Leaders and Servanthood

We hear so much about leadership. We see book after book written on leadership. There are conferences on leadership. Studies are done for leaders. Articles are written on how leaders can become better and more effective leaders. What, if anything, is wrong with this picture? We don’t often hear about servanthood. Very seldom. A problem I see with the American Church’s obsession concerning church leadership is that nearly everyone thinks themselves or wants to be a “leader.”

There is no question that elders should lead their flocks well. But notice how a (real life) shepherd leads a flock of sheep: by going ahead of them and being an example and doing the things they want their flock to do; you drive cattle but you lead sheep. Shepherds have to be servants of their flocks (providing food, protection, free the flock from pests so the sheep can rest, etc).  Matt Chandler, a pastor whose preaching I find edifying, said, “if you are a beast in the pulpit and not in your neighborhood is not a win!” It is easier to preach something and expect your congregation to apply that thing than it is to preach it, live it, model it. Anyway, my point is yes, be a leader, but model servanthood. Talk about service. Write about service not leadership. Paul writes often about his service to Christ and to his brothers, not how he leads. He often calls himself a “bondservant” to Christ i.e. a slave i.e. more like an indentured servant. Paul also writes, not about Christ’s leadership, but His servanthood: Phil 2 (mind of Christ in servanthood).

The reason I find the leadership language and focus a bit troubling is because there are those who think of leadership as delegation. All they have to do is facilitate responsibilities to the most apt people and everyone wins: so and so is the leader; everyone got to contribute to the project. This isn’t leadership.

Real leadership, or rather servanthood, is best described as being in the mix of things. Doing what you desire to see others do; showing the how to perform certain tasks, teaching why those things are important. Walking alongside the flock, living life among them, putting them and those whom you are trying to be witnesses to before yourself: all of that makes up servanthood.

I mentioned Philippians 2 earlier. Here is how verses 5-8 read,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Christ models servanthood. There are several things we can take from His service for us so that we can be servants for Him.

1. Humility

Serving takes humility. Putting another before self is a hard thing to do especially because its our nature to act otherwise. We have to learn submission (work of the Holy Spirit). One cannot be rebellious and yet submissive. Submission is required for service. Humility is required for submission.

2. Sacrifice

Serving Christ and therein serving others will cost us something. It will cost our our time, our efforts, our talents and perhaps our money. To serve like Christ has modeled service then we must be ready to give everything for Christ, as Christ has done for us, even our own lives, as we will talk about in point 4.

3. Obedience

This is the flip side of the same coin that Humility is on. We are called to be obedient to God and serve as He has gifted us to and called us to. To do so we need humility and submission.

4. Suffering and Shame

Servanthood may require suffering for the Lord. It may require bearing shame. Servants of the Lord haven’t been the most popular people, historically. Look at what happened to the Twelve Disciples. Look at the millions and millions of people who have been martyred for the gospel within the last 2,000 years. Actually, these numbers have been estimated to be between 40 and 70 million Christians. 70,000,000 Christians. Millions more have been mocked, beaten, and shamed publicly. In times of suffering and shame in the service of the Lord we find comfort in Scripture. Paul said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Jesus said, “a servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:20). The world may hate you because of Him (and the world does hate Him) and they will persecute those who follow Him (John 15:18-27).


All the leadership talk gives has the feel of empowerment, and importance. I am not trying to be cynical, but perhaps if we taught better and spoke more on the Christian life in service to Christ then we would deem those things relating to service (#1-4 and others I left out) just as encouraging and important.

This call to service obviously applies for pastors and other Christian leaders. We are to follow Christ and in doing so we shepherd His people (yes, shepherding the flock is a call to serve). We are to point people to Him as the Great Shepherd whom we follow.

I have said all of that because we all need to hear about serving Christ, obedience, humility and sacrifice. We hear so much about leadership and “how to leader better” and “how to get people to follow your vision” and whatever else people write about when they talk about leadership. But that isn’t the talk the Church needs to be having. We need to hear the words, “serve Christ,” “submit to Christ,” “read the Scriptures and obey.”

Let us be glad that we can be called servants of Christ.


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