Greenleaf was a self-proclaimed ‘gradualist’ – he did spend close to 40 years influencing folks at AT&T. Gradualism continues to be counter to our culture in the United States. In 1980, Greenleaf wrote: We know how to mature the servant motive as a durable thing in many who arrive in their teens with the servant latent within them. . . later on he adds: We simply are not giving the maturing help to young people that is well within our means to do. Instead, we are acting on the principle that knowledge, not the spirit, is power. Knowledge is but a tool. The spirit is of the essence.
These are deep current ideas. Since 1980 the concept of ‘service-learning’ has gradually emerged in more and more educational institutions; specifically in high schools and in colleges and universities. These initiatives directly nurture the servant-seeds that reside within adolescents and young adults. For twenty-five years now I have had the privilege of directly experiencing powerful service-learning initiatives that continue to be developed and integrated within high schools, colleges and universities; their numbers continue to grow. A number of these initiatives are rooted in Greenleaf’s theme of ‘servant-first.’ I am thinking of two high schools, two colleges and two universities where the emphasis for the first two and a half years is on ‘servant’ and only then is the concept of ‘leader’ introduced.
One of the major tap roots that nurtures the development of the servant-first initiative is ‘spirit.’ Greenleaf resurrected an old term that, for him, captured the essence and power of spirit: ‘Entheos.’ Entheos is the spirit that sustains us. For the Christian it is the Holy Spirit that was sent to sustain us in our faith. For the ancient Greeks it was the ‘spirit within’ that sustains us. Entheos: ‘En’ = within and ‘Theos’ = spirit. How do we nurture and how do we deplete Entheos – the spirit within us? How do we sustain the spirit that sustains us?
Entheos, for me, is a both-and. It is a spirit that resides within me; a spirit that I am entrusted with nurturing. Entheos is also the spirit that is akin to the Christian’s ‘Holy Spirit.’ This spirit I must be open to receiving and embracing. I can deplete the one and I can be closed to receiving the other. I also think that Entheos is what nurtures and sustains the servant-first in us.
As Greenleaf noted, both the development of our servant-nature and the nurturing of Entheos require time. . . a life time, if you will. The gradualist embraces this; the person dis-eased with hurry sickness does not (hurry sickness was identified and named by Milan Kundera). Kundera noted that: “Speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man.” Speed is the antithesis to gradualism.