Footsteps in Faith: History show us the true meaning of servant leadership

| February 24, 2011 | 0 Comments

Chaplain (Maj.) Damon Onellion
North Community Family Life Chaplain




As I write this column, it’s Presidents Day weekend. Thinking about our forefathers reminds me of a story of servant leadership.

Many years ago, a gentleman farmer, a member of his country’s representative leadership, was asked to serve as the leader of his people’s military forces to defend against an invader. He left his family and farm, assumed command of the troops and went upon a campaign to drive out the invaders, despite being criticized by those who were not fighting the battle. Upon victory, he returned to his homeland, resigned his position of power and returned to his farm to work the land.

The individual described above is not, as one might assume, George Washington, but Cincinnatus, Consul of Rome in 460 B.C. He was called upon to defend the Roman Republic against an invasion by a tribe from northern Italy, called the Aequi. He received the powers of a dictator for six months to deal with the invasion, but was able to win a victory after just 16 days.

Subsequently, Cincinnatus resigned from his position, giving up the power it afforded. He returned to his family farm to work his fields. From that point forward, he was praised and hailed for his willingness to serve selflessly and to set aside personal ambition for the sake of the people.

The similarities between Cincinnatus and Washington are neither insignificant nor accidental. Washington never asked to be commander of the Continental Army — although he did show up to the Continental Congress wearing his Virginia militia uniform. Though it took Washington more like five years to defeat the British, he stayed in the field with his men, even through harsh winters, while most of his officers took furloughs to be with their families, until the enemy was defeated.

At the end of the war, when Congress did not want to fulfill its debts to the Army, Washington could have followed the example of Roman general Sulla or Julius Caesar and called on the loyalty of his Army to march on the capital.

He did not. Instead, Washington resigned his commission, encouraged his men to remember the cause for which they had fought — the freedom and independence of the new nation. He laid down his sword and returned to Mount Vernon.

King George, in England, expected Washington to accept appointment as the first king of the U.S. When he heard that Washington intended to step down from his position of power, he was quoted as saying that his actions would make Washington the greatest man in the world.

Washington knew his history. It is said that he was fond of the comparisons made at the time between him and Cincinnatus. I would like to think he was also mindful of the teachings of another great servant leader, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was faced with conflict among his disciples, because two of them asked for the highest positions within his circle; he responded, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-27).

So, as we reflect on the meaning of Presidents Day, let us remember the examples set by Washington, Cincinnatus and Jesus. Seek to be the servant of all.

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Category: Footsteps in Faith, News, Standing Columns

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