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WORLDVIEW: The power of servanthood

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–“Servant leadership” is one of those nice-sounding phrases you hear in church seminars and corporate conference rooms — and seldom see practiced.

When it is lived by personal example, however, it can produce revolutionary consequences.

A local Christian was walking down the street of his city in China last year when he observed a small group of foreign visitors trying to tell others about Jesus. He was amazed as he watched them awkwardly attempting to communicate Christ’s love through English words, hand motions — even by pointing to the logos on their T-shirts.

Cut to the heart, the Chinese Christian said to his companion, “They can’t even speak Chinese and they are sharing. Let’s go tell people about Jesus!”

In the months since, some 600 new believers — and 33 house churches — have come from the witness of these two Chinese men.

A Southern Baptist missionary elsewhere in Asia recently was invited to a reception, one of many social events she and her husband attend as they make friends in their city.

She almost skipped this particular event, but changed her mind and went after being called and reminded of the invitation. The reception was for a bank manager she had met after arriving in the city three years earlier.

“I expected to see a big gathering of people when I arrived at the bank, but business was going on as usual,” she says. “When I walked in the door I was taken upstairs to a conference room where a few people were standing around looking as puzzled as I was.”

An elaborate tea had been laid out on a table. Soon the host, his wife and his grandmother greeted the small group of invitees, showed them to their seats and personally served each guest.

“Then he told us a story,” the missionary recounted. “It seems he had become a very arrogant young man back in his home country. He came from a wealthy banking family and lorded his status over anyone he considered not his equal. His father called him in one day and told him it was time he learned what being a servant was all about.”

He would never lead anyone, his father warned, unless he first served. The father’s plan: Send the son, his wife and his grandmother to another country. There he would manage a branch of the family’s banking business, live in a modest house, make friends, do his own shopping and care for his grandmother’s needs.

He wasn’t welcome to come home until the lessons of serving had been learned — and his grandmother gave her approval.

Sitting around the reception table were the people from whom the young man had learned those lessons: two bank clerks, a couple of shopkeepers, his landlord, his cleaning woman, his grandmother and a few bank customers — including the missionary. When the tea was finished, the bank manager and his wife went to each person, spoke privately to them and gave each a gift.

“When he got to me, he said he had watched me come in and out of the bank and how I related to the tellers and money counters,” the missionary explained. “He had asked one of them who I was and what they knew about me. They gave him my name and said I was a Christian lady. The term ‘Christian’ had no meaning to him, and he started on a journey to learn what it meant. While studying and reading, he continued to watch me and occasionally would stop and have a cup of tea with me as I waited for cash to be brought to me for counting…. His quest had brought him to the feet of Jesus.

“He then handed me a gift and said that the lesson he learned from me was not on his father’s list but was the only life lesson he needed on being a servant: Jesus.”

The man, his wife and grandmother were leaving that very day for America to manage another family business there. He thanked everyone again as the reception came to a close.

“I was still in a state of shock,” the missionary admitted. “I gathered my things and returned to my truck. While sitting there trying to get a grip on things, I noticed the gift lying in the seat next to me. Opening it, I found a Chinese Bible with this written on the inside cover: ‘Thank you. You point to Jesus.'”

She still cries as she thinks of that day — and of the many previous days she had gone into the bank tired, hot, discouraged, perhaps impatient. “But God only allowed this young man to see me when He was shining through the brightest. God is faithful and able to do exceedingly great things, even with the least of His children.”

Rick and Kay Warren identify five global “giants” — pervasive problems that afflict billions of people. The second-biggest “giant” on their list (after spiritual darkness and lostness) is the lack of true servant leaders around the world.

“There are plenty of people in leadership who abuse their power,” the Warrens observe. “Many refuse to use their power for the good of their people; instead they choose to use it for themselves. This has created chaos in the world.”

But true servant leaders point others toward the ultimate model of servant leadership: Jesus Christ.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges