“Servant Leadership” – A Christian Concept? Not Exactly

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by Warren B. Smith  
LTRP Note: Today, there is much talk about teaching people to become good leaders. In reality, what is happening is people are being taught to be “good” followers. The term (and the concept) Servant Leadership, used by many of the most prolific Christian authors and teachers today, did not originate with them.

Servant Leadership

To further encourage people to accept the teachings of the New Age/New Gospel/New Spirituality, Neale Donald Walsch founded a new organization in 2003 called Humanity’s Team. The expressed purpose of Humanity’s Team was “to change the world” . . . The Humanity’s Team Leadership gathering was a concerted effort by Walsch, Hubbard and their other New Age colleagues to further develop the new paradigm concept of self-declared “servant leadership” as an organizing principle by which to change the world. In the Preface to the “Humanity’s Team Leadership Declaration Agreement,” Walsch tells his self-declared New Age “servant leaders” that:

By declaring yourself a leader, you’re taking initiative and moving into a role of influence in a lively and vital network that’s changing the world. We’re changing the world, first by changing ourselves and then by touching the world as changed beings. We believe the change in us catalyzes change in others. So in changing the world, we’re choosing to be the change we wish to see in the world. By taking on this leadership role, you are choosing to be the change too.1

In another section of this same Agreement, entitled “responsibilities of self-declared leaders,” it states: “To serve, because that is leadership’s function.” On his Humanity’s Team website Walsch has a “worldwide servant leaders list.”2 He invites those visiting his website to declare themselves to be “servant leaders.”

The term “servant leadership” originated with former AT&T business executive Robert K. Greenleaf who wrote the 1977 book Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.3 Greenleaf stated that he was inspired to create the “servant leadership” model after reading German-born author Hermann Hesse’s mysterious, metaphysical book Journey to the East:

The idea of the Servant as Leader came out of reading Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this story we see a band of men on a mythical journey, probably also Hesse’s own journey.4

Hesse was described by his publisher as “a Western man profoundly affected by the mysticism of Eastern thought.”5 The publisher explained that Journey to the East was the story of a group of seekers from a “secret society” whose ultimate destination was “the East”–the “Home of the Light”–where they expected to find “spiritual renewal.”6 Greenfleaf’s inspiration for “servant leadership” came from Hesse’s “Leo,” the obscure “servant leader” of this secret society that was journeying toward the East. Greenleaf wrote that he received his insight about “servant leadership” as he “contemplated” Leo: “I did not get the notion of servant as leader from conscious logic. Rather it came to me as an intuitive insight as I contemplated Leo.”7

Greenleaf described how his “servant leadership” model was based on the idea of a “servant leader” that was a “living” leader, as Leo was to his group, rather than some “dead prophet” from the past.

Some who have difficulty with this theory assert that their faith rests on one or more of the prophets of old having given the “word” for all time and that the contemporary ones do not speak to their condition as the older ones do…. One cannot interact with and build strength in a dead prophet, but one can do it with a living one.8

It is no wonder that a “living” New Age “prophet” like Walsch–who is obviously trying to overturn the Bible’s “dead prophets”–would find Greenleaf’s mystically inspired model of “servant leadership” compatible to his Humanity’s Team New Age/New Gospel/New Spirituality leadership movement. Greenleaf’s term “servant leadership” might sound biblical, but it clearly is not.

Ironically, in 2003, when Neale Donald Walsch founded his worldwide Humanity’s Team on the principle of self-declared “servant leadership,” self-professing Christian businessman Ken Blanchard also founded his worldwide “Lead Like Jesus” movement on this same principle of self-declared “servant leadership.” In their curiously similar 2003 “servant leadership” programs, both Neale Donald Walsch and Ken Blanchard had their leaders sign statements declaring themselves to be servant leaders.”9 There is often overlapping language, common to both of their “servant leader” movements. Walsch’s Humanity’s Team Leadership Declaration encourages his “servant leaders” to “be the change” they wish to see “in the world.”10 In Blanchard’s 2006 book Lead Like Jesus he also tells his servant leaders they should “be the change” they wish to see “in others.”11 There is an obvious danger of these overlapping servant leader movements. One day soon the Christian “servant leader” may very well become indistinguishable from the New Age/New Spirituality “servant leader.” In fact, at the end of Hesse’s book Journey to the East, the figure of the author/seeker merges into and becomes indistinguishable and at “one” with the servant leader Leo. Thus Hesse’s book, along with Greenleaf’s notion of servant leadership, actually facilitate the plans of the New Age “Christ” who is trying to transform biblical Christianity into the emerging New Spirituality.

1. Humanity’s Team Leadership Declaration Agreement. This agreement was distributed to the attendees of the Leadership Gathering in Portland, Oregon, June 27-July 1, 2003. (http://web.archive.org/web/20061114105219/www.humanitysteam.org/images/agreement.pdf)
2. http://web.archive.org/web/20061101015756/www.humanitysteam.com/leaders.html.
3. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership web page: What is Servant-Leadership? http://web.archive.org/web/20061127102733/www.greenleaf.org/leadership/servant-leadership/What-is-Servant-Leadership.html; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership.
4. Robert K. Greenleaf, SERVANT LEADERSHIP: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), p. 7.
5. Hermann Hesse, THE JOURNEY TO THE EAST (New York: Picador, 1956), back cover.
6. Ibid.
7. Greenleaf, SERVANT LEADERSHIP, p. 12.
8. Ibid., p. 9.
9. (Walsch): Humanity’s Team Leadership Declaration Agreement. This agreement was distributed to the attendees of the Leadership Gathering in Portland, Oregon, June 27-July 1, 2003. (Blanchard): Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, THE SERVANT LEADER: TRANSFORMING YOUR HEART, HANDS, & HABITS (Nashville, Tennessee: J. Countryman, 2003), pp. 120-121.
10. Humanity’s Team Leadership Declaration Agreement, p. 1.
11. Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, Lead Like Jesus: Lessons from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Times (Nashville, Tennessee:W Publishing Group, 2005), p. 209.

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