Servant Leaders needed…now more than ever

This past Sunday I spoke on servant leadership and how vital the principle is for our time.  I’d spent the few days before preaching working on a new book I’m writing, and in the course of my studies, sat transfixed as I watched the movie “As We Forgive” about the Reconciliation Project that’s happening right now in Rwanda.  The truth telling, listening, confession, and forgiveness that’s happening there, now, reminds me why God is at work in Africa, and why we’re so dysfunctional here.

We’re not dysfunctional because of Democrats or Republicans.  We’re dysfunctional because the elements that constitute servant leadership, seen so clearly in Rwanda right now, are so clearly missing here.  What things?

Truth telling and Listening – Sarah Palin is lying, and so is Nancy Pelosi.  Both sides have been busy spinning health care and the only people that are listening are their own choirs, because the rest of us see it all as nothing more than posturing.  Just once, I wish a democrat would say, “You know, future congresses are going to need a lot of courage to raise taxes, because without that courage, this bill could sink us all financially.  We didn’t have the courage, because we knew the bill wouldn’t pass if we raised taxes”  Just once I’d like to hear a republican say, “We think that there’s something to be gained by enlarging the pool of the insured – that having lots of healthy people in the pool might actually lower the costs.”  I hear nothing that even approaches that kind of dialogue, by either party, or their die-hard loyalists.  This disgusts me, because without honest words, all conversation ceases, and conversation and debate are vital to growth.  The fact of the matter is I’ve even hesitated to talk about this subject on my blog, suspicious as I am that some will look for sound bytes and that if I don’t applaud their convictions they’ll label me as belonging to ‘the other side’, a label that would be presumptuous and wrong.

Confession and Forgiveness – McCain has declared that the Republicans won’t work with the Democrats on anything for the rest of the term.  Sarah’s encouraged her followers to ‘reload’.  The Democrats have demonstrated that in spite of their campaign promises of a different Washington, they’ve adopted every political play in the book to push their agenda. There’s certainly no preemptive forgiveness going on, but if anyone’s waiting for a confession before forgiveness, well, I’m betting it will snow four feet in Mexico City before that happens.  Instead, the threats, vitriol, and polarizing rhetoric stands a good chance of leading congress to still lower lows.

Through all this, I continue to be astonished at the degree to which one party is characterized as “the Christian one”-  I’m not seeing servant leaders on either side of the aisle.  The absence of truth-telling, forgiveness, confession, and listening isn’t a party crisis:  it’s a national crisis, and behind it, there’s a faith crisis.

A repentant church in Rwanda is building a new generation of leaders on the basis of servant leadership and radical reconciliation in the wake of a genocide, while a sleeping church in America embraces polarized and hate filled politics.  We should be on our knees…praying for stronger churches to raise up people of integrity and discernment who will fill both sides of the aisle with some salt and light.  Both elements seem lacking in the highest offices right now.  God help us – and I’m confident He will.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Mark Erickson

    Interesting to read your post as I just finished watching “As We Forgive” 30 minutes ago. It is encouraging to see the depth and power of forgiveness in a nation that has seen tragedy that I can’t even begin to try to comprehend. To see a selfish and divided group of people like ourselves begin to live with one another on the grounds of grace would be awesome – no wonder Jesus prayed for it in the garden. Tragic that it took something as horrific as the mass slaughter of a million people to bring about peace. May we learn from what happened and is happening in Rwanda and be able to step over the lines we’ve drawn in the sand. How beautiful it would be if we were as passionate about Jesus and his grace, mercy, love, and peace as we are about debating healthcare.

  • Mark Erickson

    Interesting to read your post as I just finished watching “As We Forgive” 30 minutes ago. It is encouraging to see the depth and power of forgiveness in a nation that has seen tragedy that I can’t even begin to try to comprehend. To see a selfish and divided group of people like ourselves begin to live with one another on the grounds of grace would be awesome – no wonder Jesus prayed for it in the garden. Tragic that it took something as horrific as the mass slaughter of a million people to bring about peace. May we learn from what happened and is happening in Rwanda and be able to step over the lines we’ve drawn in the sand. How beautiful it would be if we were as passionate about Jesus and his grace, mercy, love, and peace as we are about debating healthcare.

  • Kevin

    Another good example of this kind of reconciliation–albeit a difficult and even controversial example–took place with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. In both Rwanda and South Africa, the notion of “ubuntu” played a large role in the way that communities have traditionally sought reconciliation, recognizing the fundamental humanity of the other and realizing that, though we may at times be at odds, our world would be impoverished were the other to be taken out of the picture. This is a notion that is shockingly absent in the Western world, where we exist in stark insulation from one another. In such a context it can become easy to treat the ideological other as an enemy, forgetting that there is no “we” without “them”.

