#165 The Economics of Servant Leadership

#165 The Economics of Servant Leadership | The Christian Economist

Christian servant leadership gives us our political and legal systems, universities, medical care, child adoption, and freed most of the world from slavery.  And it was all done, almost for free! 

It’s free!  Hold it, don’t you often say “There’s no free lunch?”  Yes, but when people donate their time to be servant leaders, society gets a freebie.  It’s really quite amazing.  Christians are not surprised, because they have seen this since Acts 2.  But economists can’t quite figure out why people would give their time for free.

That’s why you’ve heard me quote my fellow Christian Economist, Art Lindsley so often, when he wrote, “Government should punish evil, but not do good.  The church should do good, but not punish evil.”  You see, we’re okay without tax dollars being spent to punish evil.  But the Biblical command is for the CHURCH to do good.  The economic reason is that: They can do it for FREE!  Well, at least they can do it without forcibly extracting taxes.  

Servant Leadership

With the publication of the book Servant Leadership in 1977, a new management paradigm entered America’s boardrooms and corporate offices. Robert K. Greenleaf, a retired AT&T executive, proposed that service ought to be the distinguishing characteristic of leadership.  He said, “The first and most important choice a leader makes is the choice to serve.”  Winston Churchill said it this way, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

This GIVING is what distinguishes a Christian society, and it’s why we have so many services, essentially for free.   

The Enlightenment

Daniel Pinker and I agree on most of the effects of the Enlightenment.  In his book Enlightenment Now, he writes,The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across countries and people. Within the lifetimes of most readers, the rate of extreme poverty could approach zero.  We really do live in the best time on earth.  Looking back, Pinker and I agree.  It’s looking forward to where we part views.  He says Do people need to believe in magic, a father in the sky, a strong chief to protect the tribe, myths of heroic ancestors?  I don’t think so.”  Well, he said he doesn’t THINK so, but what he really meant was that he doesn’t BELIEVE so.  However, the economist looks back at all the good things done for free, because Christians were following the command from Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  So Christianity gave us our political and legal systems, our university systems, our medical care, adoption, freed most of the world from slavery, and the list goes on and on.  But Pinker says that now that we’re enlightened, we don’t need God anymore.  He’s made the mistake of reading Adam Smith’s second book The Wealth of Nations, without reading his first book The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Servant leadership provides services for free, because it says in Mark 9:41, “Anyone who gives a cup of water in my name will not lose their reward.

Dog & Cat Theology

I attended a multiple-session seminar on missions some years ago titled Perspectives. One of the guest speakers was Bob Sjogren, who co-authored a little book titled Cat and Dog Theology.  The summary is this: The dog says, “My master gives me everything, so he must be a god!”  The cat says, “My master gives me everything, so I must be God.”  Uh-huh, you want to split a room, just ask if folks are dog or cat people.  But, you can love either animal and still understand the servant leadership exemplified by the dog.  Dogs have owners, cats have servants.  Christians are called to serve, so we act more like the dog and less like the cat.

Pederson College at Dallas Baptist University is a college within a college, which houses a relatively small dining room.  At one end of the room, the students are reminded to serve by the scripture which reads, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45.  On the other end of the dining hall is a picture of Wright Lassiter.

Wright Lassiter was Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College system, where about 75,000 students studied.  In the evening, he would stop by Dallas Baptist University and teach a leadership class.  He also served on the Board of Trustees.  He died a few years ago.  I remember his favorite saying that he would pronounce with a great big bass voice, like James Earl Jones.  “My father used to say, that community service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy on this earth.  And furthermore, I want you to live in a high-rent neighborhood.”  That’s a more utilitarian and zero-sum way of saying it, but his intent is correct.  Turns out, it was probably first said by Shirley Chisholm, and popularized by Muhammed Ali.

Martin Luther King Jr said it this way, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’  

Love your neighbor

This servant leadership idea was introduced to the world by a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville in his book written in 1835 titled Democracy in America.  Among many other observations, the one that gets mentioned the most is what he called Associationalism.  He observed that when Europeans saw a problem, they appealed to the monarch, the king or queen to solve the problem.  But when Americans encountered a problem, they formed an association to solve it.  We are blessed today with an entire realm of them: From Rotary and Lions to soccer and softball associations.  From Boy Scouts to Guardian Angels, Americans have a rich history of solving problems on their own.  And, an economist would note: Almost for free.  But we’re losing that valuable ethic.  Membership in philanthropic organizations is down, in almost all organizations.   

In a post-Christian world, we have stopped loving our neighbor.  That’s not good, economically, or religiously.  A city councilperson asked me recently, ”Why do they always ask the city?”  Good question.  He was wondering why people have stopped supporting community organizations and were making their appeals for support to the city.  That’s not good, because the city uses its power to enact taxes to pay for these services. 

The government has no money.  It must take before it can give.  Philanthropic organizations can give without taking.  As I wrote in Economics and the Christian Worldview, if you Love your neighbor, you will supply her with the products and services she demands.  If you love yourself, you will make a profit while doing so.  


Private Property

Your time is your private property.  How you keep it to yourself or give it to others is your choice.  Time really is one of the most powerful ways of measuring wealth.  The richest and poorest person have the same quantity of time.  And, they both have the choice of how to use it.  In the recent book by Marian Tupy and Gale Pooly, titled Superabundance, they measure the cost of goods by time price.  That means, how many minutes did you have to work to gain something?  So they’re asking this same question: What’s the best use of your time?

We’re back to dogs and cats, aren’t we?  Dogs are grateful, cats are entitled. 

I’ve often explained the servant leader like this.  Every time you reach to open a door, the servant leader asks him or herself, “Who’s on the other side of this door?  And how can I serve them?  You see, that’s how a dog greets you.  A cat, not so much. 

When I was teaching consumer surplus in my class at Dallas Baptist University a couple of weeks ago, I played a scene from the end of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  When the little girl says, “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”  And I changed it to, “Every time you hear that beep at WalMart, someone got richer.”  Well, I referred back to that scene again this week, while teaching about the favorite wealth measure of economists: GDP per capita.  But, being at a Christian University, I played the part where George’s brother returns from the war in the middle of the party and shouts, “To my brother, the richest man in Bedford Falls!!”

We are richer, when we serve, just as George Bailey did.






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