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NEWS | Oct. 18, 2017

Servant leadership, ministry of presence

By U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Adams, chaplain NAVCONBRIG Charleston

I am often asked about my decision to leave civilian ministry after 15 years of pastoring and missionary work to enter the Navy Chaplain Corps. My response is simple - I responded to a call to serve in a different way. Though I enjoyed my earlier years of ministry, I always sensed there was something missing. I would see the people I was called to serve a couple of times each week usually during some time of formal gathering. Relationships within the church were growing but it seemed to me they remained superficial.  True, we were “walking through life” together, but seldom engaging in life. So, I began to talk with other servant-leaders, read books on leadership and building community all while looking for ways to help others truly grow. Then, I discovered it. There is a difference between “going through life” together and “doing life” together. 

In the chaplain corps, we call this approach to servant-leadership a “ministry of presence.” As a Navy chaplain, I have the privilege of being with the people I serve day-in-and-day-out. Whether on shore duty or deployed down-range, I have the opportunity to be with my “congregation” in the times that count.  Not just the occasional, pre-scheduled times of religious activity. I have an opportunity to engage others in the midst of their struggles and to celebrate with them in moments of victory. Leadership is a people oriented business.

Did you know this is an important leadership principle you can learn?  In, The 360 Leader, John Maxwell warns leaders of the trap of spending too much time in their offices and not among their people. During the flurry of daily “administravia,” it is easy to lose focus and forget the people you lead. And as he says, “If you forget the people, you undermine your leadership.” Maxwell encourages us to get out and walk slowly through the halls. As we do, he encourages us to adopt five habits which will help us become better servant-leaders. First, slow down. Slow down long enough to talk to people. Second, express care and concern. Value others as human beings, not merely as human-doings. Third, show interest in their professional and personal lives. I often remind myself of the need to learn something new about a shipmate’s professional goals as well as their family’s names. Fourth, pay attention to who avoids you. Actions often speak louder than words. Finally, care enough to get involved. In the military, we call this “invasive” leadership.  

Like many of you, I need to be reminded of these truths often: We are in the people business. People matter, so they should matter to me. Don’t simply live life, do-life. And now, put down this article and get out there and “walk some halls!”