What does it mean to serve others?

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What does it mean to serve others?

Servant Leader
Being a servant leader means putting the interests of others above your own. You’ve probably seen some variation of these words before, but ask yourself the following questions: Do you put others before yourself in the workplace, among your friends or in your school setting? If you’re afraid to do this, why? What is the cost to you?

If you’re afraid to be vulnerable, ditch that fear. Vulnerability is one of the greatest traits you can espouse.

“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” — Brené Brown
I recently met a fellow business professional for a cup of coffee on a Saturday afternoon. He said some golden words to me. They meant that much more because he met me in an effort to help me out:

“I make every effort to give without expecting anything in return.”
Wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place if everyone not only thought that way — but acted that way? Yet it seems, in my experience, the people who behave this way really stand out. Because they’re few and far between. Most of us act purely for our own self-interests. We have to “make it” first and do things our way — which usually means “getting ours” and not caring for what others get.

We take advantage of the generous help of others without giving in return.

Eventually, that really comes back to bite us. I’ve been on both sides. As a millennial and business professional, I’ve relied on the help of others in my network. I’ve met some extraordinarily generous people who have advised, coached and mentored me.

Their benevolence has helped me as I’ve forged the path and created a career for myself. I am nothing today without the people who have had my back and looked out for me — some of whom were essentially perfect strangers that simply cared and wanted to help. Think about that — on the surface, it would seem there was nothing in it for them. They were helping to better my situation.

Though I can assure you, they were bettering their own in the process. As the saying goes, it is far better to give than to receive.

Pay it Forward
I learned to start paying things forward through coaching high school basketball, volunteer work and coaching co-workers through difficult career adversities. I do these things because I want to do them. These are my passions. I care.

I get a very powerful feeling of self-satisfaction that comes from helping others. But as I’ve found, in return, I receive gratitude, respect and new connections who are willing to help me grow my business or tell others of my goodwill. I gain colleagues and acquaintances who make the transition to become friends.

“If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.” — Robert Greenleaf
I met with a marketing executive recently who said to me, “The way I show up, is how others show up.” This is the ultimate Lead by Example mantra, as opposed to using words to lead. Both are effective, as I’ve seen in my life.

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. — Robert Greenleaf
I encourage you to think about the way you may feel at times, the frustration that comes with simply living in our modern world. We all get down, we all seek motivation and inspiration through work we do, people we speak to and the activities that inspire us. Harness any negative energy toward service and generate excitement from doing good to help others in need. You’ll be truly amazed at how much this will change your life and outlook for the better.

What does it mean to serve others in the perspective of the Bible?

The Vulnerable Leader
“You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real, it scares you.” — Bob Marley
Vulnerability was scorned or looked upon as a sign of weakness for a long time. Not anymore. While we have a long way to go as a society, there are enough leaders who have embraced this mindset and shared it with their employees and friends. I think back to the gentleman who hired me for my first job in management consulting. He was a very senior-level leader who was an unassuming, quiet man.

You would have thought that he was one of your subordinates rather than your manager. He was very graceful and caring of others. He never spoke about himself but rather, always wanted to hear how everyone’s day was. His example left an indelible mark and impact on the way I treat others. He put himself out there, vulnerable and humble, and never expected much in return.

“The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.” — Lao-Tzu from Tao te Ching
He went out of his way to meet everyone that he managed and he took them out to lunch early on during their tenure with the company. He cared dearly for other people. He surrounded himself with a loving family, kept things positive and treated others with kindness that let everyone know he cared.

Get to know the people that you lead and surround yourself with. Don’t just engage in small talk that borders on the trivial. After all, how many people do you know where the only conversations you’ve ever had are about the weather? What are you a meteorologist?! Leave that to Al Roker.

Meaningful relationships are what matter most. Showing the people around you that you care about them and that you’re willing to put them first, is the mark of a true leader. Great leaders are vulnerable and unselfish. Ultimately, they thrive by exhibiting this behavior and in so doing, they earn the respect of all.

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Serving Others

Love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39)

The Christian life is one of service to others, where we show love and kindness to everyone, even to those who do not treat us well. We can serve others in many ways, and we should ensure that we use every opportunity that we can.


One of the most valuable ways to serve others is to show them that we care. Giving our time and encouragement to someone will often be more valuable than even the most generous gift. There are many people who feel lonely and want to chat with others. Even those who have many friends, and a loving family, enjoy speaking to new people.

When others need our help most, we should make a special effort to show them that we care. By providing love and support we can make a real difference in the lives of others. Paul has reminded us that helping others when they are struggling is fundamental to the gospel.

