I started serving in youth ministry as a volunteer at a rapidly growing church at 18. Right out of high school I left my home church to try something new and got involved with the youth ministry and children’s ministry in my first few months with my new church family. Little did I know that I would learn some of the most valuable lessons about leadership as an 18 year old kid from reading my bible, trying to live like Jesus, and loving kids.
To me, ministry was about putting others above myself. That meant dressing up like a cowboy to lead motions on Sunday mornings with the kid's ministry. It meant dressing up like a princess for trunk or treat. It meant putting my jr. high guys above myself and getting destroyed during pillow fights at retreats. I didn’t realize, at the time, that Jesus saw ministry and servitude as the same thing. I didn’t realize that Jesus taught servitude was the foundation for biblical leadership. Eating pizza last, never minding when we lost at games, or staying late until a kid got picked up just came with ministry. As it turns out it also goes hand and hand with powerful and life changing leadership.
1. Be there first and leave last. I know that this seams simple. If you are in charge you should be there first. However, this is easily missed and consistently overlooked. It is easy to get into the habit of showing up a few minuets late. Being there first and having everything ready to go shows that you are here to serve those that are following you. Not to be served. Leaving last shows that you are wiling to put in whatever hours or energy it takes to get the job done.
2. Clean. This really seems stupid. However, it was one of the few hills that I am willing to die on. Starting out in ministry I had people tell me consistently that I should leave ten minuets at the end of each youth group and make the kids clean up the house we rented. I wouldn’t do it. I would rather be there an extra few hours cleaning then waste the time that I had with the students by making them clean. There are good arguments either way but there are few better examples of servant leadership in our culture then washing dirty dishes or scrubbing a bathroom.
3. No matter the job, jump in. Few things are more off-putting then a young leader who thinks they are too good for something. There is truth in the fact that you need to equip people to do things so that you can be freed up to do what only you can do. However, there are few things more humbling and few things that will build your credibility as a leader faster then simply becoming a willing set of hands.
I realize these are physical things and there are many emotional and spiritual ways to serve others. Being a listening ear is one of the most significant ways that you can serve anyone. The above examples are just three ways that I personally found servant leadership to be really powerful. I always try to be the first person there and the last person out the door, I hate to clean but I always clean up after my students and especially after my team, and there is no job bellow me when it comes to Kingdom work. I am sure you can find significant ways to serve your team that I haven’t found or that I don’t practice. However, what’s important is that you look for them and start serving people. Even if you’re not the “person in charge” or the leader calling the shots you can learn a tremendous amount about leadership from simple and small acts of service.
When I left the first church I served at after high school I was only 19. I didn’t leave in a great way. I wasn’t in a good place in life and wounded some wonderful people on my way out. Those are not things I am proud of. However, even after such a short time spent with the church, and leaving in such a negative way, I was told years later that I was still dearly missed, that my leadership in the group was significant, and that folks were glad that they had bumped into me. I am convinced that servant leadership is the single most powerful and life-changing model for leadership that exists. I don’t just believe it just because I experienced it, but because Jesus taught it.