|November 2010—Servant Leadership
Who Is Great Among You?
Jaclyn Beck '07
“Christian experience is the making real in ourselves, of what is already true for us in Christ.” —A. J. Gordon
It was just before the Passover Feast, and the evening meal was being served for Jesus and His 12 disciples in what would be His last supper. Jesus knew he would soon be leaving them to fulfill God’s plan. He also knew that God had put all things under His power, and decided it was time to show them the full extent of His love.
Jesus stood up from the table, took off His outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured water into a washbowl, and began performing the menial task of washing and drying His disciples’ feet. Peter objected and said He was never to perform this servile chore on him, but Jesus said that unless He washed him, Peter could have no part with Him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
What Jesus did that night was a deliberate act and a lesson in humility that set the principle of selfless service as a way of leading—a precursor to what would be an all-encompassing experience for the disciples: being cleansed of sin, yielding to God’s plan, and having the willingness to love and serve each other: making their works and the works of Jesus one and the same.
As the words of A. J. Gordon make clear, it is already true for us as well. Christ has showed us how to serve, commanded us to, and then gave us a unifying experience so we could serve in His likeness through His death. A. J. Gordon talks about a “necessity of incorporation upon Christ,” in his manuscript, In Christ. “That what became possible through the Incarnation, may become actual and experimental in the individual soul through faith.”
Does this mean that Christ has provided us with a blueprint for our familiar struggle—faith asking us to give our will to the will of God’s? And does He urge us to voluntarily do the job as He would? A. J. Gordon puts the will at the center of servant leadership. “It is one thing to be willing to do; it is another thing to be willing to will,” says Gordon in his sermon The Inward Guidance and the Outward Going. “Many a Christian is willing to will God’s will. Who has balked and turned back when it came to the doing of God’s will? Let our willing and our working be yoked together, and let neither hold back when the one pulls. Hear how our Lord conjoins these two: ‘No man having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’ What a graphic picture of divine service! Working for Christ, yet wishing for the world: the hand stretched forth in toil, but the heart all the while tugging at those hands to make them let go at the very first convenient opportunity. Working God’s will, but not willing God’s will. Concerning such, our Savior’s deliberate verdict is: ‘Not fit for the kingdom of God.’ So vital does the Savior deem the inner consecration, that He does not want unwilling servants in His kingdom. If one has the arms of Samson for strength, and yet has the eyes of Lot’s wife for looking back, he is rejected from the service of Jesus Christ.
“My hearers, if the Lord’s business is made your principal business, I assure you that you will repeatedly have divine guidance in your Christian life. It may be direct or indirect; it may be sensible or insensible, but you will have it. Christ does not call us to be His servants and then utterly neglect to give us any orders as to our work. The trouble is that we have not looked to Him for directions. Like wayward children, we have chosen to work by our own plans instead of asking Him to show us His plans. Let us resolve to take the position of sons, who are also servants.
“Many gentlemen Christians are there in the church and too few servant Christians. We make polite calls on God in the morning and pay Him our compliments and then retire. We do not take our orders from Him. ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me do?’ We ring the visitors’ bell at the door of Heaven, but not the servants’ bell. We have a polite call on the Lord in the morning, leave our card in the shape of a few set phrases of worship and adoration, glad when the formality is over, then we hasten about our business, but do not stop to take our orders from Him. Let us be able to say morning by morning: ‘Behold, as the eyes of servants are unto the hand of the masters; and as the eyes of a maiden are unto the hands of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God.’ A serving attitude is the best prayer for the Spirit’s guidance.”
The Gordon College Student Association (GCSA) functions on a model of servant leadership. The association is a student-run organization made up of five councils, two publications, 20 committees, and a growing number of clubs all for the benefit of the students. It’s a collective constitution of opportunities and voices that advocate for the student body, recognizing their wants and needs, and bringing them beneficial initiatives that will have a longstanding impact on their lives. “For students, by students.” is its watchword, and only a few minutes spent with the association’s vice president, Corinne Ventura, will show its sincerity and strength. Ventura leads the organization alongside GCSA president Jesse Adams, and a core team that has influenced the student body this year in an unprecedented way.
