Remember the old Beatle’s song—All You Need Is Love?” Who knew then that John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles were all over what the Bible has to say to us as leaders? As Executive Pastors you are overseers, helping to realize the God-given vision of the Senior Pastor. You are also administrators, managing the workings of the local church. You serve as catalysts, initiating, implementing and managing change. You are mentors, coaching and encouraging those serving alongside you—whether paid or volunteer. Finally, you are also ministers, sharing in meeting the spiritual needs of the congregation. That’s quite a job description! However, believe it or not, what you do isn’t really the main thing—who you are is.

Godly character is essential for any Christian leader. Most of us know the passage from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with regards to the qualifications for being an overseer. You probably even had those very verses quoted to you at some point during your interview process as you became an XP. Character has to do with one’s behavior or what someone does or does not do. Motive goes to the why of those behaviors. Aubrey Malphurs, in his book Being Leaders, quotes an interview with Howard Hendricks in which Dr. Hendricks states that, “The greatest crisis in the world today is a crisis of leadership, and the greatest crisis of leadership is a crisis of character.” This then leads us to the question of motive or why do you, as an XP, do what you do?

While serving on a church staff on the south side of Miami, I had occasion to hear all kinds of stories. One story revolved around one of the granddaughters of my Senior Pastor. He told us of his extremely bright and independent grandchild. Being young, intelligent and independent-natured led to her being quite a handful. He told the story of how one day, her mother placed the youngster in time-out. The little girl was required to sit on her chair for a specific period of time. Evidently, just getting her to her chair was quite a chore. Eventually the mother was successful and as she turned to leave the room the little girl exclaimed, “I may be sitting down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside!” Now the point of that story isn’t just to show that other parents have strong-willed children too. Rather, it demonstrates for us how we must sometimes look to our Heavenly Father. We can be obedient on the outside, “doing” what is required, but on the inside, our motivations might just be less than altruistic.

Back in 1991, Chris Argyris wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Teaching Smart People How to Learn.” In this article, he coined the phrases single-loop and double-loop learning. Single-loop learning has to do with behaviors and double-loop learning with the values and constructs that dictate that behavior. In the example above, getting the little girl to obey is single-loop learning. Getting her to change her values and want to behave is double-loop learning. It is getting to the root cause of a problem, not just the problem itself. He succinctly pointed out that “Solving problems is important. But if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward.” Today we are going to attempt to take a look inward by taking a second loop around the issue of XP motivation.

There are many potential motivations for doing what you do. You might genuinely have a desire to want to help others. People in various occupations have just this sort of drive: doctors, nurses, firefighters, those in law enforcement, and teachers, among many others, can be motivated by this same type of desire to do good for and to people. However, if we’re being completely honest, some of us might admit that it just makes us feel good inside when we help people. It just feels right. This leads into the idea of wanting to feel needed. There are those of us who suffer from feelings of inferiority and get our emotional tank filled by knowing that we are needed. This, in turn, leads us to do more and work harder doing for others so that we have plenty in reserve when our tank is low. The problem with this is that just like your car has a constant demand for fuel, so does your ego need constant fueling in order to keep you going. Worse yet, something else breaks down, and it is only then that you realize that all of the emotional gas in the world won’t get you where you need to go.

Potentially even more egregious to the life and ministry of an XP is the motivation that I call the “Super Hero Syndrome.” This is really the idea of serving others in order to experience the feelings of empowerment it brings. You get to “save the day.” A building needs building—you leap it in a single bound. The budget is out of alignment—you fix it. The Staff needs encouragement—you exhort them to press on. The Senior Pastor needs an idea or illustration for this coming Sunday’s sermon—you provide it. Something, an attitude, a perception, a way of doing things, needs changing—you lead the charge. There is a rush that comes from this type of service. However, if we’re not careful, this rush of adrenaline that comes from the use of “our superpowers,” in the five functional areas we serve in, could also become our kryptonite.

