As part of his goodbyes to his disciples before his ascension into Heaven, Jesus singled out Peter for a special message. You might recall that Peter was the impulsive and sometimes undisciplined follower: jumping off the boat to walk on the water, following Jesus after he was arrested but then denying even knowing him, telling Jesus not to wash Peter’s feet but then after explanation, requesting his whole body be washed! At times it seems Peter had no filter.
But Jesus understood who would stay rock-solid on point getting out the message of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. In fact, early on Jesus added “Peter” to make the disciple’s name “Simon Peter.” Petros is Greek for “stone.”
So the final message to Peter was a series of questions and commands:
Peter, do you love me? Yes. Feed my lambs.
Peter, do you love me? Yes. Take care of my sheep.
Peter, do you love me? Yes. Feed my sheep.
I believe this instruction from Jesus to Peter was the first recorded transaction of servant leadership. Because they weren’t discussing a flock of sheep.
Although we may tend to think that the concept of “servant leadership” is relatively new, the term was coined in 1970 by retired AT&T executive Robert Greenleaf.
The explanation I prefer for servant leadership is, “a belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others, rather than accrue power or take control.”
In the early 2000s, Larry Spears with others developed a list of ten characteristics that a servant leader embodies. They are: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.
It’s not necessary for us to be corporate business leaders to employ these characteristics. The best teachers use these skills. Church, non-profit, and volunteer leaders who make use of this skill set have stronger organizations. Parents, grandparents, and all who care for children and make good use of these strengths will see the benefit in the children’s growth and attitudes.
No matter what role in life we play at the moment, being a servant leader will have an amazing impact on those around us.
Tend my sheep.