  • Kevin

    Another good example of this kind of reconciliation–albeit a difficult and even controversial example–took place with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. In both Rwanda and South Africa, the notion of “ubuntu” played a large role in the way that communities have traditionally sought reconciliation, recognizing the fundamental humanity of the other and realizing that, though we may at times be at odds, our world would be impoverished were the other to be taken out of the picture. This is a notion that is shockingly absent in the Western world, where we exist in stark insulation from one another. In such a context it can become easy to treat the ideological other as an enemy, forgetting that there is no “we” without “them”.

  • Ken

    This is funny to see this post at this moment, because my wife and I just replied to encourage our pastor in his frustration with reaction he got to a Q&A service topic concerning the current state of affairs in Eastern Congo. [go here if interested: http://kenwytsma.com/ ] Almost in passing while sharing about the Congo he commented in amazement about how Americans are currently so fired up about health care in what is certainly one of the richest, healthiest nations on earth while atrocities continue in parts of Africa and we seemingly couldn’t care less. His picture of God looking at the whole of humanity and crying for the children in the Congo, but quite probably looking at the church in America with a completely different sadness fits with your observation here. As I shared with you a few weeks ago, I truly believe our nation will be seeing some radical changes in our lifetime. The church in America will be right in the thick of that turmoil and it will be interesting to behold. Servant leadership is a lost commodity in our government. Instead “We the People” are rapidly becoming leadership’s servants.

  • Ken

    This is funny to see this post at this moment, because my wife and I just replied to encourage our pastor in his frustration with reaction he got to a Q&A service topic concerning the current state of affairs in Eastern Congo. [go here if interested: http://kenwytsma.com/ ] Almost in passing while sharing about the Congo he commented in amazement about how Americans are currently so fired up about health care in what is certainly one of the richest, healthiest nations on earth while atrocities continue in parts of Africa and we seemingly couldn’t care less. His picture of God looking at the whole of humanity and crying for the children in the Congo, but quite probably looking at the church in America with a completely different sadness fits with your observation here. As I shared with you a few weeks ago, I truly believe our nation will be seeing some radical changes in our lifetime. The church in America will be right in the thick of that turmoil and it will be interesting to behold. Servant leadership is a lost commodity in our government. Instead “We the People” are rapidly becoming leadership’s servants.

  • Graham C.

    Oh my goodness Richard, you didn’t demonstrate full compliance with all my convictions. You sound like a flaming Independent.
    Seriously though, I think this country also needs a paradigm shift before it will VOTE for the servant/ truth telling leader you describe. I can’t imagine many people voting for the Democrat who admits he/she needs to raise taxes to pay for additional social programs. If politicians start telling the truth they run the risk of telling people what they don’t want to hear. Until we Americans realize that servant/ truth telling- it- like-it-is-leader you describe is the ONLY alternative to “politics as usual” (maybe when there is a critical mass of fed-upness) I don’t see any end to the partisianship or lack of actual “conversations”.

  • Graham C.

    Oh my goodness Richard, you didn’t demonstrate full compliance with all my convictions. You sound like a flaming Independent.
    Seriously though, I think this country also needs a paradigm shift before it will VOTE for the servant/ truth telling leader you describe. I can’t imagine many people voting for the Democrat who admits he/she needs to raise taxes to pay for additional social programs. If politicians start telling the truth they run the risk of telling people what they don’t want to hear. Until we Americans realize that servant/ truth telling- it- like-it-is-leader you describe is the ONLY alternative to “politics as usual” (maybe when there is a critical mass of fed-upness) I don’t see any end to the partisianship or lack of actual “conversations”.

  • sp

    While I love your point, I will admit that it’s difficult for me to hear it well when you like to shoot both sides of the isle in order to proclaim that your version is the “correct” answer.

    It reminds me of something you said last Sunday about the problem with Americans (independence and consumerism) when you used the example of how the first Space Shuttle was built, where Americans wanted to eat in privacy, but the Europeans wanted to eat communally.

    Again, I like the point you make…but Americans=bad and most of the rest of the world=enlightened is also, to me, some sort of lying or half-truth. The point was hard for me to really hear and accept because of it. Very possibly that speaks more of me than anything else (my filters?)…so I’ll try to sit with that and examine my own heart in this. Even so, as I sit now, that’s my honest response.

    • raincitypastor

      thank you for your honesty and challenge – If I come across as America = bad and everyone else = good, then I’m miscommunicating. Whenever I return from overseas, I’m grateful to be home in what I consider to be a great country, perhaps the greatest. Because of this, though, I’m probably more critical of the USA than elsewhere in the same way that my wife and squabble more than my neighbor and I. Proximity and intimacy lead to honesty.

