Our theme is “Descending to Greatness”. Allow me therefore to give a message on servant leadership. Let me, however, dispose of certain preliminary considerations before one can be a servant leader.
First. I like to think that when we say leaders, we are not merely referring to a few elite; we are not talking only of those on top of the line. Rather, I like to think that leader refers to everybody, to all of us. For, according to Webster, a leader is one who guides, one who directs. On the basis of this definition, we are all leaders; for whatever is our station in life, there will always be a time, an occasion when we have to guide or direct somebody else.
A few Silliman students posing for a picture with ther Honorable Chief Justice Reynato Puno
We are all leaders, either for good or for ill. If you are a father or a mother, you lead the members of your family. If you are a big brother or a big sister, you lead your kid brother or little sister. If you are a professional, like a teacher, you lead your students. If you are a non-professional, you are still a leader, for you cannot avoid guiding others. You may technically be at the bottom or near the bottom of life’s totem pole, but that does not mean you cannot lead; it does not mean you have no influence over others. We honor all who lead well, not only our great leaders. When we honor outstanding employees in our office, we are honoring little men and women who have done so much for our lives and for the lives of others – the messengers, the typists, the telephone operators, the drivers, the janitors, who lighten our jobs and make our lives more livable.
Have you watched the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon? The last day of the two-week tournament is the most important, for it determines the champion in the men’s and women’s divisions. It is attended by the Queen or the King of England who personally awards the trophy to the champion. But note that before the King or the Queen honors the winners, the royalty first shakes the hands and engages in shop talk with the little people: the linesmen, the umpires, and the referees. The King and the Queen of England make very few public appearances, and they do not shake the hands of commoners. One occasion they do is when they honor these little people their seemingly insignificant acts, without which there will be no Wimbledon.
The short point is that the principles of leadership ought to concern us, for we are all leaders. The things we do, the things we say are never neutral. They will impact on others, either positively or negatively. They will lead others aright or mislead them astray. We are therefore all leaders — leaders for good or leaders for ill. And life is a contiuing fight for good or for ill; a fight in which you have to take a side, a fight in which you cannot stay in the safety of the sidelines; a fight in which you can’t be neutral and later join the bandwagon of the winners; a fight which is your fight; a fight which you have to fight under the banner of God.
Second. We are all leaders, but I like to submit further that our places of leadership, our roles in life, have been assigned by God. God has a divine purpose for each of us, a divine purpose which fits His overall plan for humanity. We worship no ordinary deity. Our God is omnipotent and omniscient, all-powerful and all-knowing. The Holy Scriptures tell us that God, a perfect God, designed our lives, fixed the contours of our future, even before we were born. In Isaiah 44:2, God tells us and assures, “I am your Creator. You were on my care even before you were born.” The events in our lives, their ups and downs, are therefore no accidents. God has a purpose for all of us, the high and the lowly, the prince and the pauper, the powerful and the powerless. The genius, Albert Einstein, put it best when he said, “God does not play dice with our fortunes.” To be sure, it is not only our lives that God created and directed, but the whole universe. Consider the numerous planets, the millions of stars and their order of orbit and appearance, and you will never doubt a God in control of our destinies.
Third. The call for leadership is a call from God, and our antennae must be sensitive to this call. In the old days, it was easy to call, and you didn’t pay to call. To make a call, you just yell and they will hear you. Today, we have telephones, and cellphones; but paradoxically, it is more difficult to make a call. Sometimes the line is busy; sometimes the phone is out of order; sometimes the sound is fuzzy because somebody else is listening; and sometimes the area is inaccessible. And we get a lot of calls, wrong calls, crank calls. The end result is a tragedy even God is having a hard time making a call to us.
If we have to stress the obvious, it is that leaders need to listen, to have a separate time for the Lord, a quiet moment to listen to His voice, a time to catch His call, a time reserved for Him alone. Humans are supremely superior to animals in many respects, but not in the art of listening. Animals have greater ear power; they can pick up small sounds better than we can. For this reason, the old Chinese rely on animals to predict an earthquake, as there is no technology that can warn of an incoming earthquake. Before an earthquake comes, some animals hear its rumblings, and out of fear howl and make a lot of noises; some run for safety; some rush to caves; some climb trees. Listening to animals to save them from the dangers of nature is a crude way of predicting the coming of earthquakes; but in a good number of times, it has worked for the Chinese.
The obvious point is that there is value in listening and one of the tragedies of the modern world is that humans have lost the art of listening. If Satan is winning on earth, it is because he has stolen our time with God. We are always busy, but not busy with God and for God. We must therefore recover the art of listening, for we cannot be deaf to the voice of God. We cannot be good leaders unless we devote some quiet, quality time to commune with God; to feel His awesome presence; to feel Him tug at our hearts; and to listen to His whispers to our conscience. “Be still,” He said, “. . . and know I am God.” We cannot be leaders unless we listen to God, and we cannot listen to God unless we are still.
Fourth. God calls us every day to lead, to be leaders of others. A call from God is different from other calls. It is different if only for the reason that it is and will always be a correct call; otherwise, we will have a God who is not all-knowing — and a God who can be wrong is no God at all. Sometimes, we doubt the omniscience of God and that is the reason we hesitate to respond to His call; or worse, we reject His call.
