Last night at my church, there was a celebration in recognition for the 33 years of service my in-laws contributed to youth ministry at my church. Thirty-three years with teenagers. Can you imagine? My in-laws saw all of their grandchildren pass throuth youth ministry while they were still there, and they retired at the end of last year.
Part of the festivities was hearing from men and women who were once under their teaching and guidance in the group, two pastors, a young mother attending our church, and my husband. In each case, these people pointed out one thing about my in-laws that I know to be true: they are humble servants.
In 1979, when my in-laws joined the youth ministry, they were called "leaders" but they did not sit down one night and say to themselves, "Hey, we need leaders. Let's be leaders." What they did was see a need and humbly agree to answer to call to fill it.
I have thought about the word "leader" a lot over the weekend, being directed to it by to a few things I read last week, this special event, and my studies in Nehemiah. When Nehemiah saw the need in Jerusalem, he was undone (Nehemiah 1:4). He sat down and wept and mourned for days when he heard about the problem in Jerusalem. He continued to fast and pray for months before going to the King and asking for leave to go to Jerusalem, before assuming leadership. His attitude was one of humility, and he proves his worth throughout the account of the rebuilding of the walls.
When I think about good leaders, I am often struck by how quickly they are to resist the notion that they are leaders. My in-laws are not attention-seekers. They don't look for fame or repute. They simply serve the God they love. I have a husband like that as well. He is a very good leader, but it's not something he seeks, and it's not something he wears like a badge. He doesn't go around telling others he's a leader; he just does it. That is the way my in-laws work, too. They simply go about their business with humility and devotion.
Can a leader appoint himself? Yes. I, personally, am cautious about people who do that. In my brief 48 years on earth, it's been my observation that the best leaders aren't the ones who go around bragging about their position. Frankly, some of the worst leaders are the ones who are too aware of the fact. The best leaders aren't necessarily the ones with the loudest voices, the biggest audiences, or the most profound words. The best leaders are the ones who are servants, and who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, to be inconvenienced, or to simply be unnoticed. Good leaders don't seek the limelight.
Yes, leaders can be self-appointed, but give me the cautious leader any day. I am thankful that I've been blessed to know true servant leaders. They spur me on to work quietly and diligently.