      Second, I’d by lying if I didn’t say I’m troubled by the doctrine of American exceptionalism, primarily because it can lead to arrogance and abuse of power.

      Thank you for your input – it’s helpful for me to understand how my communication is received.

      • sp

        Thank you for your response Richard. It makes me realize that maybe part of this was my filter, and wasn’t exactly what you intended to be heard, per se.

        I can DEFINITELY relate to the idea that it’s easier to be more critical due to closer proximity and intimacy. My wife would agree with you, I’m sure.

        Anyways, I’m glad to hear you say that. I too am troubled by what you call American exceptionalism…but it doesn’t mean this country is not exceptional. (which I hear you agreeing with) There is alot more to love about this great Country of ours than not…and I’ve sometimes felt that you’ve leaned towards throwing this Country under the bus for reasons I don’t understand. I understand it’s become very popular to do so, especially here in Seattle, WA…but the more this has become the consensus opinion, the more it causes me to think people have lost the understanding of this Country’s story and its History.

        As for arrogance and abuse of power – show me where it’s not bad. (rhetorical question) Show me a poster-child Country who doesn’t go through cyclical ups/downs where this becomes central to the short-term story of that Country. We have more checks and balances in this Country than most others to curb this from happening…but yes, it still definitely happens. Because of this Country’s “power”, those abuses become more publicized as well.

        Thank you for showing your heart on this. I’m glad to hear it.

  • sp

    While I love your point, I will admit that it’s difficult for me to hear it well when you like to shoot both sides of the isle in order to proclaim that your version is the “correct” answer.

    It reminds me of something you said last Sunday about the problem with Americans (independence and consumerism) when you used the example of how the first Space Shuttle was built, where Americans wanted to eat in privacy, but the Europeans wanted to eat communally.

    Again, I like the point you make…but Americans=bad and most of the rest of the world=enlightened is also, to me, some sort of lying or half-truth. The point was hard for me to really hear and accept because of it. Very possibly that speaks more of me than anything else (my filters?)…so I’ll try to sit with that and examine my own heart in this. Even so, as I sit now, that’s my honest response.

    • raincitypastor

      thank you for your honesty and challenge – If I come across as America = bad and everyone else = good, then I’m miscommunicating. Whenever I return from overseas, I’m grateful to be home in what I consider to be a great country, perhaps the greatest. Because of this, though, I’m probably more critical of the USA than elsewhere in the same way that my wife and squabble more than my neighbor and I. Proximity and intimacy lead to honesty.

      Second, I’d by lying if I didn’t say I’m troubled by the doctrine of American exceptionalism, primarily because it can lead to arrogance and abuse of power.

      Thank you for your input – it’s helpful for me to understand how my communication is received.

      • sp

        Thank you for your response Richard. It makes me realize that maybe part of this was my filter, and wasn’t exactly what you intended to be heard, per se.

        I can DEFINITELY relate to the idea that it’s easier to be more critical due to closer proximity and intimacy. My wife would agree with you, I’m sure.

        Anyways, I’m glad to hear you say that. I too am troubled by what you call American exceptionalism…but it doesn’t mean this country is not exceptional. (which I hear you agreeing with) There is alot more to love about this great Country of ours than not…and I’ve sometimes felt that you’ve leaned towards throwing this Country under the bus for reasons I don’t understand. I understand it’s become very popular to do so, especially here in Seattle, WA…but the more this has become the consensus opinion, the more it causes me to think people have lost the understanding of this Country’s story and its History.

        As for arrogance and abuse of power – show me where it’s not bad. (rhetorical question) Show me a poster-child Country who doesn’t go through cyclical ups/downs where this becomes central to the short-term story of that Country. We have more checks and balances in this Country than most others to curb this from happening…but yes, it still definitely happens. Because of this Country’s “power”, those abuses become more publicized as well.

        Thank you for showing your heart on this. I’m glad to hear it.

  • thomas

    Richard,

    I think you make a really valuable point about the fact that there is a faith crisis behind current political discourse – or perhaps a “church” crisis would be a bit more apt as this is a discussion focused on human community and relationship. We are ourselves implicated in the current state of affairs. The community that is supposed to be a community defined by truth-telling, confession – nothing less than the forgiveness of sins – (with “forgiveness of sins” standing in for much more than the easing of mental angst over personal guilt) – is us, the church. And in a society where every congressperson and senator claims (often loudly) some sort of membership in a faith community (as far as I know anyway – an exceptional oddity in itself to a non-American like myself), we as a community must be failing, and failing spectacularly, to give a compelling account of our Christ centered humanity given that our current public discourse, whether in politics or popular culture or beyod, is so entirely stripped of grace.