Even the legendary characters of the Bible had this attitude of ambivalence, of doubt, especially when the task given to them appeared to be beyond their human capability to fulfill. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. He asked Moses to challenge Pharaoh and lead the Jews out of Egypt. Daniel was asked to stop worshipping God or be thrown into the lion’s den. It was all too human for Abraham, Moses and Daniel to respond to these calls. For how can a God of love ask you to sacrifice your only son? How can an omniscient God pick a powerless Moses to challenge the all-powerful Pharaohs? How can a God of mercy allow Daniel to be devoured by lions?
Truly, God’s calls under those circumstances were beyond human comprehension. But Abraham, Moses and Daniel showed us the value of obedience; they proved to all that one can never be wrong with God. They trusted God’s wisdom and not their own understanding; they put their fate in His hands and not in their own hands and the result proved that when God calls, His call is correct. Isaac, Abraham’s son, was spared; and Abraham was blessed by God, and his descendants became the great nation of Israel. Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt to the promised land. Daniel was not touched by the lions and God was glorified.
Let us, therefore, remember that when God calls us to lead, God will take care of equipping us with the skills of a leader. That is the story of all whom He has called to lead. All were ordinary men and women, and all succeeded as leaders. Let us take care of His call; and He will take care of our incapacities, our limitations, all our needs to succeed. No one can say he has little to offer to God by way of leadership, for even nothing is something to God. We worship a God of Power, a God of Might, a God of the Impossible.
Finally, let me illustrate the difference between leaders and of leadership in the material world and those in the spiritual world. Leaders in the material world become leaders by the process of ascending the ladder of power; by allying themselves with the powerful vested interests of society; by kowtowing to the majority even if it is wrong; by following the fashion of the time; by continuously pushing themselves up and pushing down those against them. Leaders of the spiritual world are different. They lead by descending to the ladder of power; they descend to ally themselves not with the powerful but with the powerless; they do not follow the fad and the fashion of the time but what is right and righteous for all time; they do not push themselves up but down so that others may be elevated. I draw your attention to the life of two kings, and see how they handled the levers of power as leaders.
The first is King Herod, who reigned over Judea from 37 to 4 B.C. He represented the temporal king, today’s tyrannical head of state. To them, power is everything. For as correctly observed, power is the single greatest catalyst of history, which is driven by the desire for power. Adler termed it as the great human obsession. Kissinger described it as the ultimate aphrodisiac.
King Herod did everything to gain leadership and his way was going up, up, and up the totem pole of power. He used all means, both fair and foul, to succeed. By the fair means, he built a city and an excellent harbor along the Mediterranean coast to promote trade in his domain. During times of famine, he devised a food and clothing distribution system to help the distressed. But he was also adept in the use of foul means to gain power. He had 10 marriages, and most of them were contracted to gain political advantage. They were calculated to gain political strength. Indeed, when his rule was threatened by marriage, he had no qualms about murdering his wife, mother-in-law and 3 sons whom he suspected were out to dethrone him. He was the same king who felt so disturbed by the birth of Jesus. To eliminate Jesus tried his darndest best to find out where He would be born. When he failed, he ordered the killing, in Bethlehem and in its vicinity, of all the boys two years old and under. In fine, Herod’s style of leadership is to ascend to reach the top, to stay on top and never to descend from the top come what may. He desired leadership not to serve others but to serve his selfish interest. He ascended to the top, using fair and foul means and defied the law of gravity. That kind of leader, that style of leadership does not last long; it is the kind most vulnerable to the law of gravity, the law that dictates that everything that goes up must come down. He never realized that when one is on the level with people, one can never be pulled down, for that is the point of exemption from the law of gravity. In 30 years, he was down and out of the list of the beloved, a forgettable footnote, a negligible item of the museum.
And now, let us see the other kind of leader, the other type of leadership exemplified by another kind, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Their styles of leadership were in contrast. King Herod’s idea of leadership was ascending the ladder of power to rule and staying there for good. Jesus’ concept of leadership was descending from the top to the bottom of society, not to rule but to serve. It was a descent from heaven to earth; a descent from the throne to the cross, a descent from power to powerlessness; a descent from kingship to servanthood; a descent to greatness, the real greatness. Rev. Bill Hybells described the difference in their leadership as follows:
x x x
Both Herod and Jesus possessed immense power but how they chose to use it revealed the hearts of two radically different men. Herod was bent on promotion, Jesus bended in devotion. Herod was a tyrant, Jesus a servant. Herod was consumed with self-interest, Jesus focused on God and others instead of himself. Herod manipulated, slandered, deceived and coerced; Jesus healed, touched, taught and loved.
The ends of these two leaders, two kings, speak for themselves. Continued Reverend Hybells:
Herod with all his wealth, high position and possession, ended in ruin. In the final year of his life, his body was infected with disease; his pain was so bad that in the middle of the night, his screams would be heard in the palace. He died alone, despised in history.
x x x
On the other hand, by yielding His power, Jesus proved His trust in God’s plan. God said the downward path would lead to fulfillment and life and Jesus believed Him. x x x For Jesus the end was not the end; He became the most celebrated man in history.
God needs leaders — not leaders of any kind, but servant leaders. As He said; “in this world, the Kings and great men order their slaves around and their slaves have no choice but to like it. But among you, the one who serves you best will be your leader.” (Luke 22:25-27)
A blessed day to all of you.
* Delivered by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno on August 26, 2007 at the Silliman University Church, Dumaguete City, where His Honor was invited as the Guest Preacher on the occasion of the 106th Founders Day Sunday, 13th Sunday after the Pentecost.