Among the many examples of servant leadership in the Bible Jesus provided the most vivid picture of what servant leadership should look like.
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Within the framework of Luke’s gospel the message of servant leadership is provided. Luke’s thinking in his Gospel is very God-centered[ref]Allison Trites, “The Gospel of Luke, Acts,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip Comfort, vol. 12, (Carole Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006), 14.[/ref] with a strong theological emphasis on the poor, tax collectors, sinners, Samaritans, Gentiles, women, and outcasts.[ref]Stein, Robert H. “Luke,” vol. 24 in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 49-50.[/ref]
Jesus’ Example of Servant Leadership
When some of the disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24) Jesus decided that it was time to teach one more lesson to he beloved disciples. He told them,
In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you 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 one who serves (Luke 22:25–27).
In this passage Jesus provided a description of what worldly leadership is and what godly leadership is. In order to appropriately understand godly leadership, worldly leadership must be defined because they are sharply contrasted.
1. Worldly Leadership
The New Living Translation uses the words “kings” and “great men” in verse 25 to describe the worldly leadership of Jesus’ culture. In this way Jesus reminded his disciples of two objectionable characteristics of the secular rules of his time:
- Lording power over others; and
- Receiving the title of “benefactor.”[ref]Longman, Tremper, III, and David E. Garland, eds. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition). Vol. 10. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007, 316.[/ref]
Jesus had to combat the aggressive and competitive nature of the disciples which showed them to be very selfish. When describing modern day leadership in his book, LeadershipNext, Eddie Gibbs writes, “Some individuals aspire to leadership out of a sense of adventure, while others do so for the satisfaction of being recognized and followed. For still others, being a leader strokes their ego. They imagine the power and privilege that a position of leadership brings” (p. 179).
Like Jesus, Gibbs describes the same type of worldly leadership style that seeks self-preservation and self-escalation of power. When looking at Jesus’ description of servant leadership a very different picture emerges because he saw leadership as service and sacrifice.
2. Godly Leadership
Jesus stated that,
Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant (Luke 22:26).
This verse shows that greatness in God’s kingdom is contrary to the world’s values because it involves serving rather than being served.[ref]Stein, Luke, 550.[/ref] Self-serving action has no place in Jesus’ kingdom[ref]Trites, “The Gospel of Luke,” 290.[/ref] because according to Jesus, the one who is truly the greatest is the one who serves.[ref]Longman and Garland, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke-Acts, 316.[/ref]
Jesus came to serve others by pouring out his blood as a sacrifice for those he loved. When pointing to this passage as the ideal passage for servant leadership, Andrew Seidel states that servant leadership is not motivated by personal power or gain but by the fulfillment of God’s purpose for both the organization and people in that organization.[ref]Andrew Seidel, “Identity and Leadership,” unpublished class notes for SL305 (Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring Semester, 2014).[/ref]
3. Qualities of Servant Leaders
With his statement, “For I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27), Jesus wanted to place a spirit of servanthood on his disciples. In that spirit of servanthood J. Oswald Sanders lists several qualities of our Lord that should also be embodied in servant leaders today:
- Dependence: Just as Jesus surrendered everything for his people a current leader also should “empty” himself;
- Modesty: A servant of God conducts a ministry that might appear self-effacing;
- Empathy: Jesus was sympathetic with the weak and merciful to those who err;
- Optimism: An essential quality for a leader in order to battle darkness; and
- Anointing: As the Holy Spirit came and rested on Jesus he will also rest on his leaders (Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 24-25).
4. Servant Leadership in the 21st Century
What does servant leadership look like in the 21st century?
- First, a servant leader is to be self-sacrificing rather than self-seeking, active and not passive.
- Second, he leads with the influence of example and relationship, not from position and pressure.
- Third, he exercises authority when necessary for progress toward the mission and not for personal gain.
- Fourth, he leads by personally being involved in caring for people and their needs, not demanding that his own needs are met.
- Finally, a servant leader gives direction, equips others for work, and uses his character and gifts for God’s Kingdom (Andrew Seidel, Charting a Bold Course, p. 34).
Question: What is an example of servant leadership that you would like to share?