Servant Leadership – On the Outside

Amey Victoria Adkins, Johnson Intern Program

Service is trendy. It is a good thing to serve others, and really, it’s all the rave. Celebrities link their names and faces with charities. College graduates look away from well-paid opportunities, at least for while, to serve I programs like Teach for America, or the Johnson Intern Program. Working adults make regular commitments to serve in their churches and neighborhoods. And, don’t get me wrong, this is great. But, the reality is, service is trendy. It’s the thing to do. It makes us feel good and it helps other people.

Well, as I reflect on my uber-trendy college resume-on-steroids (seriously), I recall how many service oriented activities I was involved in, and how I was really committed to none of them. That’s right – none. I was a kind of service-addict. Do a little here. Help a little there. Fix a bit here. Many of those activities I begrudgingly attended. I knew there was some sort of connection that I was supposed to be making, but it just wasn’t happening.

So, when I came to JIP, I was looking for something more. I, too, had turned down some of those well-paid possibilities, but not because I was dedicated to service. Instead I was searching for a formative experience that would re-orient my priorities in life. I knew if I didn’t take some time to do it right, that I would be swept up, yet again, into a world of façade-like service, where my personal commitments didn’t have to be held accountable by those whom I sought to serve.

And I’m forever grateful to that year in JIP. It was here that I began the long journey to learning, and I mean really learning, that our “service” does not manifest itself in moments of conspicuous charity. True service, rather, is a lifestyle, and a difficult one. It’s a personal commitment — a deep facet of what it means to call oneself a Christian. And, it is perpetual – something that we are always attempting to live into, something that we are always messing up, something that we are always trying again to get right.

Servant leadership radically changed the way that we, the interns, saw each other, as well as the world. We are held accountable to our choices – personal, relational, financial – by one another, and by our friends and neighbors in our service placements. We were called to look at this experience, or at life, not as something that we would “get” something out of, but as something to give to. We were moved to look at life as a place where we could share of ourselves and bless others. A place we could serve.

And, it is these lessons of service as a lifestyle, not as a trend, that I have carried with me as I still learn and live what it means to be a servant leader. It is the consistent, day-to-day choices that tell the story – studying less in order to help a friend in need. Buying green products, even if they’re pricier. Mowing the lawn for a neighbor.

It’s the small moments that reflect the voice of God in our lives – that are what servant leadership is about. In a momentous year spent with JIP, the memories I cherish the most are ones no else would have noticed. That cup of coffee with Justin. That walk through the park with Erika. That spontaneous dance party with Angelique. These moments were the ones in which we allowed ourselves to know and be known; to love and be loved. These were the moments where we let our guard down to serve our hearts.

These are the moments when I realized that I, too, servant-leader-in-training, was actually the one who desperately needed to allow myself to be served. And these moments are what still allow me to be my authentic self, broken and all, and offer myself to God and to others in service.

It’s much harder to remember that, now I’m on the “outside.” But what I remember on the inside is the way that JIP sought to love and serve me (and still does!) – a gracious gift that gives me the strength and empowerment to continue seeking to love and serve the world.