Christian Leadership is: Service and Sacrifice

July 19, 2012 — 4 Comments

Today’s post is the fourth part of a six-part series exploring the question: What makes Christian leadership distinctly “Christian” and what makes Christian leadership distinctly “leadership?”. This week we will study this question and I hope to receive feedback from you in the comments section.

What makes Christian leadership 'Christian' and what makes christian leadership 'leadership'


Perhaps the strongest distinctions of Christian leadership are service and sacrifice.

The concepts of service and sacrifice go back to Jesus who served and sacrificed for the people he led. In his article, “Leaders as Servants: a Resolution of the Tension,” Derek Tiball writes, “Christian leadership is meant to be different from other forms of leadership because Christian leaders are called to be servants.”[1] Serving others while in leadership is definitely different than the world where power and influence are held closely by those who have it and desired and envied by those who do not have it. This concept of serving others is difficult because “our fallen human instincts seek power, wealth, status, and influence. Servant leadership is thus quite unnatural for fallen human beings. Thinking like a servant-leader requires a new mindset; acting as a servant-leader requires empowerment by the Holy Spirit.”[2]

One of the most controversial and countercultural things Jesus said while on earth was as he responded to his disciples’ question of which of the 12 of them was the greatest and most important. Jesus responded,

In this world the kings and great men lord it [power] over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you [the 12 disciples] it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as the one who serves.[3]

Much like American culture, the leaders and rulers of Jesus’ time lorded power over others. They used their power to dominate others and maintain control over them. However, Jesus calls his disciples out of the culture they are living in and announces a new order for Christian leaders to follow. He instructs these 12 men, who will lead the new Christian religion, to be different than the world by saying, “Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.” Christian leaders can only “teach out of what they know and live,”[4] and Jesus definitely knew personally what he was teaching when he says, “I am among you as the one who serves.” Jesus is saying to his Christian leaders that he has come to serve.

The Greek word used in Jesus’ statement above and used throughout the New Testament is the word, “diakoneo” which means “to serve, minister; kicking up dust because on the move; caring for the needs of others as the Lord guides in an active, practical way.”[5] With Jesus’ statements and use of this word, “Leadership was not to be a matter of privilege and special status, but of service. All social status is leveled out by these remarks. Jesus himself is the prime example of the servant leader.”[6] Jesus shows this principle of a leader being a servant by strategically saying after washing his disciples’ feet:

And since I, your LORD and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have unto you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.[7]

The good news is that this message was successfully passed on and practiced by Jesus’ disciples and others within the early church. Just as “Jesus presents himself consistently as a model of service”[8] the apostle Paul “describes himself in a number of ways (‘apostle’, ‘teacher’ etc.) but most persistently as a servant. . . . Paul describes several of his fellow workers as servants. . . . Paul describes himself and Apollos as ‘only servants (diadonoi).”[9] The message is clear: Christian leadership is about service. But with that also comes sacrifice.

Along with service in Christian ministry comes pain and sacrifice. The Apostle Paul endured tremendous sacrifice during his ministry as a Christian leader of the early church. Paul was ship wrecked, snake bitten, physically disabled, imprisoned, and eventually killed because of his service as a Christian leader. Jesus also endured tremendous pain in his ministry for his followers. Henri Nouwen comments on the relevance of sacrifice in ministry stating, “The most important quality of Christian leadership in the future . . . is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.”[10] With this understanding that Christian leaders are to be servants who sacrifice, it is important to note “Christ’s approach to leadership and the approach he commended to his disciples is one that glorifies God and serves the welfare of others. It does not seek personal glory for acts of service or manipulate subordinates to achieve the leader’s self-interest.”[11]

Question: Do you believe a Christian leader should serve and sacrifice? 

                [1] Derek Tidball, “Leaders as Servants: a Resolution of the Tension,” Evangelical Review of Theology 36, no. 1 (2012), 31.

                [2] Joseph Maciariello, “Lessons in Leadership and Management from Nehemiah,” Theology Today 60 (2003), 399.

                [3] Luke 22:25-27.

                [4] Steven Elliott, “The Local Church – Part 3” (Bible study, Enclave Community Church, Turlock, CA, June 3, 2012).

                [5] “Strong’s Greek: 1247. Diakoneo – to serve, minister” Biblos, (accessed June 13, 2012).

                [6] “Luke 22 ‘NET Notes’” The NET Bible,!bible/Luke+22 (accessed June 14, 2012).

                [7] John 13:14-17.

                [8] Derek Tidball, “Leaders as Servants: a Resolution of the Tension,” Evangelical Review of Theology 36, no. 1 (2012), 36.

                [9] Ibid., 36.

                [10] Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York, Crossroads Publishing, 1989). 82.

                [11] Joseph Maciariello, “Lessons in Leadership and Management from Nehemiah,” Theology Today 60 (2003), 397.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I also may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

  • Janet Norcott

    Dear Chris, I am a deviant from the modern Christian attitude. Christ never asked for one cent. In fact he made it clear that the coin was the symbol of corrupt government,since coin is minted by government. Yet every modern charity asks for donations of money. Not joined together in helping, teaching (free) or developing the community. He had the task of not only standing up to the most cruel Roman Empire, but of bring the Jewish tribe together
    in united belief in one God. Hopefully that is your path. Janet

  • Hi Janet,
    Thank you for stopping by. I am not sure about how the topic of charity and asking for donations relates to service and sacrifice, but that’s okay. Let’s talk about it. 🙂
    I am not sure if your interpretation of Jesus made it clear that the symbol of the Roman coin was a corrupt government. I interpret that story as an obedience message: that we are to do what the leaders and authorities over our lives ask and require.
    Additionally, Jesus did not have a job while he did his three years of ministry nor did his 12 apostles after Jesus left. Paul himself writes in his letters that he is grateful and appreciative of the support of churches throughout the Asian provinces. Therefore, support and services was provided to Jesus in his day. In our day, people do the same thing in the form of money.
    Just my thoughts.

  • This post is really awesome and very helpful for me thank you for sharing this article and good job mate.

  • Thanks ten boom!
    This has been one of my favorite blog post series and I hope it is beneficial for all.