Chapter OneALL true work combines [the] two elements of serving and ruling. Ruling is what we do; serving is how we do it. There's true sovereignty in all good work. There's no way to exercise it rightly other than by serving. Eugene Peterson Leap over a Wall Above all, leadership is a position of servanthood. Max Depree Leadership Jazz
The principle of service is what separates true leaders from glory seekers. Laurie Beth Jones Jesus, CEO
People are supposed to serve. Life is a mission, not a career. Stephen R. Covey The Leader of the Future
Ultimately the choice we make is between service and self-interest. Peter Block Stewardship, Choosing Service over Self-Interest Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus Luke 14:11
I Will never forget the second Tuesday evening of February 1996. We at Legacy Drive Baptist Church had struggled to retool ourselves to carry out the mission God had placed on our church: to make disciples who know Christ, share Christ, and multiply Christ in the life of another. During the transition, several core members left, attendance and giving went down, and the current church leadership-and I-began to question my ability to lead.
That evening, five men who loved God, our church, and me told me they had lost confidence in me as a leader. After meeting several times without my knowledge, these deacon officers had concluded that I was not the person for the next level of growth in the life of our church. They said it was not in their power or purpose to fire me, and they did not want to bring the issue to a vote because they knew it would split the church. Their job was to oversee the church and maintain its unity, not tear it apart. They asked me to take two weeks to pray and consider their position. They wanted to know my answer at the end of those two weeks.
As I walked from the house that evening, a strange sense of exhilaration came over me. These guys had done me a favor. They had put on the table what we all knew. I had stopped leading, and the church was floundering because of my lack of leadership. It was not long, however, before the elation turned to fear. I asked selfishly, "Why would God allow such a thing to happen to me?" Interestingly, just one month before, God had confirmed my call to and his vision for Legacy Drive. Ronnie and Tina Young, members of our church, had given me a trip to Robert Schuller's Institute of Successful Church Leadership as a Christmas gift. I went alone to recuperate and write. God began to confirm his vision in my heart as I heard Dr. Schuller say that prayers he had been praying for forty years were just then being answered. I listened as this misunderstood servant leader told how he had followed God to a unique mission field and had labored for forty years to see the call of God on his life completed. I felt silly with my troubles, having been in my mission field for only nine years!
On the third day of the conference, Dr. Schuller said, "I don't know who you are, but a dozen, maybe thirty [out of about 1500]; but God just planted a seed of a dream in your heart. I want to pray for you." As Dr. Schuller prayed, I wept. I prayed, God, help me. It was not a prayer of desperation but a prayer for God to help me complete the task he had assigned for me to do at Legacy Drive and with my life. I wrote in my journal that day, "I prayed not out of fear but out of a great sense that God does want to do something with my life that I truly cannot do on my own. It was a prayer of release to let God work however he would choose. It was a prayer of confidence that God is love and answers prayer. I will be obedient to his call-that's what that prayer was about."
God had confirmed his call on my life in January. In February, God turned up the heat to test and change my heart.
The Sunday following the meeting with the deacon officers, I flew to Nashville to tape the training video to support the Jesus on Leadership workbook. When I landed, I asked Sam House, one of the project leaders, if they would still publish the work even if I were not a pastor. He didn't laugh. It was ironic that my denomination's publishing house was about to print a piece that I had written to help churches develop servant leaders-when I had just been told I wasn't leading!
As I was preparing to shoot the training videos Monday morning, I read through John 13 again. As clearly as I hear any voice, I heard God say, "Gene, I want you to wash their feet." I thought, You've got to be kidding. I read the story again. I sensed a moving of God's Spirit in my heart: Wash the feet of those who have called you to this time of decision. As we drove out to the shoot, I told Sam what God had said. He laughed this time and said, "Doesn't God have a sense of humor!"
After a day of shooting and an evening of recording the audio version of the workbook, I rode with Henry Webb and Ralph Hodge to Atlanta for the first Promise Keeper's Clergy Conference. While there, God changed my heart. One evening we heard Wellington Boone speak on reconciliation. He commented that while reconciliation between blacks and whites was important, God could not bring revival until blacks were reconciled among themselves. Wellington began to honor Tony Evans, a black pastor in Dallas. I did not know that Dr. Evans had been catching flack from the black community because he had reached out to whites.
