BY ROGER FELIPE
There is a heightened concentration today on the subject of leadership. Conferences, books, tapes and sermons abound on the issue. Leadership is expressed in different avenues of life. There is corporate leadership and church leadership. Leadership on the level of student government, and the White House too. Leadership, or the lack there of, exists in a home, as well as in little league baseball. Wherever it exists, good leadership is seen as one of the key elements in the success of a business, organization, or home.
John Maxwell, known today as a crusader for effective leadership, states its importance with these words, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” He succinctly defines leadership as “influence,” so that, when we talk about leadership in any arena of life, we’re simply referring to the influence we are having on those around us.
There are many characteristics of good leadership. Good interpersonal skills are highly recommended, as well as good time and conflict management skills. There is leadership development and vision casting. However, there is one spiritual trait without which leadership is handicapped. It is an element that tries not only to produce numbers and programs, but one that seeks to build others up as a primary goal. It is having a servant attitude. Leadership in general calls for people who are willing to serve the organization and its people. Effective youth leadership, in particular, will not exist without it.
True ministry to youth is impossible unless leaders are willing to lead with a servant’s heart. In fact, ministry to kids will be reduced to an impersonal, superficial relationship if a servant’s heart is absent. Why? An interesting axiom in youth ministry says, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Caring for the needs of youth, however, calls for youth workers who are available and willing to spend the necessary time to help kids deal with the issues in their lives. Recently, I was called to put this into practice.
Fernando is a sixteen-year-old from Columbia. I met him about nine months ago at church. On a Saturday morning, my wife and I visited his house. I found him to be a bright, yet shy young man. We talked for a while and then shared the Gospel. Fernando received the Lord that morning and was glad that we visited him. I went to see him again the following week. He shared with me concerning the problems he was having at home with his mother. We prayed. The following week he visited my Sunday School class and has been an active member ever since.
Fernando and I have spent numerous times together sharing, laughing and discussing issues. One of those issues we discussed was hard core music. I helped him think through the meaning and implications of his music, but was careful to lead him to talk to God about it.
One day, Fernando came into my office with a box. He sat down and told me that he had attended a hard core concert and felt very uncomfortable being there. He had thought much about getting rid of his CDs, and had struggled with whether or not to destroy them, or to exchange them for money. As Fernando gave me the box of CDs, he told me that he felt they were not honoring to God, nor helpful to him as a Christian. I thanked him for his willingness to give them up and asked for his permission to keep them for a future study on music. He agreed.
There are many other Fernandos in our churches and schools who are waiting for someone with a servant attitude to reach out to them and lovingly show them a better way. The question is, “How do I develop a servant attitude?” In the remainder of this article, I want to share a few things that can help us.
LEARNING FROM THE MASTER SERVANT
No study on developing a servant attitude would be complete without studying the life of our Master, Jesus Christ. From the beginning of His ministry until His death, servanthood characterized His life. Mark states this truth with these words, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ servant attitude was obvious in His outreach to the masses and the needy (Matthew 9:35-36). However, Jesus also had a deliberate plan to serve a few chosen men.
Jesus served His disciples throughout His ministry. However, short of the cross, washing the disciples feet is perhaps one of the greatest examples of Christ’s servant love (John 13). Jesus had come to serve His own. Yet, as “Lord and Teacher,” he bowed in front of His disciples and poured out humility, love and care. What a lesson! Jesus knew very well of His disciples’ tendencies to want the glory for themselves, and to fight for kingdom positions. He could not afford for them to miss the essence of His Kingdom: serving one another in love.
Youth workers need this message today. We can get so caught up in paperwork, planning, attending conferences, writing Bible studies, in recreation, or in the pursuit of personal matters, that we forget the youth in need. We have often defined ministry to youth as a program. It is not a program, although it includes programs. It is people. That is, youth ministry is about people who are hurting, confused, clueless about life, and in desperate need of caring adults who will invest time in them. However, involvement like this requires that we pick up the towel and wash the feet of our youth. How’s your love life?
DEVELOPING A SERVANT ATTITUDE
Developing a servant attitude will take place when we exercise our role as an overseer of the flock. In the fifth chapter of the First Epistle of Peter, Peter writes primarily to pastors. They are the “shepherds” of the local church, called to serve as “overseers” of the flock (1 Peter 5:2).
The word “overseer” also refers to our responsibility to care for the well being of our youth. Youth workers are “shepherds” of young sheep. They “oversee” the spiritual condition of their youth. They look out for their best interest. they feed, care and attend to the needs of their students. They go after the wandering sheep and bring them back to the fold.
Such responsibility must not be exercised with a sense of power or pride. Peter describes the attitude with which workers should oversee. We must not shepherd kids strictly out of obligation, but because we “are willing.” It is what we yearn to do. It’s our calling and joy. For those who receive remuneration for their service, their service shouldn’t be out of greed for money, but because they are “eager to serve.” We must not forget that youth belong to the Lord. We have been entrusted by God to love and care for them. Therefore we must guard from “lording it over those entrusted” to us. Instead, we are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
Serving teenagers is a high calling and a high privilege. It takes on multiple forms. It can be calling students early in the week and telling them that you missed them in Sunday School. It is picking them up for an activity and taking them back home. It can be following up on an exam at school with a phone call to see how it went. It may mean spending time over a coke, talking about what’s going on in a youth’s life. It can also mean teaching them how to approach life by being vulnerable enough for them to see your own life. And sometimes a servant’s attitude might show itself by helping parents cope with some difficult problems at home.
There are multiple ways we can serve our kids. Why and how we do it reveals our servant attitude. After our programs are over, and our sermons and Bible studies have been given, one thing will stay embedded in the hearts of our kids. A caring adult, who was willing to be a servant to them and be present in the seasons of their growing up years.
Roger Felipe has been the youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Coral Park in Miami, Florida since 1991. He received his B.A. from Miami Christian College, and his M.A.R. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has been a faithful youth minister for the past 13 years.