Success Secret: Serve Your Way to the Top

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The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21:17-19

The path to success in life, ministry, relationships, career, and darn near everything else is paved with service. (Gasp, probably pain and suffering, too!)

I’m sorry it has to be that way. It’s not my fault that this is true. Blame the other Adam.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Genesis 3:17-19

Back to the John passage. Did you notice what Jesus said Peter had to do to show that he loved Jesus? Feed my sheep. That’s grunt work. That’s work without honor. That’s work that isn’t sexy. That’s not the cover of a magazine or leads to a book deal or getting invited to speak at a conference.

Feeding sheep means arguing with stubborn animals all day. Feeding sheep means you get bit. Feeding sheep means that you step in doo-doo. Feeding sheep means you occasionally have to scare off a predator.

And yet…

On Peter, the one Jesus told to grunt it out by feeding sheep, Jesus also said “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

If you are into church history you know Peter was a key leader in the early church. While he wasn’t perfect he indeed fed Jesus’ lamb from that moment until the moment he was nailed to a Roman cross himself. He served his way to the top of church leadership.

Note: My list of verses above is just the beginning. There are lots. And there are many good books which can give an exhaustive word study. But the point is clear, Jesus flipped the script on how to be a leader.

Universal path to success in any organization

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Do you want to know how you lead people and change any organization?

People ask me all the time: What’s the secret?

You serve. You grunt it out. You get bit. You are faithful to the task you’ve been given. You master that task. You own that task. You serve that task. Just like a shepherd you keep your head up on the task in any circumstance. Just like a shepherd you always keep an eye on where you are leading the next day. You take responsibility. You take the compliments and the criticisms to heart.

Ultimately, you meet the needs of the sheep. You serve the owner. You put the rights of the owner above the rights of yourself. You keep the abuse in mind but you don’t let that own you. In doing that you win hearts and earn influence from the top to the bottom.

It’s not magic. It’s not a secret. It’s taught in the Bible!

Note: Church staff– you have rights. See this post, Labor Day Remembrance for Youth Workers.

Alternate path to success in any organization

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It’s not going to be popular to mention this, but it is worth mentioning. There is another path to success. One that is faster in accession. And one that is definitely easier. But it’s not as the servant-leader.

It’s as the lion.

In truth, many of the most successful “leaders” in the world are not servant-leaders. (The Christian world is, sadly, filled with lions.)

They didn’t get to their position in life by serving their way to the top.

They got there by brute force.

And they keep it when they kill, destroy, and intimidate day-to-day.

They travel in packs which devour prey.

We kind of turn our noses up at this style of leadership. But it is entirely functional. What’s more interesting is that plenty of people are drawn to this style of leadership. It’s quite popular in the Evangelical world!

(There’s a third animal-styled leader. That’s the hyena. He mocks and steals his way to the top. But that’s for another day)

The heart makes the difference

What’s different between servant leadership and lion leadership?

  • The weakness of lion leadership: The pride knows no loyalty. You only have power so long as you can keep it. One day, another member of the pride will take leadership from you.
  • The strength of servant leadership: Loyalty runs thick and deep. When you have served your way to the top, people will be loyal to you, even to a fault.

Choose to serve

Let’s be obvious. Each day, those of us in leadership, must make a rational choice. Do we want to serve or do we want to use our muscle to create a pride?

My advice, while it might not be the fastest way to get things done, ultimately Jesus asks us to choose to serve.






6 responses to “Success Secret: Serve Your Way to the Top”

  1. Stephen Avatar

    So what about those that are in leadership roles, but do not lead in any way, shape, or form (they simply occupy a chair, and occassionally vote or comment on business matters, but that is the sum of their “leadership” role)? They aren’t lambs (as we should strive to be), lions (as we should strive NOT to be), or hyenas (as we should strive to confront…and I so LOVE that analogy Adam!).

    In other words, we should strive to be leaders like Peter or Demetrius, NOT Diotrephes, but, I can’t find the Biblical equivalent of the “benchwarmer”…but would love to hear your suggestions.

  2. Brad Griffin Avatar

    Adam, love this reminder. One comment, about this statement: “Blame the other Adam.” I wonder if we actually should blame the heart of God for setting up the path to wholeness through service and sacrifice. God could have chosen another way to pattern the redemptive process, but didn’t. There’s something inherent to God’s heart and character that bleeds (not at all being funny or cushy there) self-sacrificing love. But yes, the fall makes it all more painful and complicated. Thoughts?

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Such an interesting twist, Brad. I’m no theologian. Without the fall of man, it seems to me that God intended us to work but that it wouldn’t cause us frustration, make us bleed, or even cause us to sweat. It’d be labor that we did in perfect relationship with one another and our Heavenly Father.

      My mind is spinning trying to imagine if God intended that to look like servant leadership or if it was something we can’t even imagine?

      For some reason, it brings to my mind Ephesians 5. Ideally, we will serve one another mutually (in our earthly relationships) while submitting ourselves fully to the Father.

      Gosh, I’m still spinning on this one Brad. Thanks. 🙂

      1. Brad Griffin Avatar

        Adam, I think I mostly agree w/your reply here. But minus the frustration/broken relationship part, I still think the heart of God is self-giving love (love your mutual submission nod to Ephesians above). Isn’t self-giving at the core of God’s design, not just a symptom of the fall? I’m just saying that that plan predates the fall, not saying the fall didn’t make it more complicated, painful, broken… hard. Yet, submission does always require sacrifice, even if it’s joyfully given. What do you think?

  3. Bronco Huge Avatar

    Thanks Adam for the reminder of how Jesus led us and the contrast to the “lion’s style” of leadership. Pride definitely is really an issue in my life that I constantly battle and continue to examine my heart daily to make sure my motives for ministry are in the right place.

  4. Jason Avatar

    Right on Adam!!!!! Below is a link to my favorite corporate example of servant-leadership. But before that, here’s a quote by Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines…

    ” Years ago, business gurus used to apply the business school conundrum to
    me: “Who comes first? Your shareholders, your employees, or your
    customers?” I said, “Well, that’s easy,” but my response was heresy at that
    time. I said employees come first and if employees are treated right, they
    treat the outside world right, the outside world uses the company’s product
    again, and that makes the shareholders happy. That really is the way that
    it works and it’s not a conundrum at all.”

    Here’s proof Herb lived what he spoke-

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