Finally, but certainly not completely, we come to the motivation of your call. God called you into ministry. You aren’t fulfilled doing anything else, can’t imagine yourself in any other line of work. However, even this can undermine your ministry if you are not careful. In one sense, sometimes your Call is all you have to hang onto. When things are difficult, you remember who it was who called you into His service and it empowers you. Nevertheless, with regards to what we are discussing, it is not the Call that needs reviewing but the motives for why you continue to answer it that must be examined.

Well, if all of these good motivations can also be suspect in the life an Executive Pastor, what then should our motivation be? The answer to that question is found in Matthew 20:25-28 and John 13:1-17.

The context of the passage in Matthew establishes that Jesus was still instructing His disciples regarding humility, ambition, and faithfulness. If we back up in order to get a running start on our passage, we can see that at the end of chapter 19, Jesus has been teaching the apostles through the circumstance of the rich young ruler. In chapter 20, He likens Heaven to the story of a landowner hiring laborers to work in his vineyard. Some were hired early on in the day, some midday, and some just before quitting time. In the end, the landowner decides to pay each man the same, regardless of how long he worked that day. As we might expect, the laborers who had worked all day were indignant. The landowner, who represents God in Heaven, declares that he has the right to be generous and dispense his riches as he sees fit. This parable teaches that God rewards us on the basis of our faithfulness. Not on the amount, or even importance, of our job, position, or tasks accomplished.

Jesus then again tries to explain to His disciples that He must go up to Jerusalem to be betrayed, condemned and put to death. After this revelation, James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, two of Jesus’ apostles, and along with their mother, asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left in His kingdom. Although He had just told them differently, those with Jesus still believed that He would set up an earthly reign and drive out the Romans.

At this point, Jesus then takes this opportunity to instruct those gathered in what it truly means to be a leader. Beginning in verse 25 we read:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many’ (Matt. 20:25-28).

In these three stories, we see the rich young ruler missing the kingdom because of his self righteousness and lack of humility, the landowner modeling the grace and mercy of God, and Jesus turning the tables upside-down once again by instructing that the paradigm that the disciples had always known and lived by was wrong. They weren’t to seek position and prestige. And even if they gained it, they were to use it to serve, even to the point of submitting to each other. Jesus is teaching here that true leadership means being a servant.

Aubrey Malphurs, in Being Leaders, observes that servant leaders display at least four characteristics: humility, service, a focus on others, and love.

Jesus, ever counter-cultural in His approach, is teaching His disciples that they are not to act like those around them. Matthew 20:25-26 states: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you.’”

Here we see that Jesus is telling us that true leaders, lead with humility. Don’t hold your position over those you lead. Do not take your position as an opportunity to take advantage. Today, okay, a few years ago, we would say “Don’t get too big for your britches.” Keep your ego in check! Jesus is telling us here through a negative example, not to use our power and authority to dominate others. While it didn’t sink in immediately, it obviously rang true later on as Peter instructs elders,

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock … Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time … (1 Pet. 5:2-6).

Clothing yourselves in humility carries the idea of it being something we must put on. It is up to us to live out our true humility for others to see without it having to be said. It is true that in many, if not in most or all instances, XPs lead the staff. However, if not approached from a proper perspective, (read verses 25 and 26 again), this situation could lead to our undoing. People can smell a motivation from a mile away! If you are in it for the power and prestige that accompanies your position, your staff will know, your church will know and deep down your family will know too. Do not be fooled! God searches the intent of our hearts and He has a way of making them known in His time. You may still command a decorum of respect that the title warrants. Nevertheless, trouble will one day ensue. It may take many different forms—from outright rebellion, passive aggressiveness, apathy, to God allowing you to be placed in a difficult situation in order to correct you—but be assured, it will one day come.

Next Jesus teaches that true leaders serve others. In Matthew 20:26-28 we read “… but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Jesus is teaching that the way to greatness is through service, not through position or title.

