December 12, 2017

Servant Leadership

Gordon Dickson

His boss had given him a sharp reprimand. He probably felt like giving up. After all, he had been asked to do something he had never done before. He was also instructed to go somewhere he had never been. The boss had even asked him to locate a person whose name even the boss didn’t know. And, of course, the boss wanted the job done exactly right. To receive a reprimand on top of all that would have been the final straw for most people. But this was no ordinary employee. This was a true servant-leader. You can read all about him in Genesis 24. Though he is not named in this chapter, we’ll assume this is Eliezer, Abraham’s steward, named in Genesis 15:2. Learn the ways of this servant-leader, and it will change your life forever.

1. The servant-leader must recognize that he is both a servant and a leader (24:1, 2).

Abraham wanted a trustworthy man to find a wife for his son Isaac. He turned to “his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had.” Eliezer was both a servant and a leader. Through the years, he had served his way to the top. When Abraham wanted someone who would act with a heartfelt concern for his concerns, he knew exactly where to turn. He picked a man who led by serving and served by leading. If you examine your life carefully, you will find that you are a servant to some and a leader to others. To be effective, you must lead others by being a good servant.

2. The servant-leader will be asked to make difficult commitments (24:3, 4).

Abraham asked his assistant to do what seemed impossible. There were simply too many unknowns and imponderables. This servant didn’t complain, “But I’ve never done that before!” Here you begin to understand his faith. He believed that “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26.) This helped him to act in faith rather than react in frustration. You will be asked to make similar difficult commitments. Your trust in the Lord will take you through those same “impossible” projects in your workplace.

3. The servant-leader anticipates problems and makes recommendations (24:5).

Genesis 24:4, 5 reveals truly remarkable characteristics of the servant-leader. Think about Eliezer’s possible responses to his “impossible” task. He could have waited until he was forced to take action. He could have refused to budge until he asked for every detail of his mission. On the other hand, this servant could have rushed into the project without concern for Abraham’s values. In order to do his own thinking and to ensure that his thinking matched his master’s, Eliezer anticipated a problem and made a recommendation. If you want to serve your boss well, you will develop the ability to foresee potential problems and make recommendations about handling them. Only in this way can you assure that you are genuinely concerned about your leader’s concerns. How did this assistant develop these characteristics? The answer can be found later in the story.

4. The servant-leader learns that his mission is only a part of his master’s larger mission (24:6–8).

The servant’s recommendation earned him a reprimand (v. 6), not a reward! If he were like most people, Eliezer would have stopped making recommendations. After all, why risk more pain? But this servant-leader had a genuine interest for his leader’s concerns. He wanted to be sure that he had Abraham’s concerns firmly in mind. It’s important to note that Abraham didn’t know exactly how this job should be done. He knew some of what he wanted. He also knew exactly what he didn’t want (Isaac’s absence from the Promised Land). Can you really submit to this kind of a boss? “Submission” implies that you are responsible for a portion of your leader’s larger mission. Abraham’s assistant responded well to the reproof and in so doing grasped Abraham’s deeper concerns (vv. 7, 8). He gained a new, practical understanding of God’s character and promises. The same thing will happen to you as you model this style of leadership.

5. The servant-leader makes difficult commitments (24:9).

Through the active process of anticipation, recommendation, and attentiveness, this servant-leader faithfully made a difficult commitment. You can take on your difficult tasks the same way. You won’t do this if you are lazy. For instance, one man once asked another man, “How long have you been working here?” The other replied, “Since the day they threatened to fire me!” But that kind of fearful approach won’t lead you to make the tough commitments.

6. The servant-leader makes plans and prepares himself for his mission (24:10).

This assistant was a man of action. He didn’t insist that Abraham tell him the unknowable details. By faith, he applied himself to what he did know in order to fully discover what he didn’t know. Note how he applied what he knew (vv. 11–22). This leader didn’t use the “melpew” approach. What’s “melpew?”[1] (Hint: It’s the first word that comes out of the mouth of the 17-year-old who has to work at the fast-food restaurant to pay for his car.) We can’t be “melpew” leaders; we need to say, “May I help you?” and mean it from our hearts.

7. The servant-leader knows how to talk to the Lord (24:12–16).

Earlier, we learned that Eliezer made recommendations when he faced problems. In verses 12–16, we can see how he learned to make recommendations: in prayer. The great prayers of the Bible are not mere pining and whining; they are recommendations made by submissive people to the Almighty God. This man made a respectful recommendation for the Lord’s glory, and the Lord acted on that recommendation. If you want to learn how to serve people, start by serving the Lord. If you don’t know how to talk to your boss, begin by talking to “the God of the impossible.” Eliezer, like Nehemiah, made prayer the foundation for his style of leadership.

