Servant leadership has nothing to do with what you do when people see you, it’s all about what you do when they don’t. It’s not about what you show the world, it’s about what’s inside of you. The very heart of servant leadership is your own heart.

We can clean bathrooms till our back breaks, sweep the floors, do the dishes and volunteer for every menial task in the church, but if we don’t do it out of a true servant’s heart, we’re still not serving. It’s not about what people see you do, it’s about your motivation for doing it. It’s about your heart.

Why do you serve? Why do you do the thankless jobs, the hard work? Do you do it to honestly serve God, or do you have your own reasons?

Sometimes we serve because we know that’s what’s expected. We want to show people we’re a leader, but not too good to do menial tasks. We want to show we’re not arrogant, but humble…We are willing to wash other’s feet, unlike the proud disciples. Look at us serve, aren’t we doing well?

servant leadership

But serving out of any motivation that involves yourself isn’t serving at all. If it’s about you, it’s not serving. Because serving is about the other, is about God. A true servant’s heart is 100% unselfish.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3, 4 NKJV)

What is your motivation to serve? How much of your willingness to serve is influenced by your own ambitions, by calculated attempts to gain respect from others or to solidify your position?

God asks us that we become like His Son, who had every reason to be served by men – yet He chose to serve us.

“(…) 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” (Matthew 20:27,28 NKJV)

Look at the apostle Paul, who keeps referring to himself as a slave, a bondslave, a servant on many occasions. He doesn’t do this out of some sort of false humility, he is genuinely convinced of his position. He’s first and foremost a servant of God, willing to be sent wherever by His master.

An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, the famous conductor of the New York Philharmonic, what the most difficult instrument was to play. He answered this: “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” (1)

Are you willing to play second fiddle, or even third or fourth? Are you willing to serve God and obey Him, no matter what He asks of you?

Serving may mean that we do things no one will ever notice, nor will they ever thank us. But God sees. He sees our hearts and if we serve Him out of love for Him and others, He will never forget. We may not get our praises from men and that can really hurt, but we will get our rewards when we’re in heaven and those are worth far more!

(1) This story comes from Carles Swindoll’s fantastic book Improving Your Serve. I wrote a book review about it earlier and I whole heartedly recommened this book on servant leadership!