The first four pillars for servant leadership are basics that could also be requirements for most leadership, and for basic servant leadership. The next three pillars are marks of exceptional servant leadership.
The fifth pillar is foresight: “having a sense for the unknowable and be able to see the unforeseeable.” The first example in the book is the decision by a Catholic order to build a huge arts centre before there was a known need for the scope of that centre including a large overhang to protect people from the rain. The decision was made by consensus based on placing a high value on the arts, on service to the wider community, and prayer. Another gift included in foresight is using intuition well. Intuition is that part of us that relies on memory centers in the gut and heart and the Reticular Activating System which developed over millions of years to keep us safe. This overall system uses patterns from stored memories to identify current issues for our well-being.
The following process provides a way for developing and harnessing power for foresight. Analyze the past discerning patterns of events, providing information for our dark network, the subconscious part of our nervous system. Learn everything there is to know about the issue at hand, using several approaches. Let the information incubate. Do not rush things (This is one of my shortcomings!) Be open for breakthroughs, remaining present to the senses, staying quiet and patient. Share insights with trusted colleagues.
An interesting point in this chapter is that an organization’s vision needs to be grand, big enough to inspire members and employees to stretch in reaching for that vision. A vision I had for St Andrew’s about a year ago includes thousands of disconnected people finding connections through programs offered by St. Andrew’s/andychurch. Stabilizing the size of a congregation or growing it a bit or improving the finances of a church does not inspire me to make a great effort. Potentially reaching out to thousands of people, some of whom are at risk of substance abuse-related deaths, while others are experiencing loneliness and other emotionally damaging issues does excite me, especially for non-church and ex-church people. The passage about vision has three key questions. Who are we? Whom do we serve? How will we serve them?
Foresight includes and feeds creativity. Foresight accompanies courageous, decisive action. Jesus had a vision of people being in right relationship with God and with each other. Knowing Jeremiah 31:34, he knew the foundation of that kind of world had to be knowing God, and knowing God as love. He knew the only way for people’s hearts to be transformed was through love. He could see that taking that reasoning all the way threatened the power of the religious and secular leaders, and that they would do anything to prevent that disruption. And he had the courage to take decisive action through his preaching and ministry and direct confrontation with religious leaders, and to face his probable death. His foresight led to the development of a body of followers which has survived countless empires and threats, only to be threatened today by a society which is proving to be more loving than many or most of the churches which claim him as their Lord. The death of the church will not be the death of his vision. St. Andrew’s and other United Churches understand the need for churches to be loving; they just need to accept that they also need to be bold and courageous as well.
The sixth pillar, Systems Thinker, emerges in many leadership and problem-solving programs. Long-term solutions require understanding the systems that produce our problems. For example, declining membership and finances lead to the problems of developing effective responses to those challenges including changing the church so it needs less financing (an approach repeatedly taken by the United Church of Canada). Putting ministry first requires understanding the deficiencies in the strategies that result in declining membership and finances, the culture underneath those strategies and the beliefs underneath the culture.
There are several beliefs in the United Church that support our decline. The first is that faithfulness to God challenges the wider culture so decline is a sign of faithfulness. The second is best represented by the story of the minister whose town was facing a flood due to the failure of a dam. When a rowboat showed up at the church, offering rescue, he said, “No thanks, God will save me.” When he was sitting on the roof, a power launch came by to rescue flood victims, and he again said, “No thanks. God will save me.” When he was clinging to the church steeple, a helicopter came by and he again said, “No thanks. God will save me.” When he arrived at the pearly gates, he said to Peter, “I thought God would save me.” Peter replied, “We sent a rowboat, a power launch, and a helicopter.” The belief that, if we are doing what God wants us to do, God will look after us, blocks the willingness to consider the hundreds of tools out there for church growth, usually because those tools involve three challenges: disrupting the comfort of the members; becoming unclean by becoming evangelical, and doing some hard work.
Individual congregations have their own particular beliefs that promote decline. The point is to the work required to unearth those beliefs and find ways to change them. Jesus looked at the systems around him, saw how those systems oppressed people as well as how they worked, and used preaching and actions to invite the people into believing the systems did not serve God and that they did not have to be slaves to those systems. A key tool for those systems was fear, and Jesus, by facing death himself, took that tool away from those systems. Without fear as a tool, they were less successful at coercing people who then were ready to deny that Caesar was a god and deny the right of the religious leaders to tell them how to behave. If we want to succeed in reaching our goals, in providing leadership that makes a difference, we will find leaders to lead systems thinking that, with foresight, can develop strategies that fit our goals.
Servant leaders use system thinking in many ways: in understanding issues and framing problems; in engaging as many people as possible in the analysis stage and in the development of new strategies, and in thinking long-term and for the greater good of those in and not in the organization. They empower others in the process and value relationships and individuals. When Jesus called his disciples his friends, he empowered them to take initiative in meeting issues.
The seventh pillar may be the most difficult pillar: moral authority. This pillar requires consistent adherence to integrity while exercising the use of the other six pillars. It requires sacrifice, often daily. Exercising moral authority displaces positional authority by distributing responsibility and authority within clear, flexible boundaries. The core competencies (p 155) include: accepts and delegates responsibility; shares power and control; and creates a culture of accountability.
In all of this there are many fundamental principles. The key principle is this: “If it ain’t fun, it won’t get done.” If we wish to make these 7 pillars part of our living and working. we need to work fun into the process so it can be sustainable. The end results include greater satisfaction in what we are doing, greater effectiveness in making a difference in the world, and greater influence in helping others adopt these pillars. in all we do, we are not alone. We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.