“Last year we had certain positions with unopposed candidates running for office,” says Ventura. “This year, we’ve been building up positions, allowing everyone to have their own initiatives and advocates— and this year we had 21 students running for 11 positions. The concept of GCSA has been invested with so much energy and time through the core leadership staff, that the invested enthusiasm and passion has certainly caught on with the rest of the student body,” says Ventura.
“In the past, GCSA has always been associated with government, and I think that’s turned a lot of students off,” she continues. “But GCSA is the student association; and we have been very careful in communicating that message to the student body. When we say ‘forum’, we mean ‘forum’; when we say ‘council,’ we mean ‘council.’ It is very important for students to understand that GCSA is an unified student association reflecting the unity of the entire student body. Hopefully with the articulation of our language, students will sooner than later identify with the student association, therefore bringing greater identity and stability to the college itself.”
The GCSA possesses the legitimate power involved in servant leadership—not one of authority, but one that restores and reconciles. It’s a group of students with a willingness to serve in free, often hidden ways; the ability to listen, share, and bear each others’ burdens; and an obligation to guard the student body’s reputation.
“We really try to facilitate the gifts of the students,” says Ventura. “We’re working towards creating wholesome initiatives that have real value with beneficial results. Students need a representative body because they are only able to vocalize a certain amount of need themselves. Our job as student representatives is to be so attuned to the student body that we are able to recognize the needs the students may not be able to initially communicate. Some of those needs that we have recognized are academic self-esteem, professional networking, and career guidance. We have a focus this year of being active for the students’ current needs, as well as their future needs as graduates.”
Adams and Ventura are in the early stages of starting an initiative in student-alumni relations in order to set students up with opportunities for employment once they graduate. “We figure if we can get each student in contact with at least four alumni, not only would it greatly increase the rate at which students get jobs right out of college, it would also keep everyone connected.”
Listening to Ventura talk about the influence Christ has on her leadership role at Gordon makes apparent the individual Christian experience in to servant leadership apparent. “God had been preparing me for this. I knew this was His plan for me since my senior year of high school. And today I feel an incredible responsibility to effectively use this opportunity. I was sitting in chapel one day last semester, close to finals, and I realized that I had the ability to send an e-mail to the entire student body encouraging them and hopefully alleviating some of their stress. I thought to myself, ‘When will I ever get the opportunity to influence this many people again in my life?’
“I take it seriously – balancing when to be a leader, when to be a friend, and when to be a student,” she says. “Serving on GCSA has taught me that you need to take responsibility because you never know how long you have to affect people, and every ounce of me knows that it’s all worth it. God has really provided for me to do this job well. The challenging part is keeping the peace that God has intentionally instilled within me. It is important to put your affirmation in Christ.”
Jesus said that serving is how we become great, and A. J. Gordon petitions this to us. In his sermon, he asks that we yield our hearts to God, mentioning that “the heart is the man himself.”
Gordon says, “So essential is the inward impulse to the outward service that God actually accepts the will for the deed. Hear His words, ‘If first there be a willing mind it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to that which he hath not.’ God delights in spiritual spontaneity!
“The pansy pushed out from the open hand by the impulse of the Spirit is worth more to Him than the dollar wrung from the reluctant grip by the dunning of church beggars. I am so much impressed with the importance which God attaches to sweet voluntariness that I am often tempted to resolve never to beg a cent for God again, but rather to spend my energy getting Christians spiritualized, assured that then they certainly will become liberalized.”
Jaclyn Beck is currently an editor at HCPro, Inc. in Marblehead, MA. She graduated from Gordon College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration. She can be reached atjbeck711gmail.com.