Servant Leadership

At every camp my old church had, the church leaders would pick leaders from the youth.  Both guys and girls were chosen, which was unprecedented since no women were allowed in the church leadership.  Women weren’t even allowed to sit in on decision making meetings, but they were allowed to be preached at once decisions were made.

When I asked why women weren’t allowed to be present at key meetings, I was told that women didn’t have what it took.  It was allowed once and someone “got her feelings hurt”, her husband defended her and it wasn’t pleasant for the elder telling me about it.

The immaturity of women was the reason given.  I happen to think it was the immaturity of the male leader that would cause him to insult the women present.  But the elder I talked to seemed to think the only reason that someone would be offended wouldn’t be because they had been treated poorly, but that the person herself was immature.  How convenient for him.

This same elder also mentioned that he found working with women leaders in a secular setting a very enriching and positive experience.  I hope one day he realizes the hypocrisy of that.

I was never asked to be a young person’s leader, even though many people were chosen multiple times.  I was acting as an unofficial leader and coordinated and directed the youth group for a year, but my male cousin was given all the credit for it.

I finally asked one of the girls chosen as a young people’s leader what they told her leadership meant.  She replied that her job was to make sure any girls who got sick at the dorm were taken care of and to make sure the bathrooms stayed clean.

Wow!  Female leadership meant taking care of the sick and cleaning bathrooms.  It meant the same thing as female submission.  It was the same thing that any responsible person would do.

I asked an elder what the criteria was for choosing leaders.  He told me that sometimes they picked young people that they were grooming for leadership and sometimes they picked kids that needed some responsibility in order to shape up. 

He said that I “lead from the middle” and therefore was disqualified.  He felt I was already showing leadership qualities and didn’t need to be encouraged to show more.  I’m guessing that meant I was dangerous. 

I look now at the young men consistently chosen as leaders.  They have one thing in common – a fierce defense of all things our church stands for.  There is no questioning, no new directions.  There are a lot of impassioned speeches, guilt trips, and deference to authority.

Apparently leadership means to obey.

9 thoughts on “Servant Leadership

  1. Ahab says:

    In that culture, (male) leadership seems to be about obedience, keeping hierarchies in place, and maintaining the status quo. It’s a shame that the leadership circle intentionally deprives itself of half its potential leaders (females), and that it ignores the role of fairness, maturity, ingenuity, and growth in TRUE leadership.

  2. prairienymph says:

    One of my guy friends who still goes to that church was very vocal about various problems until he got married. Now, he knows he has a shot at being chosen for a leadership position and he is suddenly silent.

  3. Lorena says:

    That’s right. That’s what leadership means, even in the secular world. Think about it. If you’re the CEO of a company, wouldn’t you want to pick those people who appear to follow your leadership better? Who seem to be on your side?

    Certainly, I wouldn’t pick the rebels of the group. But there is a school of thought that would have me pick the rebel, as in calling his or her bluff, to see if they can put their money where their mouth is.

    But in church, the obedient ones are the ones who the Bible approves of, right? After all, the book is for all things oppression.

    • prairienymph says:

      theo(il)logical: of course humans are speciesist! We are very tribal about almost everything, aren’t we? You are very right about the comfortable being sought after. We love change and we are afraid of it.

      blog fodder: I don’t think he is silent because he wants a leadership position, I think he is less openly critical because he doesn’t want to rock the boat too much.

      Lorena: really? I can understand that insecure leaders would want blind followers, but does everyone? Wouldn’t you rather have someone challenge you when you needed instead of unthinkingly supporting you? Even Saddam Hussein had General Sada (if you believe Sada’s version). I wouldn’t pick rebels either, but I hope I’d pick those who would rebel if they needed to.
      Being “teachable” was an important virtue to aquire in Christian circles. I only recently realized that it meant “act like you are stupid and eagerly try and absorb everything the venerated guru tells you in order to feed his ego”. And, you’re right, it isn’t limited to religion.

  4. dsholland says:

    First I want to tell you that I enjoyed reading the various posts on your blog. I hope to be as good a storyteller at some point. I’m commenting here because your most recent post is busy and I have nothing to add.

    WRT leadership there is a pretty good discussion at http://bhorowitz.com/2010/12/16/ones-and-twos/ that talks specifically about leadership hierarchy at one point. Blind followers no, but challenges may be worse (see the section “How organizations tend to be constructed” from the post). At the risk of being thought a sexist it is somewhat like the “cooks” analogy.