Rev. Boone said in front of forty-two-thousand-plus clergy, "If I had a cup of water, I would wash Tony Evans's feet." The men of integrity would have nothing of idle words. Suddenly, a man jumped up and approached the stage with a glass of water. Almost immediately, another man came running down the aisle waving a towel. Men began to cheer and stand to their feet.
Another black clergyman on the platform, Bishop Porter, went to Tony Evans, stood him up, and led him to a chair on center stage. Wellington Boone took the towel and water, unlaced Evans's shoes, and washed his feet. The place erupted with emotion. Men began to cry at this display of humility and honor. I began to cry because I knew God really wanted me to wash the feet of those who had called me to decide how deep the mission of God was in my life. That was it. I knew. My responsibility was to wash their feet. God would take care of the rest.
I caught a plane back home before the conference was over. Jeff Koenigsberg, a twelve-year-old boy in our church family, had died of cancer while I was away. Jeff and my oldest daughter were the same age. I could not imagine the pain of his parents, Tom and Kris. The ordeal I faced was insignificant compared to what they had to endure. Washing feet is nothing compared to burying your son. Jeff's memorial service was Saturday. God used that event to calm my heart and remind me of the important things in life. On the flight home to Dallas, God had also graced my life by placing me beside Bob Dean, a friend from college, who listened to my story and encouraged me to do what God had told me to do. He had his own stories of servant leadership.
That Sunday I preached three morning services, attended team meetings in the afternoon, and preached a service that evening. The officers and I met in the church offices after the evening service. No one had approached me all day about our meeting two weeks earlier. They had done what they said they would do and waited to hear what I had to say.
When we all got into the room, I thanked them for drawing a line in the sand concerning my leadership and my commitment to the mission of God on our church. I told them there was one thing God had told me to do before I gave them my answer. I took a towel that I use to wipe the feet of those we set aside for service in our church, and I walked over to Ted, the chairman of deacons. I knelt before him and began to wipe the dust from his shoes. I began to weep. God had humbled my heart. I asked his forgiveness for not supporting him and allowing us to be drawn apart. I prayed for him as I did what God told me to do.
When I finished praying, I stood up. Ted stood, too. Talk about a pregnant pause. I had talked to none of the officers since my return. I didn't know if they had already put my termination package together or if they were really waiting to see what God had led me to do. Ted put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around to where he had been sitting. He took the towel from my hands and knelt before me. He, too, wiped my shoes and prayed for me. I could not hold back my emotions. I did not know what was next, but I now knew what reconciliation felt like.
After he finished, I returned to my chair. I told the group that God had confirmed my call to this church and its mission. I sensed I was the one to lead in the days ahead. I was convinced God was not finished with me and the church. I then turned to each man with whom I had been entrusted to carry out this mission and asked if he would continue to lead with me. Two said yes. Two said they would serve out their terms as officers but could not say what they would do after that. One said he didn't think he could continue. We talked into the night, agreeing upon what needed to be done to address the needs of the congregation and what I would do to serve them and the church to meet those needs.
Within the next two weeks, two more families left the church. We told the other deacons of our conversations. Since that time, God has blessed our church. He had changed the leader's heart through testing; God could now transform the church. By the way, Ted was the chairman of deacons the next year! The other officer who took a wait-and-see position is a deacon officer again even now.
Why do I tell you this story? I tell it because it is the crucible in which I learned the heart of Jesus and the power of servant leadership. I began to understand what Jesus did when he washed the feet of his disciples. I learned that the power of leading as a servant comes from God's using a person who humbles himself (on his own or through the actions of others) to God's call on his life and who serves those who were entrusted to him in order to carry out that call. I learned that my greatest test of servant leadership may be to wash the feet of those who have the ability to ask for my resignation. That event has become a watershed in my relationship with God and with Christ's church.
This book grows out of my personal journey of learning to lead. The information on these pages comes from a personal crisis of choosing how I should lead among God's people. This book also grows out of the need to find and develop leaders who can carry out God's mission with me. This is not a complete picture of what I am learning, but it serves as a primer for those who want to learn to lead like Jesus.
Converse with the ideas on these pages. Let them challenge your presuppositions about leadership. Above all else, let them test your faith about who Jesus really is. That will make the difference not only in how you lead but in how you live your life.