Confessions of a Struggling Youth Minister: Servant Leadership
A close friend of mine recently texted me asking a simple but profound question for any minister: “Do you think you are a leader?” After briefly pondering this extremely important question, I responded an hour later a bit half-heartedly: “A reluctant one, yes.”
He responded the next day saying, “I asked if you thought you were a leader, because I always worry that I’m not much of one…but after I asked the question, I realized I need to stop thinking about what I am and what I am not. I only need to be a good servant.”
He is absolutely right. There is no leadership in Christianity that isn’t servant leadership. This is the leadership that Christ displayed in his life, and death, and resurrection.
In God’s providence, after this text conversation I began my devotional, which was focused on 1 Samuel 1-3. Chapter 3 of this book is the famous calling of young Samuel to be a prophet of the Lord. He hears a voice calling him as he lies down in the temple (where the ark of God resides) and he thinks it’s Eli, his mentor and priest of the Lord. Eli denies it’s him and tells Samuel to go lie down again. After this happens twice, Eli senses who is truly calling to Samuel and tells him to respond by saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” Samuel does as Eli says. From there, the Lord gives a prophetic word against Eli, which Samuel fearfully delivers to him.
The passage ends with this:
“And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 3:19-21)
I struggle with leadership for a number of reasons. I have an introverted personality. I am easily intimidated by stronger personalities. I don’t like to draw attention to myself. Responsibility and commitment, especially involving other people, are scary concepts for me. The majority of my experience in leadership is due to it being thrust upon me – and so I usually have accepted it with some level of reluctance. I compare myself to other leaders who possess far and beyond my capability, and I feel overwhelmed and discouraged by my own shortcomings.
All these things and more cause me to struggle with leadership.
I am, however, encouraged by Samuel’s story. He is a young man dedicated by his mother to serve in the temple of God, which shows that he didn’t have much choice in the matter either. He seems to be a good kid. He is juxtaposed to Eli’s sons, who continually sin against God to the point that the Lord rejects them and eventually puts them to death for their continual rebellion against Him (v. 25). Samuel simply does as he is told, in a manner which helps him to “…grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with man” (v. 26). These words are also significant in the gospel of Luke (2:52), describing Jesus as a boy in the temple.
However, Samuel’s response to the Lord’s calling encourages me the most. His response is characterized by humility and dependence on God. He says, “Speak, for your servant hears.” This should be how we all respond to the Lord’s call to leadership: humility, recognizing our status as His servants; and dependence, which requires God’s Word and our hearing by faith.
The manner by which Samuel’s response came about is through his mentor, Eli. Eli was the one who taught Samuel how to respond to the Lord’s calling. As youth ministers, we must submit to our church leadership, as well as our mentors and brothers and sisters who we’re accountable to. Because the Lord will use them to speak to us. If Samuel’s response to God shows humility and dependence on God’s Word, his response to Eli shows an even greater humility and dependence on God’s Word. Our character and behavior towards God is reflected in our character and behavior towards the people around us.
The result of of Samuel’s humble acceptance of this calling is that the Lord is with him as he grows, and everyone in Israel knows it. They acknowledge him as a prophet of the Lord. If I were to ask you to think of someone in your life right now who you would acknowledge as a great Christian leader, would you not characterize him or her as someone who is humble and dependent on God? His or her life would be an explicit demonstration of his or her relationship with the Lord.
As a youth minister, leadership is integral in teaching students and discipling them to be followers of Christ. The paradoxical thing about leading in youth ministry is that you are leading your students to be followers. And in order for you to teach them to follow, you must also follow. We must be humble. We must be dependent on God’s Word. We must submit to the leadership around us. Only then will our leadership bear the most abundant fruit. Our Father in Heaven will acknowledge this saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”