Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

A Simple Recipe for Servant Leaders


I found it while going through an old recipe box. Tucked between sentimental favorite recipes from friends and some of my own classic recipes was a lined paper folded into quarters. On one side a child’s lovely rendition of fish was etched in crayon. On the other side were hastily scribbled words now faded and hard to read.

I chuckled with delight as I remembered the reason for this recipe of sorts. Someone—this part of the memory is hazy—was getting married. All family members and friends were requested to submit a favorite recipe for a collection that would be presented at the bridal shower. I had quickly jotted down the rough draft and then created an artistic rendition for the bride. I placed the rough draft in my wooden recipe box for safe keeping until I could make a better copy for myself.

Apparently I never got around to it.

However, this tattered original version is a treasure to me, a timeless and basic reminder of how to thrive in life and leadership with Jesus Christ. I share it below in revised form.

Heavenly Fruit Salad

This silly little recipe from my past is actually a profound prescription for living and being. Sometimes I really like to complicate things. Just take a look at all of my bookcases. There are so many books (all of them read at least once) about marriage and parenting, the Christian life, and leadership. I love learning about leadership theory and practice from the latest magazine articles and research. But it seems to me that effective servant leadership is really quite simple. Walking in the Spirit is foundational both at home and in the workplace.

Take a look at some of the traits of the servant leader:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of people
  • Building community1

Some of these traits, such as listening, empathy, and healing, are best expressed through the fruit of the Spirit. Other traits, such as conceptualization and foresight, require God-given wisdom. Servant leadership flows from the Lord and the work of His Spirit in our lives.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 3-5).

How do we thrive in life and as leaders? Remain in (abide with, stay connected to) Jesus. As we focus on remaining in Him, His Holy Spirit produces the fruit. The fruit is available as needed for every occasion.

Heavenly Fruit Salad sounds good about now. Anyone want some?

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Heavenly Father, thank You for breaking through the confusion and reminding me that You provide all I need through Your Holy Spirit. Teach me to remain in Jesus; teach me to listen to His voice. Help me to follow Your lead and allow Your Spirit to flow through me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 From “Character and Servant Leadership: 10 Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders” by Larry C. Spears, published in “The Journal of Virtues and Leadership,” Vol. 1, Issue 1.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

The Most Important Relationship for the Servant Leader

As a student of leadership for the last decade (both informally and through pursuit of formal education), I have been interested in the development of leadership theory. In the early years of the field, the focus was on identifying specific behavior traits of the most successful leaders. It was believed that if others adopted the same traits, they too would be successful. Realizing that there was not a one-size-fits-all approach, experts devised a style by which leaders adapted their behavior according to the maturity of the followers and the tasks needing accomplished. Leadership theory continued to address external behavior and skills.

More recently other leadership styles have emerged that center on the heart and soul of the leader. Effective leaders are authentic, possess strong character, and engage life and leadership with wholeheartedness. These types of leadership qualities are more complicated to assess.

Servant leadership has perhaps created the most difficulty for researchers. It is distinguished by the feature of placing followers first, even above the organization. Leaders use their influence to serve followers, providing resources and environments for them to grow and succeed. Some researchers do not feel comfortable including servant leadership as a model, because it is deeply spiritual, patterned after the example of Jesus Christ. It originates from a life of faith. While people may be able to adopt certain servant leadership qualities, the genuine motivation to love without strings attached is not easily imitated. And, how can it be measured?

This creates a challenge for those of us who identify with servant leadership. Servant leadership is not about merely doing the right things. Yes, the prominent qualities of servant leadership include love, empowerment, humility, trust, and vision. Yes, our followers take priority in our leadership decisions. However, we must remember that servant leadership goes beyond our outward actions. We bring who we are to what we do and how we lead. Our natural strengths and willpower are simply not enough to practice servant leadership. True servant leadership flows from a vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV). As we walk with Him in daily communion and rely on the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love and serve those we lead. The fruit of the Spirit is released and expressed through us.

So what is the most important relationship for the servant leader? Above the relationship with our followers, and even above the relationship with ourselves, the most important relationship is with Jesus Christ Himself. I encourage you, if you have not already done so, develop a spiritual growth plan. Make sure it includes ways, as my friend Gail Johnsen says, “to keep company with Jesus” ( As we intentionally connect with Him and become more like Him, we will serve and lead as Jesus did. We will be the servant leaders He desires us to be.