The idea of “servanthood” is showing up just about everywhere these days—even in places you might least expect it. Many business and management consultants for instance, are beginning to see the importance of a life of selfless service as the key to prosperity and progress.
Servanthood is a much ballyhooed concept in the burgeoning literature of business success and personal management. We are told for instance, that our dominant industrial economy has been almost completely transformed into a service economy by the advent of the information age. The service factor is the new by-word for success in the crowded global marketplace. Good service guarantees customer loyalty, management efficiency, and employee morale. It provides a competitive edge for companies in an increasingly cut-throat business environment. It is the means toward empowerment, flexibility, and innovation at a time when those qualities are essential for business survival. It prepares ordinary men and women to out-sell, out-manage, out-motivate, and out-negotiate their competition. It enables them to "swim with the sharks without being eaten alive."
According to Jack Eckerd and Chuck Colson, service on the job and in the workplace can mean many things, “Valuing workers. Managing from the trenches. Communicating. Inspiring excellence. Training. Using profits to motivate.”
Virtually all the corporate prognosticators, strategic forecasters, motivational pundits, and management consultants these days seem to agree--from Tom Peters, John Naisbitt, and Stephen Covey to Richard Foster, Michael Gerber, and Zig Ziglar. They all say that servanthood is an indispensable key to success in business or success in life.
These analysts have begun to grasp the fact that selfless service is essentially a complex combination of common courtesy, customer satisfaction, and the spirit of enterprise. It is simply realizing that the customer is always right and then going the extra mile. It is a principle-centered approach to human relationships and community responsibilities. It is putting first things first. It is the recovery of that positively medieval concept of Chivalry.
This resurgent emphasis on servanthood is not just confined to the corporate world however. It has also reappeared as a stock-in-trade public virtue in the discourse of politics. Candidates now offer themselves for “public service” rather than to merely “run for office.” They invoke patriotic images of community service, military service, and civic service as evidence of their suitability to govern the affairs of state. Once in office they initiate various programs for national service. They charge the government bureaucracy with the task of domestic service. And they offer special recognition for citizens who have performed exemplary volunteer service.
Servanthood is the leading edge of a new approach to sports as well—with the recovery of the concept of “team” over individual achievement. Likewise, it is the latest trend in academic counseling—where campus “spirit” is emphasized over and against the old dog-eat-dog world of scholastic competition. Indeed, the notion of selfless service is making its way into a myriad of cultural applications—and none too soon in light of the culture of selfishness our consumerism and materialism have helped to create over the past three or four decades.
This sort of servanthood is defined rather broadly in a series of happy public and private virtues—as an expansive sense of civic-spiritedness, good neighborliness, community-mindedness, big-hearted cooperativeness, open-minded receptiveness, and unbridled patriotism.
Of course the genuine spirit of service inherent in servanthood can’t simply be a tactic designed to boost profit margins, to protect market shares, to keep customers happy, or to improve employee relations. It can’t just be a strategy designed to inculcate patriotism, strengthen community relations, or attract more investments. It can’t merely be a technique to pad resumes, garner votes, or patronize constituents. It cannot be a matter of recasting a style of leadership, a personality bent, or a habit of highly effective people.
Instead, true servanthood is a function of gracious mercy. It is a genuine desire to seek the best for others, to put their interests before our own, and to exercise authentic love. Thus, the difference between the ministry of service and the business of service is like the difference between faith in God and faith in faith.
And that makes all the difference.