New council member pushes servant leadership

By Dixon Cartwright

CINCINNATI, Ohio--For the second year running, the hundreds of United Church of God elders assembled for their yearly general conference heard a keynote exhortation about a topic some of them love to hear about and some apparently wish would go away: "servant leadership."

At last year's conference a UCG member who is not an ordained elder urged the elders to "give more choices to the people they serve." Howard Baker of Big Sandy, Texas, a professor at the University of Louisiana, advised the assembled men to "change how you define leadership."

Dr. Baker's address met with mixed reviews. (See "Church Member Says UCG Elders Must Lead as Servants," The Journal, May 31, 2000.)

This year, on Monday, May 7, the newest member of the UCG's 12-man council of elders brought the subject up again in an auditorium at Holiday Inn Eastgate in Cincinnati.

Clyde Kilough of Antelope, Calif., pastor of the Sacramento congregation, said the "perils" at the end of the age require "visionary eldership," and, if elders don't catch the vision, then "God's people" and even the elders' own "personal salvation" could be at stake.

Mr. Kilough shrugged off criticism, even within United, that "servant leadership" is just a buzzword and the concept merely a fad.

"It can be a buzzword," he said. "But I don't think Matthew 20:27 was a buzzword to Christ. It wasn't buzzwordy to Him. It wasn't only management style to Him. He was a servant."

Mr. Kilough used the controversial phrase many times during his presentation, even though United's council of elders recently officially decided to call the concept "Christ-centered servant leadership" rather than simply servant leadership--because of criticism that the shorter phrase brings to mind a worldly concept.

"Somebody said we've had 6,000 years of serpent leadership," said Mr. Kilough. "Now it's time for servant leadership."

The present perils

Practicing servant leadership is a way, he continued, to counteract the 19 "perils" the apostle Paul pointed to in 2 Timothy 3. The list of 19 includes the love of money, arrogance, blasphemy, slander, hedonism and disobedience to parents.

"The perils at the end require a certain type of leadership," he said, "and that type of leadership will come from the people who possess in the core of their being an opposite way of thinking."

The contrasting mode of thought is revealed in Philippians 2:5: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."

Mr. Kilough drew a fine distinction between "serving" and "being a servant."

"Servant leadership is not the same thing as serving," he said. Servant leadership "includes serving, but it is not limited to serving . . . Not all serving is Christ-like servant leadership."

The task force is with you

Was the United Church of God justified in setting up a task force to study servant leadership? asked Mr. Kilough.

"It is needful to discuss [servant leadership]," he said, "because we're not all on the same page on the way we understand this . . . We have different perspectives, experiences, concepts and misconceptions; we have different definitions. Most of us are toying with the definitions of what a servant is, and they're not all the same. Some of us are gung ho about it; some are cautious."

Mr. Kilough explained that the UCG's recent focus on servant leadership does not mean he thinks its elders have never served.

"We're focusing on this" to "take our collective mind-set to a higher level of performance," he said.

As the UCG embarks on a full-scale study of servant leadership, "prepare to be disturbed," Mr. Kilough warned the elders.

But it should not be a disturbing study, he said, because servant leadership is nothing more than "a study of the mind of Christ."

On the other hand, disturbing people's mind-sets can lead to growth.

Core issue

Mr. Kilough gave four reasons for servant leadership's importance to the United Church of God:

  • Servant leadership "is a core issue for being in the Kingdom of God."
  • "It is a core issue for having an effective ministry."
  • "It's a core issue for building spiritually healthy members and congregations."
  • It is a "core issue for healing the hurts of the past."

"Unless you become converted and become as little children," Mr. Kilough quoted from Matthew 18:3, "you will by no means enter the Kingdom."

Servant leadership, he declared, "is the core issue to the governance of the church." And government is not the same as "politics."

"Politics is using one's position, influence and power for one's own advantage to get something he wants in one way or another."

But "godly government is not political, although it can be politicized. A little kid who pits one parent against the other to get what he wants is playing politics, but it's not the governmental structure of the home that's the problem."

The desire for greatness

Mr. Kilough, referring to Matthew 20:26, asked the elders if they thought it proper to want to be great.

It is proper to desire to be great, he said, but much depends on what one means by greatness. After all, Jesus was great.

"True servant leadership eliminates politics," Mr. Kilough said, but some acts of service do not eliminate politics.

A grounding in the principles of servant leadership is "very important." The "next generation of ministers can be grounded better than we were."

He continued: "Our past training did not always uniformly emphasize service in the context of leadership, in the way that Christ taught it."

The elders can learn certain skills, he said, but servant leadership "cannot be taught. It has to come from within the core being of the Spirit of God working in somebody."

Who should serve?

Further, servant leadership is not necessary just for the ordained.

"It's for all disciples," he said. "It's for everybody. But the ministry has to be the tip of the spear . . . We have to pursue and teach it."

The queen who understood

He cited the examples of Mordecai and Esther in the Bible.

"Who knows," exhorted Mordecai, speaking to his cousin Queen Esther, "whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Mordecai's words, explained Mr. Kilough, were "a nice way of saying: 'Esther, it's not about you. It's about the needs of God's people . . .'

"Esther got it. She is one of the excellent examples in the Bible of a servant leader."

Leaders who serve, said Mr. Kilough, "take their pleasure from other people's success and happiness. They derive pleasure out of the things of God, not the plans of man, not from being seen. Servers value things that last. Takers value things for the present."

Find a congregation that has "tuned in" to servant leadership, he said, and you'll find a contented congregation.

Servant leadership "is one of the most positive steps we can take toward healing and insuring that past mistakes will not be repeated. A focus on servant leadership offers a path for healing that does not involve continually, wearily dragging up past events, rehashing everything or beating up on anybody."

He cautioned his fellow elders against giving "any impression that we are in some form of denial" regarding servant leadership. Denial "will result in our being held to an even higher standard by people who watch."

Using authority

Mr. Kilough touched on ministerial "authority."

"Servant leadership has nothing to do with whether authority exists," he said. "It has to do with how it's used."

He spoke of what servant leadership is not:

"It's not theory; it's not warm, fuzzy, touch-feely pop psychology . . .

"It's not the great leveler of authority . . . It's not what waters it down. Jesus Christ was never flattened, but somehow He managed to be a great servant . . .

"Servant leadership is not a program with a shiny new notebook to put on your shelf."

It is no more of a program, he said, "than conversion is a program. It's a way of being. It's the confession that Jesus Christ is our Lord in application."

Overlording it

Mr. Kilough cautioned elders not to wield servant leadership as a weapon.

"I've seen that already here at the conference. We cannot hit people over the head with it.

"The study of servant leadership is to be used as a mirror, not as a weapon. We can only look at our own reflection.

"If we use it as a weapon, we have stepped out of servant leadership."

He cited the example of King Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. The new monarch was in the process of deciding whether to lord it over the Israelites or not, so he consulted with some wise men of the kingdom.

"They said if you will be a servant to these people today and serve them and answer them and speak good things to them," quoted Mr. Kilough, "they will be your servants forever."

Rehoboam did not take the wise counselors' advice. He later reaped the bitter consequences of ruling his people as would a heathen king.

How could the course of history have been changed if Rehoboam had only made the right decision? wondered Mr. Kilough.

"For the sake of our personal salvation," he concluded, "for the sake of God's people, I believe that servant leaders have come to the kingdom for such a time as this."

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