The Heart of a Servant Leader by C. John Miller

Yet another book on church leadership… “The title is not even that appealing” I thought. But it was refreshing and challenging. This book is actually not a book, but a collection of letters written by Jack Miller. The content was written for specific occasions which makes it even more compelling. It is not about strategies or tips to be more successful. It is about the heart which drives everything else. In this review, I am going lay out principles coming from those letters.

Our motivation to serve must be God’s glory

“The Christian leader should be the chief servant—not necessarily the successful one, but the one working to make others successful. But he also knew, from personal experience, how much easier it was to work for your own glory and build your own kingdom (no matter how small).” (p. 13)

“Jack found out how easy it is to lose that essential focus on God’s glory—and to end up depressed and burned out.” (p. 18)

“Jack never forgot how far he had drifted from his focus on God’s glory, and he never forgot how that affected his life and ministry. So, in his mentoring of leaders, he often returned to the theme of God’s glory. He knew that if they did not start in ministry with the right motivation they would eventually end up as he did—full of anger and bitterness.” (p. 19)

“Getting the glory of Christ before your eyes and keeping it there—is the greatest work of the Spirit that I can imagine.” (p. 22)

“Only prayer with a goal of glorifying God at any cost can give God’s vision to a man or a woman.” (p. 25)

“So especially ask yourself: what is my concern for the glory of God in my life? How much am I led by concern for my own comfort and feeling of well-being? Do I witness out of enjoyment of God? Do I love people—not just on the mission field, but people? Am I willing to imitate the Good Shepherd and die for them? Do I really know the power of the Holy Spirit as I daringly witness? Do I really confront the lost with heaven and hell? Am I repenting regularly?” (p. 28)

“I especially yearn to have a heart that glories only in the cross and is fearless before men.” (p. 57)

We are not to act like orphans in a merciless universe, but like children who have a loving Father

“It’s important not to decide hastily like an orphan in flight, but like a son who knows the Father’s unconditional love.” (p. 28)

“You see, there is ‘prayer’ and there is God-given prayer. The former is superficial, the work of orphans who may be religious people but are unwilling to surrender human independence to the leadership of Christ.” (p. 48)

“I believe it is likely that he really sees himself as a piece of junk, or at least as an orphan alone in a merciless universe. […] He just thinks insecurity, and the key to his thinking is found in his whole mind-set which even plans as though he were an orphan. […] But what I do is different in one crucial way: I reject this negativistic thinking as unbelief and claim my relationship with God as my Father through faith in Jesus Christ.” (pp. 251-253)

“Central to this repentance is my recognition that I am God’s own child and He has a perfect plan for my life; everything that happens to me is part of that plan.” (p. 254)

We lead from a position of weakness and brokenness

“A pastor really needs to be broken before God every day, or he will break up the church of God with his willfulness or let it slip into spiritual death through his sloth.” (p. 37)

“A true work [of the Holy Spirit] leads men into the Word, gives a very tender conscience about obedience to God’s will, and much humility.” (p. 42)

“Repentance is a return to God as my center. Praise is the lifting up of God in honor as my center.” (p. 56)

“It was the role of the Christian leader to be willing to go forward despite weakness and then to encourage others to go forward despite their weaknesses.” (p. 97)

“One central conviction has come to me: it is that pride and self-centered ambition crowd the love of God out of my life.” (p. 62)

“Even an unfriendly critic is compelled to admit that there is some wholesome humility being evidenced in your life. When even our enemies can see the Spirit of Christ at work in us, then God is certainly doing something great.” (p. 108)

“A leader must have more evidence of a broken will and the humility that has gone deep into the soul with it.” (p. 109)

“Whenever you correct, do it with much tenderness, with the brokenness of a fellow mortal and sinner.” (p. 184)

“We are all so weak and foolish; none of us really knows how to practice spiritual warfare without constant brokenness before the Lord. None of us really leads well in the church of God unless we constantly learn from each other.” (pp. 219-220)

“Could it be that leaning on Him completely in utter helplessness and finding life and strength through Him for my helplessness is the essence of maturity?” (p. 304)

Conflicts are inevitable, but how we handle them shows our maturity

“He went on to say that it is not these qualities themselves that lead to unresolved conflicts, but an unwillingness to see them and repent of them. It is this unwillingness that, he felt, should disqualify someone from leadership in the Christian church.” (p. 165)

“Let no one worry about his own vindication but only about the honor of God!” (p. 196)

“Do be very careful about giving power positions or roles of influence to leaders who have behind them a record of unreconciled conflicts.” (p. 209)

“The immature or neophyte leader cannot admit that he has any root problems in these areas [i.e. pride, inability to admit wrong, blaming others, gossiping, unforgiving, unwilling to listen].” (p. 210)