Notice the phrasing of that passage. Jesus uses specific words to describe His intent. First He tells the disciples that in order for them to be great they must be a servant. He uses a Greek term inferring voluntary service. Next time it gets even harder as he tells them that in order to be first, they must be a  slave. This means they must give up all their rights in service to another. However, the imperative doesn’t end there. He further defines this voluntary slavery by inserting the word “your.” This little word makes it that much more meaningful because He is telling them that they are to submit to each other. Remember that they had been arguing over who would be the greatest. The ten had become indignant over James and John’s perceived attempt to usurp authority over them. Now Jesus comes back and instructs them to voluntarily enslave themselves to each other in service. So, not only do they now have to become servants and slaves, but they have to enslave themselves in service to people they already know. And not just any people, these are people with whom they are jockeying against for position and authority! He completes this paradoxically counter-cultural thought by giving an ultimate example and a foreshadowing of His impending death on the cross “ … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” As Elders in our churches, as Executive Pastors, Jesus is still calling us to the same type of service today. Voluntarily submit yourselves to those who serve with you and God will, in due time, exalt you.

The final thing we learn from this passage is to focus on others. Recall our discussion on the rich young ruler from Chapter 19. There we saw how at the end of this communication, the disciples were completely confused and befuddled. They thought, “If even this man could not get into heaven, who could?” Jesus answers them by telling them that in their own strength it is impossible but with God all things are possible. Then Peter asks the question that was probably on everyone’s minds: “ … See, we have left all and followed You, therefore what shall we have?”

Essentially,he is asking Jesus, “What’s in it for us?” I don’t believe that Peter was being selfish. I believe that he truly wanted clarification. They had, in fact, given all and forsaken everything to follow Jesus. Now he is hearing that that isn’t enough! This is followed up by what Jesus says in Matthew 20:28. Jesus came to give His life a ransom for many. The “many” there declares we are to serve others, not ourselves. This includes your fellow man, family, congregation, deacons, leadership, Senior Pastor, and even your staff.

Finally, as we jump over to the Gospel of John, we find the final area of servant leadership. Here we find the answer to the question we initially asked at the beginning of this article—namely, what our motivation should be. In John 13, we have the story of the upper room discourse and Jesus’ exemplary example of servant leadership.

The apostle John gives us some insight as to Jesus’ motivation for what is about to happen. He tells us that “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (v. 2). At the last supper, the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knew that the time for His betrayal was imminent. Yet He still ministered to and intimately taught those whom He dearly loved. The disciples had been arguing amongst themselves, still trying to gain position on each other. Jesus, knowing His time is short, takes this one last attempt to teach them regarding greatness in the kingdom of God.

With only sandals on their feet, the disciples had walked through hot, dusty Jerusalem. Their feet were most likely sweaty and dirty from the day’s activities. Typically a servant would wash the feet of the occupants of the house. This night there was no servant. Dinner was served in the normal fashion, reclining around a low table. This arrangement would allow the head of one diner to be near to the chest of another. This pattern would repeat itself around the table. This arrangement meant that the diners’ feet would be positioned not far from the same level as their heads and consequently their noses.

The disciples had been arguing for some time about who would be the greatest among them. With the question still unanswered in their minds, they most certainly would not have taken any measures to serve each other. That would have been tantamount to positional suicide. No weakness could be shown, no chinks in their armor could be exposed. So they lay there, stinky, smelly, prideful feet and all. Jesus, in an incredible act of love and humility, takes off His outer garment, takes a towel, wraps it around His waist, pours water into a bowl and begins to wash His disciples’ feet. Earlier we saw how deeply Jesus called us to serve—even each other, those we know best and intimately, flaws and all. Here He serves those He knows best, His arguing, prideful, stinky, and slow to learn disciples. The Master, who rightfully could demand service from them, instead Himself becomes their servant, voluntarily giving up His position and power in order to show them how much He loved them. Then, taking this absolutely insightful act, He instructs them to do as He has done and serve one another. Just a precious few moments later he gives them a new commandment: “… love one another; as I have loved you … By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Malphurs puts it succinctly: “We’ll serve others humbly only to the degree that we love them. And the dirt on their feet will test our love for them. If we don’t love them, we’ll take up the leadership towel only to toss that towel in quickly when it gets a little dirty. If we love our followers deeply, we’ll not only take up the leadership towel but also wrap ourselves in it. We won’t mind a little dirt.”

[Scripture references are taken from the NKJV.]