THE BURDEN OF SERVANT LEADERSHIP

Most leaders will not tell you what I’m going to share with you in the next few paragraphs. Some won’t tell you because they don’t want to seem as if they’re whining or complaining. In fact, they probably don’t think about it very much. They’ll just say it’s part of leadership. It just comes with the territory, so they just need to suck it up. And to a degree that’s correct. What I’m about to describe is certainly an unavoidable part of being a leader upon whom others depend. 

Others won’t admit this reality because they don’t want to lose the respect of their peers and the trust of those they lead. Leaders are supposed to be strong–willing and able to shoulder the weight of the entire organization if necessary. People say, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” 

The reality to which I’m referring is the enormous burden of leadership, especially servant leadership that was modeled by the likes of Jesus, Moses, and David as described in the Bible. Servant leadership (as opposed to other types of leadership such as autocratic) carries with it a certain kind of weight that’s not present with leaders who lead by position rather than by relationship. People who lead by serving others can be driven, passionate, and competitive; and still practice empathy, compassion, and sacrifice for the organization and other people on the team. When things go well the servant leader looks out the window (that is, they give others credit where credit is due). When things aren’t going well, the servant leader looks in the mirror (that is, they accept personal responsibility where appropriate and do what’s necessary to weather the storm and chart a new course). 

Jesus was the greatest leader of all time, and he said the one who is the greatest is actually the one who serves (Matthew 23:11; Luke 22:26). Jesus also said he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). 

I’ve seen the burden of leadership wear people down over time. If you’ve ever witnessed the heaviness of responsibility weigh on someone you care about, you probably reacted the same way as I have. I want to lighten the person’s load. I try to convince him or her to share the burden with others; but that’s part of the dilemma. There is normally only one  person who can occupy that first chair–the leader himself or herself. 

I began thinking more about the burden of leadership when my two oldest sons began pastoring. They are both very gifted and very bright. Both men earned Masters of Divinity degrees from a highly respected seminary. They both are blessed by supportive wives and loving congregations. They learned a lot about God, His word, themselves, the church, and ministry in their studies; but there was one thing their seminary professors didn’t teach them; nor could they. They couldn’t teach them about the burden of being a devoted servant leader. Someone might try to explain it to  them (as I have), but they have to live it to learn it. 

Perhaps you or someone you look to as a leader can relate. If so, I’d like to offer a few words of encouragement. I can’t do anything to lighten your load, but perhaps I can share a few things that will lift your spirits, help you gain a fresh perspective, and perhaps even get you deal with a burden that’s especially heavy right now. 

Ways To Remove Some Bricks From Your Load:

Talk to trusted colleagues in similar positions. 

No one understands the burden of leadership more than another leader. Who do you know and trust that you can talk to? You may find that the other person needs someone to open up to as well. Keep in mind that the other leaders doesn’t necessarily need to be in the same profession as you; but try to make sure he or she possesses the heart of a servant. Preferably this person should be farther along on their journey than you. 

Many times in scripture followers of Christ are instructed and commanded to encourage and exhort one another in love. 

Also, please don’t make the burden of someone who leads you unnecessarily heavy. The writer of Hebrews charged his readers, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). The writer then asks his readers to pray for them; that is, for those who led their fellowship. 

Do you pray for your pastor? Your CEO? Your boss? Your parents? How about others who lead you? Are you contributing to the weight of their burden, or are you adding to their joy? 

If you don’t have a pastor, find one. 

Everyone needs a pastor, even other pastors; especially other pastors. Good leaders like to be WELL led. 

Most of all trust the Good Shepherd.

Even if no one else on earth can completely identify with the burden you carry every day, there is One who can absolutely identify with you. He carried literally the weight of the sins of all the world for all time on the broad shoulders of a carpenter.

Isaiah 53:6 reads, “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have each turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 

Finally, Simon Peter wrote, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).  

In the film Rudy, an undersized young man dreams of playing football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. There is a conversation between the main character and a priest. After doing everything he knew to get into Notre Dame, Rudy is ready to give up. I’m paraphrasing, but the priest basically tells a worried and burdened Rudy that he is certain of two truths:  “There is a God; and I’m not Him.” I would offer the same counsel to you, my friend. Are you carrying a burden for something you have absolutely no control over?

I know better than to tell a leader who truly has the heart of a servant to not be burdened. You’ll carry those burdens because that’s who you are. You won’t complain. You won’t pass the buck. You’ll just take it. You might even be able to hide it for a while, but not forever. Sooner or later you’ll notice the toll it’s taking on you, and so will those around you. So I will just make this suggestion. As much as you can, try to not carry the burden alone. You are not alone. 

In her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Hannah Whitall Smith tells a story of a weary traveler who carried an enormous bundle on his back down a long country road. Finally someone traveling on an old buckboard wagon pulled by horses stopped to give the stranger a life. After traveling for some time the good samaritan looked over to his passenger and noticed the man still had the heavy burden strapped to his back. The benefactor said to his passenger, “Why do you not lay down your burden?” The traveler replied, “Oh, I feel that it is almost too much to ask you to carry me, and I could not think of letting your carry my burden too.” 

So, if you’ve already trusted our Good Shepherd to carry you, it’s nothing at all for him to carry your burden as well. 

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