Improving Our Serve

About 15 years ago I spent a couple of years as an intern under Adrian Despres, an itinerant evangelist with Kingdom Building Ministries and the current chaplain for Steve Spurrier and the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team. I was under the impression that the internship was designed to help me improve as a speaker. I traveled with Adrian to different speaking events all over the world to see what he could teach me about effective communication.

To my chagrin, I found myself attending a bunch of events for my “speaking internship” but never actually speaking. Adrian finally carved out a one-minute opening spot where I could share a story before sitting down, but that hardly gave me a chance to warm up before taking my seat.

As I kept tagging along to different events, I became more and more bewildered about how I could learn to improve my communication skills. Instead of speaking and getting Adrian’s feedback, I got to participate in his strange “rituals” before and after his presentations on stage—offstage actions that I thought had nothing to do with speaking.

Sometimes we would arrive early at a Christian convention or a church, and he’d have me set up tables and chairs, maybe even vacuum or volunteer with the food/merchandise tables. Adrian was the kind of guy who picked up trash and put away shopping carts that other patrons had left scattered around the parking lot. I tried to remind him that “people get paid to do those jobs,” but he didn’t care. “I know,” he’d reply, “I just want to help ’em out!”

Those “rituals” were part of his approach to life and ministry. Maybe somehow these things were linked to Adrian’s powerful speaking ministry.

One day, about a year into my internship, Adrian asked me if I thought my internship was going OK. On the inside I was thinking: Not really! How in the world can I get better at speaking if I don’t speak? Doesn’t practice make perfect or something like that?

I didn’t come out and say those things, so I just answered his inquiry with an affirmative and waited for an explanation. That’s when he said something I’ll never forget: “Before we started this whole thing, I knew you could speak, but I didn’t know if you could serve.”

Adrian’s comment changed my life. I wanted to be a great speaker. Adrian wanted me to be great spiritually. He wanted me to be a great leader.

Our culture presumes that being first, richest, biggest, happiest, most liked and well known is the key to finding joy and contentment, the key to being great. Even the church, in some instances, mistakes a blessed life with an easy and unchallenged life. But Jesus calls us to give up our pretensions of greatness defined by fame, carefree living or accomplishment. Contrary to popular opinion, greatness is defined by the humble and often hidden actions of a person who has given up on coming out on top. It’s consistently putting Jesus and others first. Living a life of greatness is actually walking a difficult path of self-sacrifice and inconvenience, driven by a greater concern for others.

A truly great leader doesn’t need to be served, but is bent on serving others. Jesus said it Himself: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28, NIV). This is what makes a great leader. So as leaders aiming for that higher standard, let us begin the seemingly backward journey of descending to greatness. Let’s be last!

Jeremy Kingsley is a Christian speaker, president of Onelife Ministries and author of Be Last: Descending to Greatness. For more information, visit

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