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 he was sidelined. The Dean explained to him 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 in my money into this institution so that I can teach here.”

Some truths cannot be hidden for long, the Dean thought. Some “great” men donate money and establish colleges for their own sake—not for the sake of 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 that the system around them was created for them instead of perceiving that they are there to serve those around them.

There are teachers who think that schools were built so that they can earn a living or get a platform to display their intellectual wares. There are bus conductors in our country who think that buses and passengers exist for the sole purpose of giving them a livelihood. Some of them think they’re doing a favour to passengers. There are doctors and nurses who think the sole purpose of setting up hospitals is to give medical professionals a chance to make money. There are pastors who think that churches and church-goers exists to ensure their financial well-being. The list seems to be endless. There are ‘government servants’ who think government and its offices exist for providing them secure jobs. Many 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 often behaved as if the university existed for their sake. Students who went to them asking for certificates or transcripts were seen as pests who ‘distrubed’ their peace! How very often students and members of the public are asked by “government servants” to “come back next week” when in reality, their work can be done 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 injuction, ‘Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.’ (Prov. 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 as that, He displayed the essence of true leadership, which is none other than selfless service.

When the Master and His disciples sat for the meal, there was one thing that had to be done before the meal. There was no host there to look after their needs. There were no slaves around to wash their feet. Each disciple must have noticed that they were about to have a meal before the customary washing. Yet none of them volunteered to be a slave for a few minutes. That’s when Jesus rose up and wrapped a towel around His waist. He volunteered to wash the feet of His disciples instead of ordering the youngest of His disciples to 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 this 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 of 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 opportunities of service. Many a menial tasks are left undone for the lack of servants or attendants. All too 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 and 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 Mei kya karoo? (“What am I to do?”) is our anthem.

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

About the Author:

Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realised that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip also teaches Christians in order to equip them for service.