Carry each other�s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)


In many cases we will not be able to solve someone else’s problems by ourselves, but we can advise them on what they can do for themselves, or what others can do for them. We must be careful that we do not assume our advice is always correct, but quiet and wise guidance will often be invaluable, and provides a real service to others.

Telling others of the good news of Jesus is the prime example of how informing and educating others can help people change their lives. Letting others know about our own experiences, in a sincere and loving manner, can help people to discover the truth of the Christian gospel.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19)


There are several careers which have traditionally been associated with service. Those working in the fields of medicine, education and the armed forces have always been respected for the help which they bring to others through their work.

However, it is important to realise that every job provides a service to others. If someone is willing to pay for a product or service it shows that they find it valuable. If an employer is willing to pay someone a wage, it illustrates that they value the work of that employee. Even though we get paid for our work, we should still realise that it is providing a service.

The spirit of service should be seen in all aspects of our work. By providing a Second Mile Service, meaning that we go the extra mile for our customers and employers, we can serve others and help them in ways which they appreciate and find useful.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (Matthew 5:41)


Our work will often serve those who can afford to pay for our help and skills. However, there are many people who cannot meet their physical needs with their own money.

We can serve these people by ensuring that they have the resources they need, even if they could not normally afford them. Much of this provision is achieved by taxation and redistribution through the government. Paying tax can feel like an inconvenience, and there is a debate about how effective government based redistribution is, and how much should be redistributed. However, when paying our taxes we should remember the benefits that it brings to others, and the impact that our taxes can have on the health and well being of others. This means that we should be honest when paying our taxes and, as Jesus said,

Give back to Caesar what is Caesar�s, and to God what is God�s. (Matthew 22:21)

Government also has a major role in providing the peace and freedom which individuals value. By voting for those politicians who are dedicated to helping others, we can also indirectly help others. By supporting causes and movements which contribute to the wellbeing of others, we can be part of changing peoples’ lives for the better.


There are many areas where government does not, and should not, have a role. In these cases we can serve others by giving. James said:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

There are three main ways to serve in this respect. Firstly, we can be social entrepreneurs, starting our own charities and groups to help others. We may see that existing solutions are not working, or do not exist, and that we can help by doing something new.

Alternatively, we may see an existing organisation which we want to help by volunteering our time and services. We may have particular skills which makes us able to contribute to these roles.

Finally, we may be able to provide money to help others. Charities need regular gifts to finance their work, and by donating to them you can be part of changing the lives of others.


A final way to serve others is to pray for them. By asking for God to help them and provide for them we can make a real difference in people’s lives. Jesus said that whatever we ask for in prayer will be given, so we should remember the spiritual and physical needs of others before our own. It is also good to pray with others, and Jesus said:

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20)


Each of us can serve in all of the ways which have been discussed above. Just because we serve in one way does not mean that we cannot also serve in others. We should remember the advice of John Wesley to:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

Much has been written lately about giving and serving with the creation of All For Good, the craigslist of service created by the White House, Google, Facebook Connect and the Huffington Post. Scores of posts have narrated good deeds and needed opportunities for service and how it makes our country better, and it does. But I wonder if those in leadership positions realize the example they can set by serving others: those for whom they work, work with and those who work for them.

Years ago I went through an inspirational leadership course. One of the most memorable modules for me was titled: Leader as Servant. It taught that in order to be a true leader, one must serve and give to others. I fear that concept has been almost totally lost in today’s business world.

Good, strong business leaders can exert more influence than they realize on those with whom they work and, therefore, on the service component in our country. What does it mean for a leader to serve colleagues, peers and others? Let’s look at six ways one can do that.

LEAD: One leads, first of all, by the example of hard work. Respect others and honor their commitment by your own hard work. Don’t ask anyone to work harder than you do. One also leads through knowledge. Demonstrate that you really know your product/service.

TEACH: Instill the special knowledge that you possess into those with whom you work.

PROVIDE: Make resources and support available so everyone can be successful at their job. Nothing demoralizes someone more than being asked to do a job, very much wanting to accomplish it, only to find he/she hasn’t the resources to do so.

INSPIRE: Give those around you the respect and love they deserve as human beings. They may be your superiors, your peers or your subordinates, but they all will flourish on large doses of love and respect.

MENTOR: Counsel those around you. I don’t mean be their therapist, but as one who cares and who can assist them in being successful. Promote them when they deserve it. Sure, they may be transferred away or be hired away, but you will have demonstrated that, as a leader, you have put their best interest ahead of yours or the organizations.

