Service: The Essence of Leadership

Philip P. Eapen

The Lord Jesus introduced the concept of Servant Leadership to the world. Other men have echoed that thought. Selfless service defines a leader. It is the essence of true greatness.

A visiting professor in a Bible Seminary was angry with his boss, the Academic Dean, because he was not assigned to teach any class that semester. He wanted to know why the Dean had sidelined him. The Dean explained that there were enough resident teachers to handle the subjects offered that semester.

The visiting professor would not buy any of that. “Who do you think I am?” he asked, shivering with anger and frustration. “I am a part of the team that started this college. I put my money into this institution so that I can teach here.”

No one can hide his true intentions for long, the Dean thought. Some “great” men donate money and establish colleges for their own sake—not for students who need training!

These are not isolated incidents. We encounter proud men and women everywhere. There is one thing in common in all of them. They all think it was for them that someone set up a system instead of perceiving that they are there to serve those around them.

Some teachers think that schools were built so that they can earn a living or get a platform to display their intellectual wares. Some bus conductors in our country think that buses and passengers exist for the sole purpose of giving them a livelihood. They think they’re doing a favour to passengers. Some doctors and nurses think the sole purpose of setting up hospitals is to give medical professionals a chance to make money. Some pastors think that churches and churchgoers exist to ensure their financial well-being. The list seems to be endless. There are ‘government servants’ who think the government and its offices exist for providing them with secure jobs. Some politicians are no different.

Proud people think that the system around them was created for them instead of perceiving that they are there to serve those around them.

As a student, I have frequented the offices of many universities. Workers in these offices behaved as if the university existed for their sake. They saw students who went to them asking for certificates or transcripts as pests who ‘disturbed’ their peace! Often, such “government servants” ask students and the public to “come back next week” when they can help them in a few minutes. Even Christians in this country do this to their subordinates or to those whom they are supposed to serve. They forget the biblical injunction, ‘Do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.’ (Proverbs 3:28)

The Lord Jesus, on the night He observed His final Passover with His disciples, left a sterling example for all of us. He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands. His ministry was a resounding success. He was about to return to His Father. Contrary to what lesser mortals would do at such a time, He displayed the true essence of leadership, which is none other than selfless service.

The Master and His disciples sat for the Passover meal. They knew something was amiss. They did not have a host who would ensure their comfort. There were no servants around to wash their feet. Each disciple must have noticed they were about to have a meal before the customary feet-washing. Yet none of them volunteered to serve. That is when Jesus rose and wrapped a towel around His waist. He volunteered to wash His disciples’ feet instead of ordering the youngest of His disciples to do so. He knew that He was there to serve instead of being served.

In remembrance of the Master’s act of humility and in obedience to His command that these disciples imitate Him, many Christian leaders and bishops wash the feet of their subordinates once each year. They, like many, have missed the point. Jesus commanded His disciples to imitate His example of humility and service in their day-to-day life.

Washing each other’s feet is not the need of the hour in our times. Nor is it customary in our culture to wash the feet of guests. However, if we keep our eyes open, we can notice numerous service opportunities. Many menial tasks are left undone for the lack of servants or attendants. Often, we consider ourselves too dignified even to pick up a piece of paper from the floor. Files languish on a table in most government offices just because a peon or attendant is on leave. Doors creak; toilets stink. Our neighbourhoods are mega garbage dumps. Our streets are filthy. Our environment goes from bad to worse. “That’s not my job!” is our favourite chorus. And our anthem? Mei kya karoo? (“What am I to do?”)

Originally published in the newspaper ‘Praise The Almighty’ in September 2010.


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About the author

Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.

Date: September 1, 2010




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