“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26)
The only appropriate model for parish council members or those who sit on governing boards to fulfill their calling to service is the ever-astonishing example of the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Son of God who lived among us as a servant.
Every miracle of Jesus was a compassionate response to human suffering. Every conversation or interaction with a person, though some were uncomfortable indeed, stemmed from His unfathomable love for His creatures. He washed the feet of each of the apostles, every one of whom was to betray, abandon, question or disbelieve in Him. He gave His life, not only for His friends, but for the very people who hit, nailed, slapped, spit, stabbed, scourged and mocked Him. His was (and is) servant leadership indeed.
Let this be the first priority and the first question of every person who is elected or appointed to a parish council or board: “How may I be of service?”
Beyond the first inquiry should be a continuing readiness and willingness to seek opportunities to be of service.
What are possible self-perceptions that compromise this calling to servant leadership?
1) The perception that it is my task to represent special interests or a special constituency within the community;
2) The notion that my task is to be a watchdog (as differentiated from the proper fiduciary responsibility to oversee the good management of the finances of the parish);
3) The attitude that there is always fat in a budget that needs to be trimmed;
4) That good management of the parish is lacking and I need to get involved to straighten this out; there may indeed by challenges around this issue, but an aggressive, fault-finding approach may not be the proper way to address this;
5) Unwillingness to attempt to understand the crucial differences between a nonprofit charitable institution and a for-profit business enterprise;
6) Self-seeking motives to advance one’s own business or social interests;
7) Moving parish council service down to the lower priority tier of one’s life;
8) Expressing genuine alarm and concern about operating deficits but personally unwilling to give sacrificially or to be a part of the solution;
9) A casual approach to service exemplified by arriving chronically late, not completing assignments, serially absent from meetings, nominal giving, etc.
10) Failure to attend to one’s own spiritual life.
A priest once implored those present to be a maximalist when it comes to loving others. He asked, “Who among us would say to the man or woman we desperately wanted to marry, ‘What’s the minimal amount of time I need to put into this relationship to have you for my wife (or husband)?’”
In terms of servant leadership let us not ask this question of parish council or board service: “What’s the minimal amount of time I need to put into this to be considered a parish council member in good standing?”
It’s inconceivable that Jesus might have asked of His Father, as it were, “What’s the minimal effort I need to put into this to save the human race and transfigure the cosmos?” He was THE maximalist of all maximalists in His humility and service.
Though we can never fully emulate His profound model of service, we can participate in it.