Let’s remind ourselves that our identity is not what we do

“Inevitably what the leader is trying to do is to prove himself or herself and to own the ministry. This kind of approach frightens people, and flesh responds to flesh and conflicts follow.” (p. 86)

“I hope you are even willing to make a few mistakes, without feeling that this makes you a failure.” (p. 128)

Without dying, there is no serving

“Die for the sheep as you study the Word, die as you agonize in prayer for them, die as you look at some backsliding, die as you wrestle with your own sinful self-love.” (p. 103)

“A pastor is someone who leads, an undershepherd. He loves the sheep and is willing to die for them. That means at times he is willing to lead them where they are not prepared or willing to go.” (p. 107)

“Leaders must lead with authority, but their purpose is always to be a servant of Christ and then of the others on the team.” (p. 118)

“Your life must have a death in it if it is to go anywhere.” (p. 230)

“We don’t naturally die for others; we don’t want to get involved in their problems and certainly not in their messes. We do not want to be seen as foolish and frail in their eyes, and yet this is the way of Christ’s power.” (p. 300)

“We died as we prayed. In our weakness we felt the resurrection power of Christ.” (p. 301)

“While silently looking at the people, I seemed to die. I wanted to die to what they might think of me. To die to any power in me to change them. To die to the desire to glorify myself and to become willing to be thought a fool for Christ’s sake.” (p. 301)

“The greatest single secret of evangelism or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die.” (p. 306)

Listening is an indispensable tool to lead

“A mark of a leader is ability to listen.” (p. 111)

“When I listen more, it seems to make the counselee more teachable and less likely to feel I am trying to impose my will upon him or her.” (pp. 202-203)

“It seems to me that anyone who cannot listen patiently and understandingly to personal criticism is going to cause confusion in the church of God. A pastor must be a good listener” (p. 218)

Servant Leadership surrenders control and power to Christ

“The key to balancing listening and action is for the Christian leader to first submit his will to Christ and then to listen, plan, and move forward according to the wisdom that God supplies.” (p. 97)

“We have an obsessive need to feel in control of our lives. Such a hunger is a primary obstacle to the Spirit’s working mightily in us and through us. Busyness is a hindrance to fellowship with the Lord. But what lies behind our need to fill up every last moment with activity? The answer is that we want to be in charge of our lives, and our constant activity gives us the feeling we are mastering our world. There are certain key areas where we hold on to control and weaken the Spirit’s working in ourselves.” (pp. 90-91)

“A leader must be willing to trust the unfolding of the work to the Lordship of Christ and to believe that Christ has it in His control.” (p. 140)

“I have tried to resign from the proud attempt to be the Holy Spirit in another person’s life.” (p. 193)

“Don’t chase after her as though you could do the work of Christ for Him or be Joyce’s mother and father.” (p. 257)

“Perhaps self-dependence—and forgetting the strength to be found in Christ-dependence—is always our biggest blind spot.” (p. 201)

“How blessed it is just to be a follower of Jesus! Really, isn’t being a good follower the very heart of being a leader? And isn’t our leadership often lacking just because we have weakened in followership?” (p. 218)

Servanthood springs when Christ is our focus

“My second thought is to make sure you are enjoying yourself and not taking your work too seriously. You don’t have anything to prove to us or the world. The work is finished at Calvary, and that work alone has unlimited meaning and value. Keep your focus there.” (p. 44)

“The message of the cross takes away the burden of guilt and sin, removes forever the divine wrath from us; then it also takes away the heavy burden of our selfishness and self-preoccupation.” (p. 74)

“The truths of redemption become deeply felt realities in our inmost being, that we would hate the sin of apathy in ourselves and others, and passionately love the lost with boldness, tenderness, and brokenness.” (p. 76)

“A character mark of the leader: He knows the glory of the cross and loves his family ardently and tenderly from the heart and then loves the lost with the same passion.” (pp. 83-84)

“No blame-shifting or excuse-making or defending yourself in your heart and with your tongue. Go constantly to Christ; look to Christ, rely on Christ, think Christ; and as you do this, the blood of the Son of God will cleanse you of these sins.” (p. 263)

Leading and prayer go hand in hand

“Men who do not make praying their first priority in life and ministry should not preach or pastor.” (p. 100)

“One of the marks of apostasy is resistance to prayer.” (p. 239)

Prayer sanctifies us

“The greatest evidence of Christ’s presence was His making us a fellowship of shepherds as we prayed together.” (p. 48)

“We have a love for each other that does not overlook faults and sins, but leads us to accept correction and rebuke from one another. As we pray, correction from one another ceases to be a threat and becomes a way of release from the bondages of our small visions, self-centered motives, and lust for pre-eminence.” (p. 48)

