Becoming a Servant Leader

While I was a youth leader at a church I attended in Portland Oregon I learned a valuable lesson about servant leadership. The church did not have an official building so they rented a local High School for the services. Every Wednesday night a hand full of people would set up and then tear down the equipment.

One such night I was scheduled to speak. Before the services I was in the bathroom thinking about the night and the message I was going to deliver. One of my best friends who was the worship leader entered the bathroom and we started talking. While we were talking he used the bathroom and then started to pick up the trash and used paper towels from the floor (before washing his hands). Then he said he needed to go so he could finish setting up for worship.

When he left my first thought was that the High School had janitors who cleaned the bathrooms and seeing the condition of the bathroom I could tell they had not cleaned it yet. So why should anyone else pick up the garbage. After thinking about it for a while I had a humbling realization that that’s what a servant leader would have done.

Both myself and friend where going to be in the “spot light” that night. However, through my friend’s actions he reminded me about the importance of being a servant leader. A servant leader sees what should or needs to be done and then does it, even if it’s not their responsibility to do it.

Becoming a servant leader requires being intentional and humble:

Intentional- This means you are looking for ways to serve others and your surroundings. It might include picking up trash, buying coffee for your boss or co-worker, giving money to someone who needs it, or volunteering. Small acts of servant-hood bring value to the people around you.

Humble- At the foundation of servant leadership is humility. It takes humility to put aside personal needs and to serve others and our surroundings. It would be wise to remember the words of Joseph E. Rogers, “A man who is at the top is a man who has the habit of getting to the bottom.” Being a humble servant leader does not mean you are weak, it just means you care and value others.

I’m on the never ending journey of being a servant leader. I hope you join me in being and becoming a better servant leader.

Questions: Do you have a story you can share about a time you learned the importance of being a servant leader? How are you becoming a better servant leader?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Farouk

    that’s right , a leader must serve others
    thanks for the post dan

    • Your welcome Farouk. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  • Trek23rider

    This was a good post Dan. I love that your friend taught this truth to you without saying a word about it. That alone is a good quality of a servant leader.

    • So true, my friend was just being himself and taught me a valuable lesson. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  • The janitor where I work is a grumpy man. He mutters and cusses under his breath while cleaning various restrooms daily. I wonder what he would do if all of us would take a few seconds every trip to make it easier on him?

    • Larry,

      That’s a great idea. I also wonder what would happen if you start thanking and completing him. You never know what it could mean to him. I’m really trying to become better at doing small acts of kindness/servant-hood. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mine is very similar to your friend – God seems to like to have me pick up trash. The wort has been in an airport bathroom. I walked in and tried to just turn around and walk out, but I felt God say – if you can’t pick up trash, what makes you think you’ll be able to serve the young people in Czech. I walked in and begin picking up trash!

    • What a great point and lesson. Great job with being obedient. It’s hard sometimes but so essential. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  • This didn’t happen to me personally but happened to one of the men in our church…

    His family had decided to go out camping but there was tons of stuff to do around the house. They hustled and got the vehicle packed and arrived at the campsite. During setup, his wife realized that they had forgotten to bring the specific coffee she enjoyed. She asked her husband to go to the local store and pick some up, and to bring the kids along with him.

    To say the least, he wasn’t pleased but went to the store. When he got there, the he couldn’t find the coffee. He pushed aside the other flavors and looked and looked.The kids were screaming. It was a mess.

    He thought he was done for. Then he spotted it. There, in the back, was his wife’s coffee flavor.

    He stuck it in his cart and began to walk away. After his first step God stopped him and told him to go fix the shelves. Clean them up and leave them the way you found them.

    The mental argument began. “But God! They were messy to begin with. There’s someone who is paid to do this. It’s not my job…” Finally, he gave in and fixed the mess of bottles.

    He said when he walked away from that experience, the presence of God was undeniable. That the lesson of servant leadership had never been more real.

    • What a great story Joe. How many times have we done something like this at a grocery store or clothing store and think someone else can fix it. Allowing God to speak to us and challenge us to fix the “shelves” or whatever else is so important. When I go to Barns and Noble and see a book out of place or in the wrong place I make it a point to put it back where it belongs.

      Thank you for sharing.

  • I like that quote “a man who is at the top has a habit of getting to the bottom”

    I am passionate about intentional living. It’s true that servant leadership is intentional.

