Servant leadership is about serving

There’s a nice discussion about servant leadership on the Jesus Creed blog. It’s about Brian Harris’ book The Tortoise Usually Wins: Biblical Reflections on Quiet Leadership for Reluctant Leaders, which I would like to read, but haven’t yet.

The discussion on the blog focuses on two types of leaders: the Imposer and the Nurturer.

The Imposer is a person of charisma and one who, in many ways, becomes his or her cause.

The second of these much generalized categories of leaders is the Nurturer or the servant leader. The Nurturer “mediates and midwives the ways of God to others.”

I would argue that the leader in the family model of ministry should prefer the nurturing style. I’ve heard people refer to the Apostle Paul as a CEO kind of leader, but he seems to value his nurturing abilities all the more.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8

Leadership is about parenting people to maturity. Parenting is nurturing. I’ve know imposing parents in my time in ministry, but I can tell you that their children often struggle because of the lack of nurturing.

I haven’t read Brian Harris’ book, but it’s on my wish list. I just need to find a copy now.

Shifting parenting styles

At each stage of a child’s life they require a different response from their parents. Consider shifting your parent style as your child develops. Realize that each age range is generalized. You child may shift sooner or later.

Birth to age 2: Loving caregiver

Moms and dads are caregivers. In this stage, a child cries, and parents should respond. If a child is hungry, the parents feed them. If a child is wet, the parents change them.

To this age God is a warm loving person; but of course they don’t know that yet because they cannot understand anything more than their immediate world. Demonstrate that by being warm and loving.

Age 3 to Age 5: Affectional Nurturer

Parents should encourage growth. Potty training is growth. Learning letters is growth. Learning to behave in certain environments according to social structure is growth. Parents help them to do this.

They may have the verbiage for God, but He is still too abstract for them to understand. He’s still nothing more than a sentiment that older people talk about. These children may talk about him too, but they struggle to grasp any thought of God beyond how they would think of a bigger-than-life relative or a TV character.

Age 6 to 9: Authoritative storyteller

At this stage the child is beginning to discover a new world of people. They need an authority to guide them into this world. They need stories to model for them how people should experience the world. They don’t need fact. They need a narrative, a story to flesh out their understanding of God. Parents help to prepare that narrative through reading the Bible with their children and demonstrating godly living.

God is becoming more real, but only as he is experienced in stories. Children in this stage cannot think about them in abstract term yet. He is a character in their story.

Age 10 to 12: Instructive coach

Children are becoming the author of their own lives. Parents need to let that happen, but still have an important role in guiding the experience. Wise parents will be instructive but not overbearing. At this stage parents have to allow some mistakes. Children learn from their mistakes.

God is becoming spiritual. Up to this point the child’s concept of God isn’t much different than their conept of grandpa. God is just another person. Now they are learning that he is different in a way that makes him bigger than all other people. Children won’t yet understand the depths of God, but they will know him as something different from the human experience. Parents can encourage this by challenging their children to ask questions about God and their own spirituality.

Age 13 to 17: Inspirational mentor

When children reach high school parents can no long make them do things. They can only encourage their children to move forward. A child at this age is looking for independence. Force will drive them away from their parents, and away from the ideal that parents are hoping their children will achieve. This doesn’t mean parents are impotent in their child’s development. They need to discover a secondary role of mentor or coach and can still encourage great growth.

An adolescent’s view of God can be as mature as an adult’s view, although it may still be quite concrete. Parents should be patient as they help their child stretch towards a more abstract and universal sense of God. It is at this point that a teen should be guided towards a self-directed spirituality. If they exit this age with an external spirituality, they likely won’t stick with any spiritual pursuit. Yet, this is the age when children can take personal and full ownership of their faith.

Adult children: Patient Friend

A child never stops being his or her parent’s child, but once they get to adulthood, they really have all the same tools to know and interact with God and the spiritual life as mom and dad. This can be frustrating for parents, since the parents still have more life experience. It’s especially frustrating when the adult kids have walked away from God. Here, parents need to patiently love their kids. Debating God won’t win them over. Even when children are walking with the Lord, they will make life choices that won’t make full sense to their parents: they’ll raise their kids differently; they’ll choose different churches; and they’ll move far away taking the grandchildren with them.

Patients is key because frustration isn’t helpful. That doesn’t mean that parents will always see their way eventually. It means that parents must know that God is still working. Parents must be patient with God in this stage.

Parent are friends in the sense that they are no longer authoritative. Demanding parent’s rights in this stage will only strain the relationship between parents and child. By now, parents should hope that God is the authority for the child anyhow.

The Difficult Child response flow chart

Raising children is difficult work. When children test parents, demonstrate disrespect, or act in a way that challenges their expectation, parents struggle to know how to respond and when. Not every child is difficult, but every parent is sure to witness difficult behavior. This chart demonstrates some wise steps for parents to process and know how to respond best to difficult behavior. This chart is modified from the Difficult Child by Stanley Truck, 2000.

Need help applying this chart to your family situation? Etchea Coaching can guide you to understanding how it works in your situation. Contact us today.