“God-given prayer and praise have as their essence a waiting on God, a willingness to be wrought upon by the hammer and the fire of the Almighty, until the chains of self-centered desires fall away from the personality, and the love of Christ becomes the deepest hunger of the inner life.” (pp. 48-49)

“Prayer connects cross and character, God’s love for us, working in us a sacrificial love for others.” (p. 84)

“Use your prayers to search out any unconscious areas of self-dependence” (p. 102)

Prayer is ministry

“From God’s side our constant seeking of His face is nothing less than the establishment of Christ’s rule over us, His conquest of us, His equipping and empowering us to serve Him in a manner that we are ourselves miracles.” (p. 49)

“I do not, of course, think of prayer as retirement from the battle to the isolation of a remote study, but the vertical aspect of vigorous shepherding.” (p. 101)

“Maybe the best definition of a leader is the man who knows how to wait. During the waiting he learns to lead by prayer. He deepens his love for people and his hold on the throne of grace.” (p. 165)

“People prayed. That is the cause of this working.” (p. 303)

Ministering by faith is seeing what God wants to do

“I discovered that at bottom most problems are faith problems.” (p. 53)

“Do you see the congregation by faith? Do you have a picture of the stubborn ones changed by grace as you pray—or have you mentally given up on some of them?” (p. 53)

“It’s almost impossible to pray effectively for a person if in fact you have no positive image of what Christ is going to do.” (pp. 187-188)

“Cultivate in your mind a vision of Joyce changed into the image of Christ.” (p. 257)

“Trusting Christ is more important than doing things for Christ.” (p. 151)

Faith surrenders control to God

“In a nutshell, I must move by faith and not by fear, and certainly guard myself from feeling I need to prove myself or be in control.” (p. 141)

“Fear is a terrible master, and the devil uses it to blind us to the love of God in Christ and the goodness of God’s sovereign rule.” (p. 264)

“I did learn something. It is that fear is rooted in our need to be in control of our lives. And sickness and death are such a threat to us because they threaten to undo our pretensions to be sovereign over our own lives.” (p. 264)

Servant leadership is about raising others

“We have always under my leadership aimed at consensus, but it just has not been true that all leadership has been equal. For a long time I have been the team leader, and to some degree still am. But my purpose has always been to raise up the gifts of others for the service of Christ.” (p. 118)

“It’s not so easy to hand over authority to others, and sometimes to watch them stumble a bit, and sometimes stumble badly, but in the giving up of authority to others by the team leader there is a freedom and a peace and a liberation to work in new spheres.” (pp. 118-119)

“It’s true that a mission must have more definite lines of authority than a church, and that makes it sometimes harder to bear when you see weaknesses in leaders over you. But, what I would expect George to be doing and I am sure he has done, is not to major in seeing Bill’s weaknesses—which I am sure are not as many as mine—but to learn from his strengths and support him in areas where his limitations are visible. Going through this kind of submission is what prepares you to be a leader yourself.” (p. 119)

“What we must have in planting a church is not depth and complexity, but the basics brought home with love, tenderness, and clarity.” (p. 135)

“What does it mean to serve one another in love? Practically it means to labor to make others successful.” (p. 146)

“Wherever you can, affirm him.” (p. 188)

“Can brothers work together closely if there is no trust?” (p. 190)

Suffering calls us to get closer to Jesus

“God’s appointments sometimes are our disappointments, and when that happens it is hard to trust in God.” (p. 281)

“I think that getting to know God does not come out of skill in being able to evaluate my experiences. Instead, it must come from my understanding God Himself as He is revealed as a Father of all love in the self-giving of His Son.” (p. 281)

“Granted, this did not come about without a severe struggle of soul in the night, but it did come, and today I look back on the dark hours as the sweet woundings of a loving Christ.” (p. 284)

“See yourself as a new person. Hurt and wounded, yes, but not controlled by that hurt, but controlled by your Savior in whom you live and move and have your being. I don’t have any great counseling formulas, only Jesus. Only Jesus.” (p. 273)

God is our home

“It has to do with the restlessness of this generation; people everywhere seem to be trying to build a permanent home in this world and do it just as fast as they can.” (p. 290)

“Meditating on Psalm 84 proved to be water flowing in the desert. I was especially helped by verse 4: ‘Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.’ God is my home, and I do not need to fear if my American doctors are far away.” (p. 294)

“God is my home. In what way? I think it means that as I lose my other ‘homes’ in this world I find that God is there to receive me. But I would add, God is there as I want Him for myself as my God. This is how Psalm 84 begins. It reads, ‘My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord.’ ” (p. 294)

“If you have made your home this world and whatever you can possess in it, you are always in danger of being plunged into insecurities, fears, and losses. But make God your dwelling place and you have unlosable treasure. And a deeper kind of happiness.” (p. 295)

“I am now of the view that God wanted me to find Him as my home in order to live at peace in this present temporary home.” (p. 296)

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