Reflections on Servant Leadership from Howard E. Butt, Jr. by Mark D. Roberts

Posted: November 1, 2011 in The High Calling

“But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you
should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is
more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who
sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”

When I was in college, I was profoundly impressed by a book called
Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and
. In this book, published in 1977, Robert K. Greenleaf advocated
leadership based on serving others. He was responsible for popularizing the
concept of “servant leadership.”

Four years earlier, another book anticipated Greenleaf’s notions of leadership. The
Velvet Covered Brick: Christian Leadership in an Age of Rebellion
may not
have used the phrase “servant leadership,” but it promoted this notion of
leadership, grounding it in the very nature of God. Howard E. Butt, Jr., author of The Velvet
Covered Brick
and founder of Laity Lodge, called leaders to serve others in
the way of Jesus.

For over fifty years, even before he wrote The Velvet Covered Brick,
Howard Butt has been a passionate advocate of servant leadership based on the
triune character of God. During this time, he has written and spoken on the
theme hundreds of times. My colleague at The High Calling, Dan Roloff, helped me gather some
quotations on servant leadership by Howard and others. I’d like to share them
with you here.

The Trinity is three persons in relationship, not
one person in relationship with two others. The Trinity exists in relationship.
Similarly, we find our identities within relationship. We have no leadership apart from relationships because we have
no identity without relationships.”

“When talking about leadership, it is easy to think we’re talking
about other leaders, bigger leaders, more influential leaders. But the challenge
is not out there. It’s inside us.”

“The concept of servant leadership, which is a
biblical concept, has two perils. One is that the servanthood of the leader renders him
passive and impotent. On the other hand, leadership can become authoritarian,
insensitive, and tyrannical. The challenge is to find the balance between strong leadership and servant leadership.
No one leads until someone serves.”

“Servant leadership can become an opportunity to
abdicate responsibility. People don’t know when to claim their leadership. The
internal conversation sounds like this, ‘I know I’m the best suited to lead in
this instance, but if nobody asks me I’ll just serve everybody by practicing
servant leadership.’ That’s one of my favorite internal conversations. When
individual leaders refuse to lead, the group suffers. We don’t serve anyone by
denying our leadership responsibilities.”

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As you think about putting
servant leadership into practice, what are some of the challenges you face? Have
you ever worked for or with someone you would consider a servant leader? What
did you learn from this person?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for those who have modeled
servant leadership in my life, beginning with my parents and continuing to the
present day as I imitate the example of Howard Butt. Thank you also,for those
who have thought deeply about servant leadership, not just in the abstract, but
also in the practical demands of real-life situations.

Help me, dear Lord, not to dismiss your teaching on servant leadership
because it is hard or unpopular. Rather, may I embrace your call, and with wise
elders to guide me, live my life as a servant leader.

All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, because you not only taught about servant
leadership, but also demonstrated its essence through your death on the cross.


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