I think we would all agree that serving others is a good thing. In fact, it is a great thing.
Many companies will pride themselves on their excellent customer service. Entire philosophies of leadership have centered around the idea of the leader who serves those around her. There are countless ways one can offer service to both community and country.
But not all service is created equal. What I mean is, the effect of one’s service is often influenced by the motive of one’s service. For example, deciding to adopt a highway and keeping that part of the road clean originates from a different place than being put on a highway clean up crew and wearing the orange vest because I committed a crime.
Both scenarios end with a clean highway, but the motive of one’s service is different. And very often, the attitude and perspective of the one serving is different as well.
As a leader, you have an opportunity to serve those around you and encourage them to serve others. The question I have for this post is: What’s your motive?
Consider these three scenarios…
1. Serve others because you have to.
With this motive, service is often used as a way to pay for the crimes one has committed. People are assigned community service as a way to give back when they have taken something or broken some law. Service is forced upon the person. Service becomes the consequence of poor decision.
One can also see service as the only option to avoid negative consequences. One has to serve because another person with authority demands it. This person no longer has a choice in the matter. Either serve or experience the punishment that comes with disobeying the command to serve.
2. Serve others because you need to.
With this motive, service is a means to an end. This person will serve because he or she will get something in return. You notice this type of service every time someone serves you because the job requires it. This person continues to serve because he or she wants to continue to get a paycheck.
A more subtle form of this motive is the people who serves because it will make them look good or bolster their self-esteem. They wear their service as a badge of honor. Service will look good on their resume’. This person also enjoys the accolades and praise he or she receives as a result of serving others.
3. Serve others because you want to.
With this motive, one serves out of freedom instead of obligation. One’s act of service flows out of a desire to serve another person. This person serves because he or she has chosen to serve.
You can tell when a person serves from this motive because he or she expects nothing in return. The act of service becomes a gift this person is giving to another.
As I consider each of these three motives, I am drawn to the third one. I recognize there are moments when I am motivated to serve because I have to and need to. But I have found the situations when I served others, simply out of a heartfelt desire to serve, tend to be the most meaningful, both to me and the other person.
I believe this is exactly what the biblical principle of going “the extra mile” is all about (see Matthew 5:41). In those days, Roman law dictated that a person was required to carry the pack of a Roman Centurion for one mile. The principle of the extra mile was offered to a group of people who were continually oppressed and disenfranchised under Roman rule. They had to carry the pack for a mile (because it was the law) and they needed to do it (or risk death in their disobedience).
When a person came to the end of one mile, he or she was under no further obligation. At this point, the Roman Centurion would release the person from having to carry the pack (because that was what the law required). It is at this moment where the idea of true service became more powerful than the law.
If a person chose to carry the pack of the Centurion for an extra mile, this person did so out of the third motive.
It was unexpected. It was counter-cultural. It changed the entire dynamic of the situation.
While the current culture of our day looks a lot different than it did 2000 years ago, we will all face circumstances where we feel like we must serve out of obligation or need. My challenge is for us to figure out how to engage in those opportunities where we can serve others because we choose to believe that’s the best way to lead and live with each other in this world.
Who or where can you serve today because you want to, not because you have to or need to?