cover up all of our “stuff,” or allows us to be who we really are. There is a cost to allowing that kind of openness. Some will be especially upset if the leader is vulnerable. We are not meeting their expectations.

There are many other reasons a leader faces hostility; but the issue is do we dodge it or allow it to surface and grow through it? We are faced with the decision to get on with the task/vision or work with a person. Often hostility is a clue to an important step in a person’s spiritual journey. The leader who is willing to serve by facing hostility knows that grace and transformation come at a high price to God and to the people of God.

I have missed too many opportunities in my ministry to help people grow by not shooting straight with them. I have not given them honest feedback about parts of their lives that need to change. Jack Fortin, one of our former vice presidents, used to say “Confrontation + Tribulation = Transformation.” Are we willing to take the time, energy, and work that is necessary, (the “tribulation”), to help people grow?

Along with this question, it seems to me we are called to accept people where they are. It is one of the principles we teach early in ministry. How do you live with the tension of accepting people where they are and honestly giving them feedback about their growth?

Following is an excerpt from an interview between Jeff Munroe and Max DePree.

Jeff Munroe: What are the marks of a servant leader?

Max DePree: A servant leader is one who approaches leadership with the thought that the leader owes things to the followers. The leader owes opportunities, recognition, good orientation, reality.

There is a myth afoot that shows itself in our language, when a coach talks about “my team,” or a manager talks about “my work team” ‑ that’s the wrong language. You don’t own them, they own you. Servant leadership starts with this concept: Leadership is a posture of indebtedness.

To carry that out, some further attributes are necessary. Integrity is always at the top of the list, but I think vulnerability may be the point at which most of us struggle in trying to be servant leaders. It is very hard to be vulnerable, that is, open, to the gifts that others bring. When we interact with our children, whom we love dearly, it is not so hard to be vulnerable, but when we transfer that concept into the work place, it is more difficult. Being vulnerable to what other people bring is one of the things that is at the heart of servanthood.

Another thing that is at play here is that when you move steadily up the hierarchy of a really good organisation – an organization that is vital and has a mission that is worthwhile ‑ you become more and more an amateur, because there is such a gap between the actual work that goes on and what the leader shares in. The leader cannot share in all the work that goes on in a good organization so he/she has to be educated in order to make decisions. If the leader understands that he/she is an amateur, the odds are much better that he’ll/she’ll be able to be a servant.

Download – Leadership from a Servant Perspective

The Foundations of Young Life

In 1938, Jim Rayburn, a young Presbyterian youth leader and seminary student in Gainesville, Texas, USA was given a challenge. A local minister invited him to consider the neighbourhood high school as his parish and develop ways of contacting kids who had no interest in church. Rayburn started a weekly club for kids. There was singing, a skit or two and a simple message about Jesus Christ. Club attendance increased dramatically when they started meeting in the homes of the young people.

After graduating from seminary, Rayburn and four other seminarians collaborated, and Young Life was officially born on Oct. 16, 1941, with its own Board of Trustees. They developed the club idea throughout Texas, with an emphasis on showing kids that faith in God can be not only fun, but exhilarating and life changing.

Young Life’s mission remains the same — to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith. This happens when caring adults build genuine friendships and earn the right to be heard with their young friends. For more than seven decades, God has blessed the Young Life staff, increasing its numbers from five to more than 3,300 — from one club in Texas to clubs in nearly every corner of the world.

Young Life Goes Global & Comes to Australia in the ‘70s

Young Life’s outreach to kids outside of the United States began in 1953 with the work of Rod and Fran Johnston in France. That ministry, under the name of Jeunesse Ardente, continues to this day. At present, a mix of American and national staff and some 19,000 volunteer leaders are reaching kids with the Gospel through more than 700 ministries in over 70 countries.

