I recently read a statement that caught my attention. “If you are too big to serve, you are too small to lead.” Bookstores and libraries are filled with volumes about leadership. The books on servanthood don’t tend to make the New York Times best sellers list. Have you heard of Robert K. Greenleaf? He’s the leadership guru who coined the term “servant leadership.” Those two words, for some, don’t go together and can in fact be viewed as a contradiction of terms. Some interpret servants to be “low man on the totem pole.” They view leaders, on the other hand, as people like Frank Sinatra sang about when he used the terms “king of the hill,” “top of the heap,” and “a number one.”
Jesus viewed it differently by stating that the way up is down and the first shall be last and the last shall be first. This servant leader from Galilee illustrated this principle by taking a towel in hand and a pan of water to wash his disciples’ feet. What a rebuke this was for men who had been arguing about who the greatest was in his kingdom and jockeying for the position of sitting at his right hand when Christ established his kingdom.
My purpose for writing this weekly message isn’t to stir up debate rather to stimulate thinking; and lately I’ve been thinking. I’m troubled by how important titles have become to clergy. It seems like everyone is becoming a Bishop or Apostle or Prophet or… People get “doctorate degrees” that have absolutely no credible accreditation, simply so they can place the title “Dr.” before their name. Be assured I understand the value and importance of titles to recognize and respect those who serve in a role that qualifies for appropriate attention. Do you know one title I don’t ever hear when someone is introducing themselves or is being introduced by another? Servant. No one ever calls me Servant Ford. That doesn’t quite have the same ring as The Right Reverend Arch Bishop, Dr. Mark Ford.
Often when people discover that I’m a man of the cloth, they ask what I prefer to be called. My answer is, “Mark will do.” I get why I’m asked that question since the one asking desires to honor me with the proper title, but I really don’t have a title with what I do. Yes, I serve as the Executive Director of The Love Akron Network but asking to be referred to as Executive Director Ford seems a little awkward.
Recently I was visiting with my sister-in-law, who is the Executive Director of a business that would be comparable to our Civic Theater here in Akron. In her city it’s called The Palace, and celebrities routinely perform in this venue. She shared with me the arrogance that accompanies the inflated ego of many of the entertainer(s). She shared that one performer, who if I mentioned her name would be readily recognized, refused to perform until the front curtain on the stage was the way she wanted it to look. So, they had to delay the show from starting until all of the production team climbed to the ceiling to take down the tapestry tied to the stage curtain. She also mentioned a larger than life “star” that treated everyone so disrespectfully, she was nervous about what he would do next. Sometimes I’m amazed how little, big people can be.
What’s my point? My point is, if you’ve become too big to serve others, you need to “Get over yourself!” It’s obvious you’re too little to lead. The title you carry means nothing if it isn’t used for the benefit of others. Rather than smugly asking, “Do you know who I am?” how about instead asking, “Who are you and how can I serve you today?” Jesus, our perfect example, humbled himself consistently, stepped out of social “norms,” and didn’t seek accolades or human praise. What does that say to me and to you when our Savior, the Son of God, chose to be born in a stable, become an apprentice carpenter, hang around with fishermen, and ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? It says, the external things are just that, things. People are most important, and we need to determine how to live each day making others a priority and sharing the hope we have in Jesus.
Now I’ll conclude with a funny story. The story is told about the former famed coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi. The story goes that one night after he worked very late, he arrived home, and his wife had already retired for the night. It was bitter cold out that night, and Coach Lombardi’s feet were cold. So, when he climbed into bed his cold feet touched his dear wife, and she awoke suddenly and shrieked, “Dear God!” To which Coach Lombardi retorted, “We’re alone honey; you can call me Vince.”
Whether in public or private you can call me Mark or Servant Ford.