When someone requires service, it’s fascinating to see who steps up to provide it. Quite often, it’s not who you’d expect.
Some years ago my husband and I were in charge of setting up and serving Christmas dinner for our ward (church group, congregation). We anticipated a good turnout, about 150 people, both members and neighbors, because no one turns down a free dinner.
A few people had been assigned to help us, but on the evening of the dinner they were unable to come. So my husband and I, and our capable children, scrambled to set up the buffet as best we could.
Soon, some members of our ward noticed we were shorthanded, and volunteered to help. To this day I’m still impressed by those who chose to serve, rather than be served.
The first was our bishop (pastor, rector, preacher) and his wife who were supposed to be relaxing that night, instead of helping as they always did. In addition to being our bishop, this busy gentleman was also a college math instructor and basketball coach. He and his wife cheerfully positioned themselves in the kitchen where no one would see them laboring, to hand our children platters of turkey, ham, and potatoes for the buffet, and to prepare backups.
The next couple who stepped were in their sixties, and busier than anyone I knew, so most deserving of a peaceful evening. He was the president of the liberal arts university where we worked, and his wife was behind the scenes of everything. Without a word they set to filling and putting out pitchers of water on the tables, and setting out salt and pepper shakers.
The third couple who joined us immediately rearranged the buffet tables, so that two groups could go down either side, servicing four lines most efficiently. Then again, the husband knew all about efficiency. He had recently retired as the CFO of a well-known, high-priced clothing company whose name I won’t drop here because it’d drop your jaw, and had come to our little university as a volunteer to help with finances.
In terms of importance, these three couples were probably the most important in our small community in Virginia. In terms of education, financial standing, prestige, and anything else the world ranks, no one compared.
In terms of service, no one could compare, either. Now that I think about it, none of them asked if they could help, or how. They just saw a need and filled it. I don’t know if any of them sat down to eat, but instead assisted us all evening in keeping the buffet table full.
My husband and I were both astonished by who came to our family’s aid that night. Even though it’s been many years, I’m still awed by their examples.
Did I mention that the wives and the bishop all stayed afterward to do dishes? And that the university president vacuumed up, while the retired CFO put away tables and chairs with our kids? And that none of those six left until they were sure all the work was done?
I doubt any of these three couples would remember that evening, because it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime expression of service; it was something they did every single day.
Recently we discussed this incident with our children who were too young to remember that dinner, or were not yet born, because it coincided with our scripture of the week, from Mark 10:43-44:
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
The school where these six people served with us, Southern Virginia University, has as part of its motto to turn students into Leader-Servants. None of us are working there anymore, but that mission statement has stayed with me.
Neal A. Maxwell once wrote, “The leader-servant is perfectly epitomized by Jesus,” and,
No leader can be fully effective without love, and those who try to serve without it will not be properly motivated, and may even feel resentment and a sense of slavery. (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, pg. 194; emphasis added)
It’s an election year. We’re choosing new leadership. When I read about candidates, I’m not looking for evidence of financial success, or business acumen, or charisma, or moxie, or guts.
I’m certainly not looking for someone to voice my anger, to shout or disparage or drag down or accuse.
I’m looking for someone who knows how to serve, who feels genuine love and concern, who desires to help this country, not merely be known as the leader of it.
But so far, I’ve mostly heard young Perrin’s attitude toward leadership. His response is something I was taught years ago in a business leaders course I was forced to endure, but I rephrased it for book 3 in less exalted verbiage:
“No leader is truly great who doesn’t know how to serve,” Hogal told him. “Service first, leadership later. First rule of leadership.”
“No it’s not,” Perrin retorted. “First rule of leadership is to identify the rival and eliminate it through defeat or feigned friendship.”
Hogal sighed. “A true product of the king’s educational system. Learned your lessons well, I see. . . .Trust me; to be a great leader, you need to be a great servant.”
~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea
I still have hope that a great leader-servant to show him or herself this year; for another George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson–a true statesman who’s greatest concern is to help the country, not exploit it or use it for self-promotion. The kind of leaders who won’t lock up at night until they’re sure everyone who’s serving under them are taken care of first.
It’s time to make serving an honorable tradition again.