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Success Secret: Serve Your Way to the Top

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21:17-19

The path to success in life, ministry, relationships, career, and darn near everything else is paved with service. (Gasp, probably pain and suffering, too!)

I’m sorry it has to be that way. It’s not my fault that this is true. Blame the other Adam.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Genesis 3:17-19

Back to the John passage. Did you notice what Jesus said Peter had to do to show that he loved Jesus? Feed my sheep. That’s grunt work. That’s work without honor. That’s work that isn’t sexy. That’s not the cover of a magazine or leads to a book deal or getting invited to speak at a conference.

Feeding sheep means arguing with stubborn animals all day. Feeding sheep means you get bit. Feeding sheep means that you step in doo-doo. Feeding sheep means you occasionally have to scare off a predator.

And yet…

On Peter, the one Jesus told to grunt it out by feeding sheep, Jesus also said “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

If you are into church history you know Peter was a key leader in the early church. While he wasn’t perfect he indeed fed Jesus’ lamb from that moment until the moment he was nailed to a Roman cross himself. He served his way to the top of church leadership.

Note: My list of verses above is just the beginning. There are lots. And there are many good books which can give an exhaustive word study. But the point is clear, Jesus flipped the script on how to be a leader.

Universal path to success in any organization

Do you want to know how you lead people and change any organization?

People ask me all the time: What’s the secret?

You serve. You grunt it out. You get bit. You are faithful to the task you’ve been given. You master that task. You own that task. You serve that task. Just like a shepherd you keep your head up on the task in any circumstance. Just like a shepherd you always keep an eye on where you are leading the next day. You take responsibility. You take the compliments and the criticisms to heart.

Ultimately, you meet the needs of the sheep. You serve the owner. You put the rights of the owner above the rights of yourself. You keep the abuse in mind but you don’t let that own you. In doing that you win hearts and earn influence from the top to the bottom.

It’s not magic. It’s not a secret. It’s taught in the Bible!

Note: Church staff- you have rights. See this post, Labor Day Remembrance for Youth Workers.

Alternate path to success in any organization

It’s not going to be popular to mention this, but it is worth mentioning. There is another path to success. One that is faster in accession. And one that is definitely easier. But it’s not as the servant-leader.

It’s as the lion.

In truth, many of the most successful “leaders” in the world are not servant-leaders. (The Christian world is, sadly, filled with lions.)

They didn’t get to their position in life by serving their way to the top.

They got there by brute force.

And they keep it when they kill, destroy, and intimidate day-to-day.

They travel in packs which devour prey.

We kind of turn our noses up at this style of leadership. But it is entirely functional. What’s more interesting is that plenty of people are drawn to this style of leadership. It’s quite popular in the Evangelical world!

(There’s a third animal-styled leader. That’s the hyena. He mocks and steals his way to the top. But that’s for another day)

The heart makes the difference

What’s different between servant leadership and lion leadership?

  • The weakness of lion leadership: The pride knows no loyalty. You only have power so long as you can keep it. One day, another member of the pride will take leadership from you.
  • The strength of servant leadership: Loyalty runs thick and deep. When you have served your way to the top, people will be loyal to you, even to a fault.

Choose to serve

Let’s be obvious. Each day, those of us in leadership, must make a rational choice. Do we want to serve or do we want to use our muscle to create a pride?

My advice, while it might not be the fastest way to get things done, ultimately Jesus asks us to choose to serve.

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Adam McLane has served as a full-time or volunteer youth worker since 1996. A resident of San Diego, Adam now manages the online presence for Youth Specialties. Adam blogs about all sorts of technology, missions, and church leadership topics at www.AdamMcLane.com