    Intentional service is something I keep working at..haven’t got it down pat. Doubt any of us ever ‘arrive’. The most important thing for me is to understand that actions that are not done for His glory, are all nothing. He calls them “as filthy rags”. For it’s possible to do things in private but have some smug satisfaction or some other form of silent pride. The thing is to just be happy doing things to make Him happy/because it is right. Someone else becoming happy or feeling comfortable as a result of my actions becomes a side-product.

    Awesome reminder. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Great word, “intentional living.” I think it’s one of the things that once we think we have it down, we learn we really don’t. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Hi Dan!
    Thanks for sharing that story. You know, I feel like being a servant leader is a lot about doing what you know you should do even when you don’t feel like it. It’s easy to serve people when it feels right and good, but doing things like picking up trash because it’s the right thing to do – that never feels good. I think if we can wrap our heads around the idea of doing the right thing for righteousness sake we step closer to being servant leaders. :)

    • Marlee,

      I totally agree with you. True servant leadership is doing the acts even when we don’t feel like it. It’s all about “doing the right thing for righteousness sake.” Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  • Floyd Samons

    I think any truly great leader has to be humble. Looking back in history proves it. The ones who are consumed with themselves only serve themselves and that comes to a dead end, often literally. In times of difficulties true leaders are the first to jump in, while I’ve witnessed it too many times to count, I think the actions of Rudy Giuliani immediately after 9/11 showed the characteristics that make up a true leader.

    • Floyd, I recently read the book: Leadership, Rudolph Giuliani and it talk about his leadership during and after 9/11. He is a great example of a humble servant leader. Thank you for sharing.

  • Powerful story! Great reminder that none of us are above getting dirty.
    When I think of servant leaders I also think of people who do the right thing even when no one is looking. They do it just because it is right. Your friend would have picked up that trash even if you hadn’t been there watching because he had a true servants heart.
    Its a great quality to possess, one we should all strive to attain. I know I fall short.

    • TC Avey,
      I think “doing the right thing even when no one is looking” is the key to servant leadership. I totally agree with you about my friend.

      Ditto about often falling short in this area. Thank you for reading.

      • At least we are humble enough to admit it (wink).

  • Servanthood is such a foreign concept in our country. I have to keep mentally slapping myself in the face and saying, “Hey, Barb, be a servant for a change!” Thanks for the good reminder today.

    • Barb,

      It is a uncommon characteristic of a leader or manager but it’s an important one. I know I have to consistently remind myself to be a servant leader. Thank you for stopping by and sharing.

  • This is such a great example and praise the Lord for his testimony. “He who is greates among you will be least” is what our Lord said. When we think we’re to good to do tasks like take out the garbage we’re proud and we will fall!

    • Glad you enjoyed the read. It’s an important topic. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • Great topic to always read, for me the best example has been recently, getting to practice humility, the Bible teaches us to “cloth ourselves” which means we NEED to put it on, it’s not a natural.
    It’s like you said, be intentional, go out of your way not to put yourself first.

    • Great point Marc. We do need to be intentional about “clothing ourselves” with humility and serving others. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • I read this earlier today but could not comment because it’s blocked by our firewalls. However I am thinking now about in church how we also have to do setup and ter down. We have separate groups, but really I say let’s just all get it done. We do for others and they do for us. Being a servant was what Jesus was all about. Doing the little things that get no recognition is what counts. How do we react when the lights are out.

    • Glad you came back to comment. You need to be a true servant to be involved in setting up and tearing down. It’s the servants who really make an impart for the Kingdom.

  • Humility is such a crucial quality in leadership. It’s not just about picking up the paper towels, so to say. It can even be crucial for things such as setting direction and vision for an organization. Humility is required for us to admit that maybe the way we’re currently doing things isn’t the best.

    • Great point about being humble and a servant leadership in both the small and big things. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • Good post. In my profession of teaching it’s important to be a servant leader, although not all teachers understand that. Thanks for your insight.

    • Dan,

      I totally agree with you about the importance of teachers being servant leaders. They have power to influence the next generation. What do you teach and what age? Thank you for reading and sharing.

      • First I had to fix profusion, making it profession. As for teaching: I teach public speaking, communication, mass media, and feature writing at the community college level. I love my job and being able to share and serve. However, I’m also a writer and hope to serve more in the future through writing about themes such as forgiveness, mercy, and redemption. I was the child victim of a cult. My first book “A Train Called Forgiveness” is about my coming to terms with that event.

        • What great topics and age group. You must have an amazing story, I’m looking forward to getting your first book. Keep pushing toward your dreams of writing! Feel free to subscribe to my blog for post updates. I’m looking forward to connecting more with you.