December 30th, 2009

Upside Down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership

Sometimes I think I might set aside some time and write a book. Several ideas swim around in my head. One just crossed off – because the book has already been written!

One of my Christmas gifts (from my staff angel at the recommendation of my wife) does a great job of articulating what it means to be a servant leader. Stacy Rinehart’s Upside Down starts with Jesus’ teaching (“The greatest among you will be your servant” in Matthew 23:11, for example) and offers a great critique of contemporary leadership models – including those adopted by Christians.

Too many Christian leaders have their starting point with “the basic principles of the world” (Colossians 2:8) – management by objectives, productivity, pragmatism, and so on. We’re all about measuring leadership by “success” – whatever that success seems to be. It’s usually about some form of power – getting others to see things our way and do what we want.

The best part of this book is probably the chart on page 161 that contrasts “power leaders” and “servant leaders.” For example, power leaders feed on the spotlight; servant leaders share the spotlight. Power leaders have a high turnover; servant leaders nurture loyal colleagues. Power leaders keep the focus on themselves and their agenda; servant leaders affirm kingdom agendas. Power leaders refer to their title frequently; servant leaders use their title rarely. Power leaders use images, offices, and perks to reveal their status; servant leaders abhor power images.

I liked this book so much I just ordered 36 copies to distribute to Corinth’s leaders at next week’s annual Leadership Retreat.

It’s not perfect, of course. No book or author is – least of all me. Rinehart is too anti-structure for my taste. Some organizational structure is necessary for a group of any size. And the church can certainly adapt to its cultural surroundings – which in America includes a certain amount of structure.

A second flaw is a somewhat unbalanced teaching on spiritual gifts. Whenever an author or speaker seems to suggest that Christians focus too much attention on serving in the area of their gifts, I chafe a bit. The spiritual gifts passages of the New Testament are important, but few. Far more pervasive is the Bible’s emphasis on humility and servanthood. But since that’s the broader theme of the whole book, I can’t complain!

To lead is to serve. A hearty Amen and two thumbs up to this book.

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