Young Life Australia has two separate histories in New South Wales and Victoria, dating back to the early 1970s. Young Life literally bounced its way into NSW in 1972 when a team of Young Life basketball players from North America visited Sydney under the umbrella of Campaigners for Christ. As a result, of that visit about 35 kids met Jesus Christ through Young Life’s relational approach in the camp setting. These new Christians and a handful of leaders wanted to start Young Life clubs in their schools at Killarney Heights, Carlingford, Northmead, and Caringbah. Sydney’s first Young Life clubs were hosted in 1973 by John and Laurice Waller in Killarney Heights, Ivor and Joy Lewis at Miranda, and Dave and Jo Lindsay in North Rocks.

In 1973, a schoolteacher on exchange from Colorado, U.S.A. at Rosebud High School in Victoria began a Young Life club in his house. Cliff and Liz Johnson, because of their years of involvement in Young Life U.S.A., did not know another way to minister to kids in that community other than to invite them around to their house. And come they did, up to 70‑80 kids every week. Most of these kids had never been to a church in their lives! Australian young people were ready for a relational ministry!

The 80’s and 90s on the main were good years for Young Life. Under the leadership of Daryl Redford in Victoria and Arthur Ongley in NSW, the respective state organisations saw healthy clubs and camping ministries develop. With large numbers attending clubs each week (up to 150 people) volunteers were the mainstay of Young Life at every level. From regular schools based contact work, community engagement, club, camping, small groups and serving on committees and boards, volunteers where the life of the ministry. They lived and breathed ministry, many went on to serve in churches and overseas mission agencies and continue to do so to this day.

After the failure of a national body in the 1980’s, Glyn Henman saw another opportunity to unify the mission again in the late 1990’s. With new levels of trust between the respective ministries, talks began in 1999 to look at forming a national entity once again. With Andre Linossier (VIC), Paul McConnell and Glyn Henman (NSW) leading the discussions, there emerged a strong commitment to form a National organisation once again. By March 3rd 2000, the deal was completed with Amicus Young Life Australia Inc formed out of the two organisations. Andre Linossier was the first Chairman of the new board and Glyn Henman was appointed as the National Director (CEO). By the end of July 2002, we had settled on Young Life Australia INC as our official name.

Since 2002 there has being the usual challenges of getting a new organisation established in its own right and setting the priorities for the years ahead. 2008-09 were difficult years with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) impacting the organisations capacity to reach more young people! Despite the challenges Young Life has seen rapid growth in all aspects of its work with young people. With new ministries in Bathurst, Dubbo and Maroubra (NSW), the Barossa Valley (SA), Hobart (TAS) and Redlands (QLD) and the placement of staff in Belarus and Macedonia. Young Life also partners with schools to place chaplains as part of various government programs. God was growing the work.

2015 saw a watershed moment with the purchase of a training facility in Armidale. We are grateful to God for his generosity to Young Life.

At the time of writing (July 2016) Young Life Australia is poised for further growth with new opportunities emerging for God to use the organisation to reach more young people than ever before. The last 6 years has seen Young Life double its size and increase its capacity. We look forward to what God is going to do in the next 10 years.

Download – The Foundations of Young Life

The Importance of Knowing Why We Do What We Do

Listen to Brian Summerall explain the importance of knowing why we do what we do in Young Life!


Adapted from an article submitted by Ken Knipp

Lyle Schaller tells a story of a congregation which always recited the Apostles’ Creed in their worship service facing the back of the sanctuary. This practice had been continued for many years without question. No one in the congregation knew why this custom was followed, yet the majority of the congregation was unwilling to change this practice. Finally, it was discovered that many years earlier, when the practice of reciting the creed was begun, a banner on which the Apostles’ Creed was printed had hung across the back of the sanctuary. Since the congregation did not know the creed from memory, they always stood, looked at the banner, and then were able to repeat the creed together. This practice continued many years after the banner itself had been removed.

