Creating “Incarnate” Communities of Servant Leaders
By Paul Abbot
Seeking Sustainable Models for Servant Leadership and Community
Integrating Servant Leader Principles with Community Development.
For over twelve years I have been involved with and led teams that seek to integrate principles of servant leadership with community development and emergency relief. The integration of these principles focused on relationships that promoted people oriented community development in countries that are among the poorest of the world. Working in these countries first became a goal when we learned that many of their people groups were among the poorest of the world, lacked servant leadership and communities of believers.
I The Perception: Traitors of Community, Culture and Religion.
Betraying one’s culture: A crippling perspective.
In each of the countries where we lived and worked with the poor, good things did happen in spite of our mistakes to work as servant leaders among them. In several North – West African nations there are now small fellowships of believers who work as servant leaders in community development. While nationals are highly motivated and eager to serve their country, they share one common reaction from their own people. Their people, observing their fellow countrymen believing in Jesus as Lord and working as servant leaders have one common remark:
“Their motivation for living like this is money, & they have left our culture and way of doing things only for a job (money).”
Given the working associations that these people have with us ‘foreigners,’ isn’t it is understandable that their local communities would think that they and their families are being “bought off” by the foreigners, offering jobs, money, and who knows what else? This is why most of these Muslims respond to people like these nationals and foreigners (like myself) with statements like:
… “The day you work and live like us, dependant on our land rather than on foreigners (and foreign funds), come and teach me how to live as a servant leader … ”
II A Critical Need of a Group Oriented Peoples – Young Servant Leaders.
The need for “community.”
I believe God created us to belong to a community of people. We were made to have meaningful relationships, to connect with others, to bond deeply with friends and family. Of course, most of the world has been influenced to avoid intimacy in most of their relationships, and this is another issue itself. However, I think most of us agree that we were created to belong to and interact in practical, loving ways with a community of believers. In most of the developing nations of the world, people are “group thinkers,” as opposed to “individual thinkers.” Their ability to “belong” to their community is dependent on their choices to stay within the accepted traditions and customs of their culture and community. This need to think as a group, rather than as an individual is a key reason why the idea of believing the gospel and servant leadership is so easily resisted by many in these cultures.
Consequently, for someone in a group thinking culture to break from their community, it is most effective if the community of believers that is being formed is sustainable and incarnate (applicable to them).
From my experience, staff members from our teams became believers when they felt they could belong to the “community” that our team had become for them. They were valued as individuals, their personal sense of unique purpose in life was promoted, and changes that helped them grow in competence and Godly attitudes were actively encouraged. If this community can be extended beyond the foreign organization to national servant leaders as a separate, sustainable community, then they will be seen as ‘incarnate’ and appropriate to their culture.
III A void in (many) present-day organizations promoting servant leadership.
What do I feel is a deficiency of teams I was a part of? What do I see lacking in many other organizations promoting servant leadership today? I believe it is…
… the perceived lack of a sustainable, incarnate, indigenous community (by the nationals).
Organizations and individuals promoting servant leadership today bring most if not all their operational funds from outside the country they are living in. Because they are accountable to donors from developed countries, their systems and structures reflect the complexity of a developed country, not the realities of the developing country they are working in. To make matters more complicated, the people they are working with have little to no level of ownership of the plans made by the organization. In most cases, the host country nationals have neither initiated nor authored plans that concern the foreign organizations or individual. See attached paper, Lessons Learned in Africa.
Because organizations promoting servant leadership today are not living as the people they work with, they are not perceived as incarnate, sustainable models of a community that promote servant leadership.
Over the years, African and Asian friends have often responded to me by saying something like…
“…. If you were really living in my shoes, I could possibly consider believing in Jesus and live a life of servant leadership and personal change like yourself. However, you are a foreigner. You could leave and go home any time you like. You are even paid (supported) to be here. I would like to believe that your motivation is honest, but how can I be sure? Yes, some of my colleagues are acting like their becoming servant leaders like you, but what is their motivation?”
“Look, the day that you and the others live your lives as a we do, in this community, I would love to be a part of it. But until then, I not sure I would be doing more than putting the lives of my family and community in danger for the sake of a group of people who are here today, and gone tomorrow.””
IV To Provide “Incarnate” Communities of Servant Leadership.
What is one way that we can provide poor communities of various cultures with an incarnate, sustainable community with which to identify, bond and connect to, learn to serve each other and their community as servant leaders?
I believe that one way is to live as anyone else does in such a community.
In other words, this would mean to make a living like anyone else in that country. One of many ways could be by making a living from a business that integrates principles of the Bible and servant leadership. Another way may be to work for another business in that country and serving those around me as a servant leader. Another way may be to buy land and develop a farm. While I am working with what we are calling “servant leader businesses,” my prayer is that God will use other means to take us closer to the vision of providing the poor with sustainable communities of laborers and servant leaders. My hope is that this kind of community will be something that many people can base their lives on. For most people in developing nations, this kind of faith in others as a viable, self-sustaining community of believers is crucial for them to make a decision apart from the group and community they grew up with.
Vision and Goal:
Is a vision of servant leaders, modeling & sharing effective principles of God’s Kingdom while living and working as incarnate examples in developing countries (five to thirty year goal).
My personal goal envisions many communities of un-reached peoples living out their unique purposes and potential in God, through a process of positive changes that they initiate and own.
This process of development will enable communities to work with each other and God to bring about permanent positive change to their physical, economic, social and spiritual relationships.