Eric Scalise, Ph.D.
Human nature at its core is basically self-absorbed, self-ish, and self-centered. This is simply a result of the fall from grace that occurred in the Garden of Eden so many years ago. Children come into this life, literally screaming for attention… arms outstretched toward those who give care and sustenance, only aware of their immediate needs or the distress they are feeling in the moment. They learn at an early age what brings mom and dad running. We must be taught how to be others-centered, how to live an expanded vison with those around us, how to be tuned in and aware of the needs and concerns of someone else. Servanthood must be consistently demonstrated and modeled.
Many would argue that our culture and society have been increasingly drawn to a “serve me” paradigm. Perhaps we do so at great peril in raising the next generation where millennials become me-lennials. Does the message of “serve me” resonate a little too much today? Free phones… free TVs… free college education… free healthcare… and on an entirely different level, free choices in a pregnancy or marriage… free entry into the country… free sexual expression. Philosophically, socialism and its more threatening companion, communism, are vain attempts at the national level to satisfy a core longing in the fallen heart of man for someone else to, “take care of me.” However, they simply represent another deception by the Master Deceiver, false narratives that merely substitute the infant’s pacifier for the “next” thing, “I just have to have.”
The Apostle Paul understood the dangers in living out this kind of inherent madness when he said, “For you were called to freedom, brethren: only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5: 13). Likewise, Jesus indicated, “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matt. 20”26-28). The very message of the Gospel speaks of Christ as our greatest role model, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:3-7).
The concept of servant leadership was first coined by researcher and ethicist, Robert Greenleaf, in the 1970’s and is defined by characteristics such as listening, empathy, healing, awareness, stewardship, and commitment. Do you hear the “otherness” in those words? Greenleaf rejected the power-centered authoritarian leadership style that was prevalent in most organizations at the time and founded the Center for Servant Leadership. He stated that, “The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant – first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”
For the “Trekkies” out there, or as some prefer to be called, “Trekkers,” they frequently quote the poignant words of Spock when he chose to lay down his life for his crewmates and said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” Taken in the right way and within the right context, this speaks to the high call of sacrificial love. So how do these concepts translate into day-to-day living for parents, spouses, employers and employees, ministry leaders, and friends? Here are a few practical suggestions that may be worth considering:
- Look for the teachable moments as parents and point out the times and ways there is/can be/should be an appropriate focus on the needs of others. There are real life examples all around us in almost every setting and via multiple media outlets.
- Go to a homeless shelter or downtown food kitchen and serve a meal at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or even other times during the year. Take your family. Take your friends. Take your coworkers.
- Next time you are planning to donate your tired and worn items to a charity (think old clothes), why not go to the store and buy something new to giveaway instead.
- Reach out to neighbors who may be in the middle of a crisis and would be blessed by a little practical love… cleaning their houses, mowing their lawns, making them a meal.
- Visit a nursing home or VA center; sit awhile and listen to the stories.
- Be a big brother or big sister to a fatherless child or when a parent is deployed with the military.
- Take the “One Anothers” found in the New Testament and personalize them as a servant in your marriage, with your children, your neighbors, or those you work and minister with (such as love one another, be devoted to one another, give preference to one another, build up one another, accept one another, be kind to one another, comfort one another, etc.).
When we do these things, we are walking out the very heartbeat of God. We are becoming His hands, His feet, His eyes and ears, and His voice to those the Lord came to die for. Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to do great things for Him, but to do small things with great love.” Humility and an abiding sense of security in our relationship with Christ always bring a deeper freedom from self and a greater capacity to serve others. It means finding someone or a situation where the person or people you are serving could never repay you other than with a smile, a nod of thankfulness, or a hug of genuine appreciation and friendship.
Servanthood is often found in the most unlikely of places… why? Because it never calls attention to itself. Do you want to be a servant of God? Serve others. Jesus said, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me… Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:35-36, 40).
Eric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.