This brief story illustrates how easily we can adopt practices without having any real understanding of the reason why we are doing them. When this occurs, we are exposed to two dangers. The first is that we will follow a very legitimate practice, yet fail to draw out its proper results because we don’t understand the reason behind the practice. The second is that we will continue a practice which no longer meets its original purpose, again because we do not grasp the reason why that practice was initiated in the first place.

There are a number of areas where this applies to the ministry of Young Life. Many staff and volunteer leaders have seen others in leadership roles doing contact work, leading clubs or directing camps and modelled what they did after the form of ministry they saw, without always understanding the function which the form intended to fulfil.

Here are some examples:

I have encountered plenty of leaders who thought that if they simply attended a game or other school events, or walked onto the school campus, they had done contact work. While going to school events or the places where kids congregate is a necessary part of contact work, that doesn’t get beyond the form. The function is for leaders to be actively present with kids, initiating friendships with them. Risking our security is involved, dependence on the Holy Spirit is involved, initiating conversations is involved, seeking to personally demonstrate the love and presence of Christ is involved. These things do not automatically happen if we simply show up at a place where kids are.

The principle holds true for club as well; in fact, it may be here where we have the greatest danger of holding onto the form while forgetting the function. The goal of club is to create a situation in which kids feel safe, where they drop some of their barriers to the Gospel, and are open to understand both a verbal and nonverbal expression of the gospel. Hopefully, this understanding will be evident in skits, message presentation, camping and every other area of our ministry. We need to have a clear idea of why we are saying what we say, and why we are doing what we do. We need to be sure that we understand the function we are trying to accomplish, or else we will be facing the back of the church after the banner has been removed.

Download – The Importance of Knowing Why We Do What We Do

Ministry of Reconciliation

By Glyn Henman

Read: 2 Cor. 5:17-21, 1 Thes 2:6-12

We are all called to a ministry of reconciliation – a ministry of reconciling those who do not know Jesus into a full relationship with Him. The Bible says that all are called. It means all Christians, not just those who have lots of extra time, are good communicators, are educated in technology, or are outgoing. All. The question isn’t just what am I called to do, but how can I best do what God has called me to do?

Young Life is a tool, one of many, and like any tool it can be used correctly or incorrectly. We need to plan together to make a real difference for God’s Kingdom.

How do young people come to know Jesus in Young Life? They know you! They have a friendship with you that says ‘I love you as Christ loves you – unconditionally.’ A friendship that says ‘I accept you as Christ accepts you – unconditionally.’ I care enough to listen. You are my friend no matter what.

How do young people grow up in Christ? They know you! As you walk with young people who have made commitments, live with them, grow with them, and give yourself to them, they see someone who is their example of who Christ is.

What do young people need today? They need Christian adults of any age to take an interest in them. Young people don’t usually have adult “friends” – unless they want something from them. They need adults who are willing to love sacrificially, spend time with them, be vulnerable with them, and stay by their side through whatever life brings. They also need mature adults who are strong and able to be tough with them, when needed. We need to be adults who demonstrate the values of God. Out of this kind of friendship, we proclaim the Gospel.

“Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear your words” changes to “Your actions speak so loud I want to stop in this busy world and listen to what you have to say.”

We are His Ambassadors. An ambassador is both a messenger and a representative. He doesn’t speak in his own name or act on his own authority. What he communicates is not his own opinions or demands, but simply what he has been told to communicate. At the same time, he speaks with authority, in this case with the authority of Christ Himself. It is God’s divine love we are commissioned to proclaim.

We share God’s love with young people by our words, but even more often by giving them our very lives. It’s a sacrifice to love young people on their terms, not ours, but that is what we are called to do.

Listen to Eve Sarrett share on Incarnation Ministry.

Further verses to study: 1 Peter 2:9, Matt 28:19, Matt 9:35-38, Acts 1:8, John 15:7-8, John 15:16-17, John 10:10-11

Download – Ministry of Reconciliation

Going Deeper

Have a look a brief look at the history of Young Life.


Please read through the course material to the right.