    As for your experience “leading from the middle”, it seems as though you have vindicated the elder’s appraisal that you didn’t need to be encouraged (this is intended as a compliment). However, what I believe you intended as irony in the statement “Apparently leadership means to obey.” is in fact a valuable truth. Starting at the lowest levels in both corporate and military organizations managers and squad leaders need to be able to implement the policies of those up the chain of command without abdicating their responsibility to operate within the constraints of the organization as a whole. They need to obey to lead effectively. This is true at each stage of the process up to the CEO or Commander in Chief. As Bob Dylan wrote during his Christian phase, “you’re gonna serve somebody”. Yes it is true at a spiritual level as well (this parallel of the secular and sacred is one of my great delights).

    Beyond your ability to write effectively I was intrigued by the backdrop of your upbringing. I was not raised in a religious community or within a religious family. I came to Christ by way of a conversion experience in my early twenties (my oldest in now 36). I never felt the need to constrain my children to that same choice instead relying on the witness of my life to provide the context for an informed decision. I sometimes wonder if I failed them by that but then I see and read that we must find our own way to God or not, and I am comforted. Thank you for sharing and please continue to do so.

    • prairienymph says:

      Welcome DSH, thank-you for your thoughtful comment.

      That was an interesting article on the leadership hierarchy. I agree that hierarchical leadership relies on obedience. Many times this is good and fine. There are occasions when I need my daughter to obey me without question, such as if a car is out of control and I want her off the sidewalk NOW.
      However, as Sarge has posted on exfundy or Zoe’s blog, part of the military leadership relies on dehumanization of those at the bottom. How else can they justify certain actions? This is problematic for me. It isn’t as if people were arranged to best make use of their talents with the leader being the one facilitating the harmony and cohesive direction. Maybe ideally, but not so often in practice.
      Also, it isn’t as if a person has a choice either to obey or to rebel. They can thoughtfully evaluate and decide whether a certain action is best for the family/church/company. I would guess that promoting harmony would be the best choice most of the time, regardless of their personality type.
      If people had no respect for rules, life would be chaotic. However, as Jesus points out- the Sabbath (or rules) was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Because of people blindly following rules and leaders, there have been great damages done. There have to be other options than outright rebellion when dealing with practices that are potentially harmful in certain situations.

      Ideally, the ones you serve are the ones “beneath” you on the hierarchy, if we are going to follow Jesus’ teachings. That kind of turns the hiearchy upside down, at least theoretically – I would love to see a church organization that lives this out. But following that, you get into the concept of the “tyranny of the masses”, which is perhaps more influenced by the sway of the effective communicators.

      As you can guess, I lean towards “informed consent” more than “rule of law”. The concept of leadership is something that I am just beginning to learn about.

      If you have shown love and compassion to your children, you have hardly failed them! If they believed something because you told them to, then you would have done damage.

  5. dsholland says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    After my comment it occurred to me that leaders also need to learn to obey to lead. You should understand following to lead effectively. I think this too has a spiritual parallel.

    I think dehumanizing is too strong a word. An automaton is not and effective soldier or employee. To be clear our human organizations do not have the capacity to value every individual as the Lord does, but when it comes down to it leadership happens at the human interface level (squad or work group), and good leaders understand their followers worth.

    Juggling the talents and concerns of the group is a challenging problem, it is little wonder it is often done poorly, and why good corporate leaders are worth every penny they are paid. Juggling those concerns in a strictly volunteer organization like a church requires divine intervention IMO, I wouldn’t want that job.

    • prairienymph says:

      Dehumanizing wasn’t my word. I was referencing a retired military man. Can’t find the quote now, but I trust Sarge’s assessment of the military over mine. You can find him on Zoe and Lorena’s blogs.

      I think the conversation has derailed. I have no quarrel with obedience, per se. I do not think rebellion is a virtue.

      I do think there is more to leadership than doing what other people tell you. My biggest problem was that I see certain tendencies for people to espouse ideas/teachings that are dangerous and morally wrong. If they want to be leaders, they can get to the top by toeing the line, but will that make them good leaders? When they are responsible for the well-being of the people they guide and they choose to sacrifice the people so that they can stay on top, is that true leadership?

      Part of leadership means to take a moral stance, even if it means personal risk. That, I do not see. We have so many examples of good people blindly obeying horrible orders. We do not admire them.

      Yes, learning to follow is important. So is learning to stand alone if someone is pressuring you to do something wrong.

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