8. The servant-leader uses God-given discernment to evaluate the service and spirit of others (24:18–21).

Imagine this scene: Eliezer requested a drink of water, and Rebekah offered to water his camels from the well. (This probably involved drawing about fifty gallons for each of the camels.) As she did so, he just stood there and watched her! How would you respond if a complete stranger watched you do his job without assisting you? Abraham’s servant wasn’t being lazy. He was prayerfully using his God-given discernment to locate Isaac’s bride. Servant-leaders quickly recognize other servant-leaders. They love to build teams of servant-leaders to serve the Lord more effectively.

9. The servant-leader knows God well enough to recognize His work (24:22).

After watching that woman work, Eliezer knew that God had answered his prayer. He saw the woman’s actions and attitudes and knew that the Lord was at work. Without reservation, he acted with confident trust in the Lord.

10. The servant-leader acquires all the information necessary to complete his mission (24:23–25).

This man asked precise and pointed questions to get the information he needed. He wasn’t content to “take it easy.” This servant-leader wanted to be sure that things were done correctly. He wanted to know about the proper authorities to whom he would make his next appeal. You can well imagine that if you had asked Eliezer a question about his mission, he wouldn’t have muttered, “I don’t know.” He would have declared, “I’ll find out.”

11. The servant-leader makes sure that God receives the glory (24:26–31).

This man was not interested in getting the glory for himself. He was very intent on giving the Lord all of the praise and glory. He immediately stopped to pray and to magnify the Lord for His leading. Undoubtedly, when Rebekah reported all of these things to her family, that prayer was included in the report. Laban greeted the man by saying, “Come in, thou blessed of the Lord!”

12. The servant-leader is genuinely concerned about his followers (24:32).

It seems only incidental to the story, but the details of verse 32 are interesting. The servant-leader paid close attention to his men and his animals. He wanted to be sure that their needs were met. This is exactly what you would expect from a man who leads by serving. It appears from the text that he selflessly checked on their needs before he would even sit down to eat.

13. The servant-leader considers his mission more important than creature comforts (24:33).

After all these accomplishments, you would think that this leader would sit back and relax. But such was not the case. Before he would even eat the meal that was placed before him, he wanted to check on his mission. To be a servant-leader, you must think more of your mission than your own “creature comforts.”

14. The servant-leader uses the accurate account of God’s dealings to motivate and persuade his listeners (24:34–48).

The servant-leader does not resort to manipulation to get his way. Instead, he chooses to motivate his hearers with the importance of his mission. Verses 34–48 record this motivational story: (1) He described the greatness of his master. (2) He described the goal of his mission. (3) He concluded with the goodness of God. This servant-leader didn’t use an appeal designed to twist emotions or stir up pity. He knew that God would use a truthful account to accomplish His work. You don’t have to manipulate people to get your job done. The Lord will use your truthful persuasion to help you finish those “impossible” tasks.

15. The servant-leader patiently waits on the Lord to work through authorities (24:49, 50).

There seems to be no end to the modern techniques of manipulation. Entire books have been written about how to get your own way—no matter what it takes. Against this modern backdrop, it’s even more important for servant-leaders to study Genesis 24. Eliezer didn’t try to squeeze or subvert Rebekah’s authorities. He knew that God was big enough to work on them and through them. As Laban and Bethuel said in Genesis 24:50, “The thing proceedeth from the Lord: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.” If you want to be a godly leader, you will patiently wait on the Lord to work through your authorities as well. If you want to serve the Lord, be a servant-leader.

16. The servant-leader overcomes resistance in order to complete his mission (24:54–61).

They all agreed with the marriage and decided to celebrate, but there was one remaining conflict. It was customary to have an extended celebration, but Eliezer and his men were ready to travel home the next morning. Eliezer requested permission to depart. The family politely protested. Then Eliezer repeated his appeal and asked permission (v. 56). When they put the question to Rebekah, she was willing to forgo the celebration and get on with the mission. You may face “traditional” resistance; but with humble persistence, you can overcome such hurdles.

17. The servant-leader gives his master a report of his mission (24:66).

“And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done.” When a servant-leader finishes a job, he reports its completion to his boss. Most people don’t like this step because the boss proceeds to give them another assignment! But it is essential for your boss to know that a job was completed and (in some cases) how it was completed.

If you want to serve the Lord, be a servant-leader. Instead of asking how you can make more, why not concentrate on being worth more to your employer? Learn the ways of the servant-leader, and your life will change forever.

Dr. Gordon Dickson is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Olive, David. Business Babble, A Cynic’s Dictionary of Corporate Jargon. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1990. p. 99. []

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