And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

1 Peter 5:5b (NRSV)

 

Rublev’s Trinity iconWhy is humility central to the Christian vision of leadership? In today’s text, Peter finishes his instructions to early followers of Jesus who were in leadership roles. His teaching is crystal clear: everyone – inexperienced and veteran leaders alike – must embrace humility as the essential quality that defines his or her leadership. But, why is this so?

The last part of our text for today proposes one answer. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humility aligns us with God’s purpose in the world. The biblical revelation suggests that God has a preference for humility over hubris in leadership. Modern studies in leadership would seem to agree. Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, found that top companies had leaders that exhibited the “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” So humility is a useful trait for leadership, but is that all there is to it?

I would suggest that a deeper explanation for the centrality of humility in leadership lies in the nature of God. Christians have understood that God exists in relationship – that he is Trinity. And, central to that understanding is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in mutuality with one another – that there is a mutual love, deference and humility towards the other. So, humility is ultimately about mutuality, which is at the heart of the character and nature of God.

I find this insight helpful since it distinguishes genuine Christian humility from mere humiliation. Humility may require suffering and sacrifice, but it is never merely one sided. Or, to say it slightly differently, the purpose of humility is to enact mutual flourishing, the common good, and “the way things were meant to be”. Humility doesn’t value sacrifice and suffering for its own sake. Nor does it merely focus on the beneficiary of those actions. Humility sees the larger good of the whole. Humility acts for the sake of restoring and enhancing the mutual relationship.

Let me give you an illustration of how that might play out in practice. Renegotiating a strategic business relationship when business circumstances change is always difficult. Usually there are forces at work – technological changes, new competitive alternatives – that shift the basis on which the business relationship was originally constructed. In my experience, it is easy to react either with excessive pride (“they need us so we should take advantage of the situation”) or false humility that borders on desperation (“we’ll do anything to keep the relationship in tact”). It is much more difficult to do the hard work of learning and discerning what is possible under the new circumstance and how to create a renewed, healthy equilibrium in the relationship. Sacrifices may have to be made, but not just for their own sake and not merely to benefit one party. Maintaining the larger perspective of what would enhance the mutual business relationship creates the most helpful context for moving forward. In a fallen world, there is no guarantee that the relationship can be restored to what it was before. Nevertheless, the chances of a long-term relationship are increased by focusing on the mutuality of the relationship in a spirit of genuine humility that seeks the good of the other as well as our own good.

There’s much more that can be said on the subject of humility in leadership.   An excellent book that I would recommend is Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love and Leadership by John Dickson (Zondervan, 2009).   Another resource is a recent collection of reflections on humility by Fuller Seminary: https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/humility/

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Why do you think humility is so important to the Apostle Peter?

In what ways are humility and humiliation different?

How does humility contribute to human flourishing? What are some examples of that in your experience?

PRAYER:

Lord Jesus Christ, we are thankful that you, for the sake of the joy set before you endured the cross, disregarding its shame. (Hebrews 12:2) We are grateful for the suffering and sacrifice you embraced that made possible our restored relationship with you, with one another and with the world you have created. It is unimaginable to us that you would humble yourself and become obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

Help us to adopt your vision of leadership as lead servants. Help us to live with the radical humility you embodied.

For your glory and for the sake of those whom you’ve entrusted into our care. Amen.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: 1 Peter 5.

 

Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(Andrei_Rublev)#/media/File:Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410.jpg

 

This devotional has been updated from when it was first published on July 16, 2016.
Tagged with:
 

2 Responses to A New Way of Leadership: Instructions to Lead Servants, Part 5

  1. Catharine says:

    Uli, thank you so much for these reflections. Our staff just finished three days of meetings together. Each morning we spent an hour and a half or more in a time of worship and reflection. I took them through your series “You Are Not to Be Like That” and “A New Way of Leadership,” covering a couple each day and going deeper on those teachings I thought were especially relevant to our situation. These times were without a doubt the most powerful we’ve experienced in the 14 years of our existence. People were open, vulnerable, and there was wonderful and deep sharing. The word “transformative” was used as staff tried to describe how these days had impacted them. Thank you.

  2. Scott says:

    Uli,

    Thank you for your wonderfully insightful series on “lead servants”. I must apologize that I typically follow the Life for Leaders devotional Monday thru Friday so I miss your presence on Saturday’s. I am coming late to the series i.e. the last one, as I just saw it for the first time on Saturday. The incusion of “Instructions to Lead Servants” caught my attention so I have gone back to the first one in May to catch up. I have deeply appreciated your reference to Peter’s leadership and especially it reference to restoration after failing. That describes my leadership.

    This past March I began pursing a masters degree with an emphasis in servant-leadership from a well known Jesuit institution. Last week I finished my first servant-leadership course where I was introduced to Robert Greanleaf’s definition and Best Test of a servant-leader that works well with your emphasis on being first a servant and second a leader.

    Greanleaf states, “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken of the servant-first to make sure the other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test for servant-leadership, and the most difficult to administer is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or, at least, not be further deprived?”

    Again thank you for your wonderful series!! I have gained a much needed new perspective of what it means to be a “lead servant”