    I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to politics, but I shouldn’t be. Instead of attacking vapid power-hungry politicians I ought to be confessing my own power-hungriness (“if I were in their shoes, why I’d…”). There ought to be a confession on the part of the church (and I include myself) in all this too, that we have failed to be the church, failed to be a community marked by Christ, by the forgiveness of sins. We can’t simply wash our hands of the disintegration of public discourse, of the absence of grace in our culture – not without recognizing the absence of the very things we wish for amongst ourselves. No one is asking the church its thoughts on immigration reform, or health care, and I, for one, can’t blame them, but at the same time, I’m hopeful that it doesn’t have to stay this way – not because I have any sort of confidence in myself, or my fellow church members (the news headlines of the past week should all give us pause if we start getting confident in our own human capacities as a community) – but because it is THE week of forgiveness of sins, of the return from exile, of the inauguration of new creation in Christ – a reason for hope if there ever was one.

  • thomas

    Richard,

    I think you make a really valuable point about the fact that there is a faith crisis behind current political discourse – or perhaps a “church” crisis would be a bit more apt as this is a discussion focused on human community and relationship. We are ourselves implicated in the current state of affairs. The community that is supposed to be a community defined by truth-telling, confession – nothing less than the forgiveness of sins – (with “forgiveness of sins” standing in for much more than the easing of mental angst over personal guilt) – is us, the church. And in a society where every congressperson and senator claims (often loudly) some sort of membership in a faith community (as far as I know anyway – an exceptional oddity in itself to a non-American like myself), we as a community must be failing, and failing spectacularly, to give a compelling account of our Christ centered humanity given that our current public discourse, whether in politics or popular culture or beyod, is so entirely stripped of grace.

    I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to politics, but I shouldn’t be. Instead of attacking vapid power-hungry politicians I ought to be confessing my own power-hungriness (“if I were in their shoes, why I’d…”). There ought to be a confession on the part of the church (and I include myself) in all this too, that we have failed to be the church, failed to be a community marked by Christ, by the forgiveness of sins. We can’t simply wash our hands of the disintegration of public discourse, of the absence of grace in our culture – not without recognizing the absence of the very things we wish for amongst ourselves. No one is asking the church its thoughts on immigration reform, or health care, and I, for one, can’t blame them, but at the same time, I’m hopeful that it doesn’t have to stay this way – not because I have any sort of confidence in myself, or my fellow church members (the news headlines of the past week should all give us pause if we start getting confident in our own human capacities as a community) – but because it is THE week of forgiveness of sins, of the return from exile, of the inauguration of new creation in Christ – a reason for hope if there ever was one.

  • http://realredemption.blogspot.com/ Brendan Thatcher

    I’m glad to see the conversation move from politics to the personal. Yes, we can criticize our elected leaders all day (and thanks to God for living in a country where we can freely criticize the government) but all this finger pointing is doing us no good. I once read a book that said that revival starts with each individual person. As each person takes on the role of a servant leader, a sort of pay it forward effect goes into place and change is affected as more and more people become servant leaders. I don’t mean to sound too socialist, but you get my point. We can criticize others all day, but the most important person to criticize is yourself. Only there can real change occur. Yes, I’m disappointed in people and politics, but until I live a life that serves others, I’m only adding to the problem. Richard, your sermon motivated to look at myself and my motives when it comes to how I am connected to Bethany and what I should be working on to improve- my involvement in leadership and service within this community. It didn’t motivate me to criticize the Democrats or Republicans. My voice is heard as I vote, but beyond that I have very little control over decisions made by those in political power. I like to focus on what I can affect; my own influence on the world around me. I think that it’s there that servant leadership needs the most attention.

  • http://realredemption.blogspot.com/ Brendan Thatcher

    I’m glad to see the conversation move from politics to the personal. Yes, we can criticize our elected leaders all day (and thanks to God for living in a country where we can freely criticize the government) but all this finger pointing is doing us no good. I once read a book that said that revival starts with each individual person. As each person takes on the role of a servant leader, a sort of pay it forward effect goes into place and change is affected as more and more people become servant leaders. I don’t mean to sound too socialist, but you get my point. We can criticize others all day, but the most important person to criticize is yourself. Only there can real change occur. Yes, I’m disappointed in people and politics, but until I live a life that serves others, I’m only adding to the problem. Richard, your sermon motivated to look at myself and my motives when it comes to how I am connected to Bethany and what I should be working on to improve- my involvement in leadership and service within this community. It didn’t motivate me to criticize the Democrats or Republicans. My voice is heard as I vote, but beyond that I have very little control over decisions made by those in political power. I like to focus on what I can affect; my own influence on the world around me. I think that it’s there that servant leadership needs the most attention.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X