A Passion for Service

There was a sudden change at the top of management at United Continental Holdings (United Air Lines). According to reports in national newspapers, the problem could be ethics related.

My son was discussing the state of the airline industry and the lack of leadership at the top of the entire industry with me when I pulled out a quote from one article in The New York Times. The writer said something you’d usually only find in a small town local paper, “Executives usually have jet fuel in their veins.”

I think the writer meant that executives usually come from within the industry. And maybe that the have a passion for the industry.

Today almost all the leaders in the industry are either lawyers or finance people. None come from operations. None ever interacted with customers.

As a long-time frequent flyer, I observe the industry closely. I remember when Continental had a CEO who had a passion for serving the customer. Knowing that customers are served by the thousands of front line employees–pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, baggage handlers–that CEO put programs in place that motivated and rewarded customer service.

He was followed by a finance guy. As people with that training do, he was a spreadsheet manager and looked daily at costs to be cut. Soon the culture of customer service was replaced by a culture of  let’s just get by.

That’s a long introduction to why I was sitting in my chair this morning thinking about service.

I thought about how if we focus on serving others, we cut out time for whining, pouting, worrying, and otherwise focusing on ourselves.

I thought about how Jesus said that he left two commandments–love God and love our neighbor. When some local wise guys asked, “Who is our neighbor,” Jesus responded with a story. We call it the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story the religious leaders failed the service test while the outcast Samaritan man passed it.

Obviously Jesus was teaching that part of our spiritual formation comes when we focus on a life of service.

A life of service is tough. Even the little I do gets tiring sometimes. One of my service functions centers on soccer. By this time in the season, I feel drained at times dealing with the difficulties and the personalities. But in the end a few thousand kids get to play the game and develop physically and (I hope) emotionally. (Although following last night’s game, I heard a coach and a dad tell a player whom I had called for a foul to just keep doing it–other referees may not call it. Hmm, not a lot of emotionally healthy teaching going on there!)

Whether you’re a leader of a big organization or a small church or a non-profit or a committee–determine whom you’re serving and go out and serve them with passion. In the end, your spirit will have developed and matured. And you’ll earn a “Well done good and faithful servant.”

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