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Will You Serve Down? By Tom Mangham

Serve Down: Learning to Lead Like Jesus

I am convinced that Jesus wants followers who intuitively understand that to “serve up” in God’s kingdom means that we actually “serve down.”

Take for example how Jesus differentiates his loyal followers from the phonies (described as sheep and goats).  He doesn’t look at who prays the longest, sings the loudest, or gives the most in church.  He simply observes who is serving the “least of these,” a behavioral pattern that reveals a lot about whether or not a person’s heart has been transformed by God (Matt. 25:40).  

In His Own Words

This kind of leadership is best exemplified by Jesus himself who “did not come to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28), and yet – forgive me for saying it so bluntly – it is so vastly different from what we find among leaders and managers today.  Even among faith-based organizations explicitly set up to serve the underprivileged, we can still find many leaders who are upwardly-oriented in terms of who they’re interested in serving.  In so doing, they are often just serving themselves. 

When We Get It Wrong

I remember having a frustrating exchange with a senior director at a large non-profit where we both worked.  I was attempting to convey the urgency of purchasing vehicles and equipment needed by our field staff to implement our humanitarian programs.  The need was obvious, the budget was available, and all the protocols had been met, but this leader still refused to process the request because he did not want to trouble the penny-pinching CFO, saying without irony, “our job is to make life easier for the organization’s executive leadership.”  

This was obviously not the organization’s mission, but like so many others, this leader was oriented toward serving up.  If an organization fills its ranks with “up servers,” rest assured that those whose lives will be made most difficult will be the “least of these.”

Serving in the Right Direction

First ask yourself, who does God really want me to serve in the role He’s entrusted to me? Look down, not up.  And if your motivation to serve those people is lacking, ask God for a transformation in your mind and heart.  After you’ve done all that, take a page out of Jesus’ playbook and use your discernment to distinguish the down-serving sheep from the up-serving and self-serving goats in your organization. So, what’s your plan to serve down, today?


Tom Mangham is a Coach/Consultant with the Center for Leading in Communit, an  organization that exist to help mission-driven leaders and their teams to grow and thrive.  

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