4 Ways Servant Leaders Address Reconciliation
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son and Elder Brother in Luke 15, the servants hold the household together. The prodigal aspires to become a servant to endear himself to the Father. His Dad turns to the servants to bring the gifts for the wayward child. Even the elder brother claims to have worked like a servant while the prodigal squanders the inheritance. These servants demonstrate the kind of humility required of church leaders today. Most churches are dealing with racism, white privilege, injustice, denial, anger, violence, or a combination of all. Servant leaders stand in the gaps of families and institutions and model how the church should behave.
1. Receive work as a gift
They live by the motto “Everything I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31). When the father is ready to give a robe, ring, and sandals, he trusts the servants. Instead of working for the grace they’ve already been given, or resenting the mercy others receive, they enjoy the responsibility the Father gives.They understand that the life of a servant is downward. Like Joseph in the Old Testament, they descend from slavery to prisoner and then to prime minister.
As Christians, life is not a stair step of progress higher each day. It’s a journey downward into the depths of problem. Where others experience pain, we see the promise of hope. When others are going through challenges, we see an opportunity for the church to bring people together.
In the areas of racism, justice, and police especially, we will continue to find more complex issues than we expected. At an Association of Theological Schools meeting a few weeks ago, President Dan Aleshire said, “The more we deal with an issue, the more issue there is to deal with.” The more we begin to engage the systemic and cultural racism, the more we will find increasingly complex challenges in front of us. That experience, however, should not dissuade us. We should see these moments as a sign that we’re being effective servants.
“The more we begin to engage the systemic and cultural racism, the more we will find increasingly complex challenges in front of us. That experience, however, should not dissuade us.”
2. Rejoice as the Father’s Guests
The servants are able to feast sumptuously with the Father on his territory. They rejoice with the lost son and invite the elder brother to the party. The New Testament has two kind of parties—one is the invitation to outsiders to come and celebrate. The other is the radical move of the servants. To become the guest of someone else at their party.
The servants are invited to a party for a lost person. They have such a servant behavior that they are the kind of people that lost people want to be around.
Jesus sends disciples in Luke 10, and apostles go out in Acts and are invited into the homes of “persons of peace.” They are usually nonbelievers like Cornelius and Lydia who throw incredible parties, and they love to celebrate. When there, they use the opportunity of their hospitality to share the gospel.
Most of us know people who are terribly traumatized by the events in Baton Rouge, Dallas, and across the country. Servant leaders are engaged with persons and groups where they are invited to come in and do the important work of listening.
After Ferguson, I called a friend at Florida A & M University, a historically black school. I went to his office and asked him and his wife to tell me what I had missed, to tell me what my blind spots are, and to help me. They were kind and gracious; and I learned how far behind I really was on these issues.
In a similar way, after shootings on the south side of Tallahassee, I attended a meeting with several African American pastors. I listened and took notes.
In both cases, they invited me to bring people to their community and to assist them on their turf. These were not prodigals or elder brothers. These were loving Fathers and Mothers who wanted to do the hard work of reconciliation, but they were weary of going alone.
3.) Risk rejection of others
What holds most well-meaning people back is the rejection that we will face from elder brothers. Our Facebook feeds are filled with venom, hate, and frustration. We would rather be with the prodigals at homecoming than with the elder brothers in the field.
A servant’s job is not to convince; a servant’s role is to converse with persons who have a different opinion of events. A servant remains calm, establishes relationships with elder brothers and other outsiders, and keeps accepting invitations.
The pain of anger and resentment is often a sign of deep wounds (mentioned in my last blog). Deep listening creates a space for healing to begin and plants seeds of grace that can break through hard hearts.
4.) Reminds them of the Relationship
In the silence of listening, the servant reminds the elder brothers of their relationship with people and with the Father. When he chooses to speak, he focuses on the image of God on the other person.
“Your brother has come, and your Father has killed the calf.”
He speaks simply and directly. No matter what the elder brother does, the servant addresses the importance of relationship.
As we journey through the depths of service, we know in the end our hope comes from one person. One day, the Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
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