SERVE: When taken together, all these elements provide the framework of service, the kind of leadership you can provide which will, by example, encourage others to join and expand the culture of service throughout our country. Now that you’ve created a culture of service around you need to again set the example by actively serving others

There are limitless opportunities to serve in our country, but you, as a leader, need to choose those opportunities where you will make a difference and an impact. Joyce Roche’, Board Chair of Dillard University and Pres.& CEO of Girls, Inc describes how important this is:

“Volunteering is important not only for the institution, but also for the volunteer. So often in our day-to-day work, things become routine or are so hectic that you ask yourself, “What impact did I have today?” or “Am I making a difference?” Knowing you’ve made a difference energizes you no matter how hard you might be working. In volunteering, especially for something you are passionate about, this is a gift you receive.”

As a leader you may choose to become a board member of a charity where you can make a difference, and there are many resources available for you to prepare yourself to make that difference. One of these is the Association of Governing Boards www.agb.org/ which publishes training materials, newsletters and provides training seminars. There are courses available in most cities and online as well. Many cities have training programs for prospective board members. In Chicago, you can contact: www.1-800-volunteer.org/

Bottom line is you need to demonstrate your leadership by serving and making a difference in our non-profit community. You get to choose where and how, but you need to choose now.

I remember how in November 2013 my wife (and fellow Intentional Insights co-founder) and I, together with a great bunch of people, organized a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at our Unitarian Universalist church in Columbus, OH. The event was a big success, with more than 120 attendees, a music program, a raffle and silent auction. We raised over $2000 for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. It might surprise you that the dinner organizers and volunteers came from Columbus secular humanist, atheist, and skeptic groups, including the UU secular group, as this religious denomination embraces believers and non-believers alike. The dinner honored the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light satire meant to promote reason-based scientific education in biology classes. No belief in a deity was required to participate in community-oriented civic engagement at this dinner – in fact, the event was explicitly oriented toward secular-minded folks.

Studies indicate that opportunities to serve others, whether in civic, private, or professional settings, as well as charitable giving, result in a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in life, leading to better mental and physical well-being. This does not mean that serving others is necessary for a strong sense of meaning and purpose, but such civic engagement generally helps contribute to gaining this sense. Volunteering together with others in your community enables the creation of strong social bonds, which adds further to a sense of meaningfulness. In the United States, religion offers the main venue for community belonging, and also for working with others to pursue civic engagement. Civic engagement ranges from donating one’s time to bring about a better world such as through the spaghetti dinner fundraiser described above, to pursuing social justice through advocacy and lobbying, as exemplified by BREAD, the main interfaith social justice organization in Central Ohio. No wonder that the majority of the research indicates that church-going believers in the US generally have a stronger sense of life meaning. However, as my research illustrates, other societies create many alternative venues besides religious ones that provided similar opportunities and the benefits that can result (check out this brief video based on my research to learn more).

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So is there something similar happening in North America? Here’s the thing: there are more and more secular communities around, and they are actively participating in social justice activities. Just here in Columbus, besides the FSM dinner, the Humanist Community of Central Ohio does regular blood donations, which were featured in the main newspaper in Central Ohio, participates in LGBTQ activism, and promotes other forms of social and economic civic engagement. The local chapter of the United Coalition of Reason hosted a walk-a-thon to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, part of a broader national effort by the Foundation Beyond Belief. And COUNT, a Columbus secular group, is explicitly dedicated to volunteering. My wife and I have also led a year-long effort to get BREAD to open up its doors to secular folks, and then successfully mobilized a large contingent of non-believers to attend this event. National secular organizations, such as the Secular Student Alliance and the Secular Coalition for America, increasingly promote civic engagement. More and more opportunities are emerging for nonbelievers who want to volunteer together with others who share their value system, whether for more secular-themed causes such as Camp Quest, reason-based summer camps for children and youth, or social justice in general.

A particularly promising new trend in civic engagement is Effective Altruism. This movement is devoted to using well-reasoned, evidence-based approaches to find the most effective ways to improve the world, especially through charitable giving. Prominent secular notables are turning to Effective Altruism as the most reason-based, rational strategy of giving. Effective Altruism is endorsed by prominent secular philosophers such as Peter Singer. It includes organizations such as Giving What We Can, GiveWell, and 80,000 Hours. Your dollars will do the most good for the world through Effective Altruism!

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What are the practical takeaways here? Whether you are a believer or secular, to gain a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life it helps to participate in civic engagement with others from your community. It might be more challenging if you are a non-believer, but there are plenty of local secular groups around the United States that offer opportunities to contribute to social justice on a local level. Take the initiative to push your local communities to do service for the social good. You will likely help yourself and others find a more powerful perception of life meaning, increase mental and physical well-being for yourself and others, and you can gain greater agency through achieving your personal and social goals. Here, altruism and self-orientation combine for the win!