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Learning Leadership Through Service

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Learning Leadership Through Service

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As a participant in the December 2007 Challenger II Rock Climbing Program on Mt. Lemmon in Arizona, I came away from the weeklong experience with more than thicker calluses on my fingertips and many newly formed friendships. The environment of Challenger II also instilled a renewed desire for practicing leadership through service as an ongoing, lifelong commitment. Based on the notion that leadership is not office; leadership is influence, this camp program is designed intentionally for young adult leadership development. It stressed the importance of living a life of conviction, commitment and courage in order to continue to develop godly character. In a world that challenges our beliefs and values on a daily basis, the lessons I learned from participating in Challenger II and the related service component have helped me continue to stay strong in God's way of life and overcome, knowing that we seek out a greater reward directed at a higher purpose (1 John 5:4; Matthew 5:12; 6:20; Luke 6:23; Romans 8:28). The following reflections illustrate how service can be defined as leadership in action directed toward a godly purpose that helps us build character and influence others, while allowing God's grace and the fruits of His Spirit to serve as a greater testimony to the work He is accomplishing now on earth in each of our lives. Finding and Filling Needs One of the initial building blocks of servant leadership is realizing that anyone can—and should—serve. There are no prerequisites to participation besides your willingness and personal commitment. We often make many excuses for not stepping up to serve or lead even when opportunities are all around us. There are many ways you can serve, from simply brightening someone's day through offering encouraging words to organizing an ongoing program to help meet reoccurring needs in your local congregation or community. Taking an active role as a member of God's greater family requires awareness of these needs combined with enthusiastic and dedicated participation in order to meet them. In this way, servant leadership is both an attitude and an action. The choices we make to participate and invest our time, energy and effort into something larger than ourselves can lead to greater acts of service that have far-reaching effects. The impact of your service goes beyond the action itself, influencing the lives of those you serve and others who see your example of good works (Matthew 5:15; Ephesians 2:10). Begin by recognizing the innate strengths and talents you have been blessed with as a unique individual, intentionally designed by your Father to do great works (Matthew 25:14-30; Romans 12:6). Then apply these talents to become a person of influence in the lives of others. Allow God's glory to be revealed through your actions as a servant leader. Servant leadership is not just a weekend project, a one-time visit to a sick friend or simply mailing a card of encouragement to someone who is experiencing a hard trial. Rather, service is a lifestyle—the ongoing dedication of investing your time and ability into helping others in need. The How and Why of Service Additionally, godly service doesn't always have to involve doing something. It can simply involve being there as an encouraging and comforting presence. The attitude we bring to the active component of service can be more important than the product of our service. In this way, service is not just focused on where you serve or who you serve, but extends into how and why you serve. While it is hard to stop doing, and simply be present with others, sometimes our attention and consideration are what the other person truly wants and needs. Serve with an open heart and willing attitude. True service occurs when we submit to God, showing His love to others through our attitude and actions (Galatians 5:13). Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of a servant leader who submitted His life to God's greater purpose in order to demonstrate a greater love for humanity. Knowing that His death was eminent, Christ still modeled servant leadership through humility by washing the disciples' feet during His last Passover with them (John 13:3-5, 13-17). Even when tempted by Satan, Christ humbled Himself and overcame the world by sacrificing His very life for the sake of our eternal salvation (Matthew 4:1-11; John 16:33). The love and example Christ showed through His ministry on earth and ongoing love for us as sisters and brothers is the greatest example of service (Matthew 20:28). Responsibility Leadership through service also requires responsibility that extends beyond our personal desires and considers the broader implications and needs of those you are serving and leading. This process involves understanding the situation from multiple perspectives and counting the costs involved in order to act guided by godly wisdom and appropriate counsel (Proverbs 11:14; 15:28; Luke 14:28). Because of this added responsibility of leadership, serving in this capacity may require making difficult decisions that inevitably disappoint some of those who are following and participating. Therefore, leadership is not always doing what is popular, but rather it is doing what is wise and necessary given the circumstances. These biblical lessons of servant leadership illustrate the pressing necessity for us to submit our lives in service to others, while being led by God's greater purpose for humanity (Proverbs 3:5-6). The many opportunities to become involved in service now are valuable training tools to help us develop the character necessary to serve and lead in God's coming Kingdom. Don't wait to be invited to serve or make excuses to prevent your participation now. Start small and locally by forming deeper and more authentic relationships with others that will allow you to better recognize their needs. Encourage and motivate others using your unique talents and gifts. Pray often and be proactive in your service mentality. Ask for opportunities to get involved and be mentored by others. Remain teachable and humble, seeking to learn from all experiences in order to grow. Accept feedback and respond graciously to correction. Don't be discouraged, but rather remain steadfast in your ongoing desire to serve. While the life of a servant leader is oftentimes thankless and occurs behind the scenes, know that God is always watching and taking note of our attitude and actions, helping guide us along the path to eternal righteousness. And as we continue to persevere and overcome in this life as we practice servant leadership, God has promised a much greater reward in His coming Kingdom (Romans 8:18-25). UN Leslie Schwartz is a member of the Los Angeles, California, congregation. She recently graduated with a master's degree in education from UCLA and works in college and university student leadership development. She has participated in the United Youth Camps program both as a camper and now as a staff member for the past 14 years.