Servanthood: A different kind of leadership

“…your servant, for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). 

God wants you to be a leader, Christian.  But not your garden variety kind of leader, where you have lots of followers who obey your commands, groupies surrounding you to anticipate your whims.

God calls you and me to be servant-leaders.  A servant leader is the kind the world knows little of, the type that is counter-intuitive, we might say.  That is, it doesn’t look or feel like a leader but it is.

Once again, the way of the Lord is upside down compared to the world’s way.  (You’ve noticed that, have you?)

You will recall Scripture says, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).  The wisdom “from beneath” is another thing entirely and pretty much runs the gamut of the opposites to these qualities.

In the kingdom, we go up by going down.  We get by giving.  We keep when we lose.  The strongest is the one who can get down and serve, the greatest is he who can confess, yield, give, and walk away from a fight.

Don’t expect the world to be impressed by this kind of leadership.  But it is, of course.  It stands in awe, while at the same time realizing “I could never be that way; I could never do that.”

This is the Christ life.  This is the realm where the strongest can humble themselves, the most secure can stoop to wash the feet of underlings, the best can give Himself for the worst.

Only the redeemed can pull it off, and not even all of them will be able.

Which person is greater, Jesus asked, “the person who sits at the table being served or the person serving?”  The answer was just what we would expect: “The greater is the one being served.”  Then, Jesus dropped the bomb: “But I am among you as One who serves.”  That’s Luke 22:27 and it’s worth keeping.

Luke 22:27 is your mantra, Christian.  I am among you as one who serves.

That’s you.  That’s me.  That’s our assignment, our mission.  Go and serve.

All right.  Here is the blueprint. (at least, much of it)….

One. Our model for service is the Lord Jesus Himself who knelt and washed the feet of the disicples.  John 13:1ff.

Imagine the Queen of England washing the feet of Parliament.  Imagine President Trump washing the feet of his cabinet officers.  Imagine Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

Two. The formula for service is given in 2 Corinthians 4:5:  “We serve others for Jesus’ sake.”  That is, we take orders from Jesus on how to serve others.  (Let every pastor and church leader take note:  We serve the Lord’s people but we do not take orders from them.)

Three.  The mantra for servants is the line from John the Baptist: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Beware, however, of saying this, because God will take it literally.

Four. The question for servants is found in Luke 18:41.  “What can I do for you?”  That’s what servants ask.  We do not force our service and helps onto others.  Jesus knew what people need before they ask (Matthew 6:8), but He did not force His blessings on them.

At this point, it’s important to note the paradox.  We ask “what can I do for you?” but we do not take orders from those we serve.  Once we ask the question, we are not obligated to do what the person asks.  Jesus said, “Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30), but He did not say we are to give what they ask for or as much.  Give them something.

Five. The parable for servants is Luke 17:7-10.  After you have done everything the Lord commanded–imagine that!–even then, you are to say (to yourself) “I am only an unworthy servant;  I’ve just done my duty.”

That confession–“I am only an unworthy servant; I’ve just done my duty”–is not something we say to one another.  We are to honor and appreciate each other.  That confession is not what God will say to us.  “Well done, good and faithful servant,” He says (Matthew 25:21,23).  That confession is not what we say about ourselves to other people.  That would sound like we were bragging on our humility.  It is one thing and one thing only.  That confession is what we say to ourselves in our solitude, in our prayer closet.  In our bathroom.

That confession–“I am only an unworthy servant; I’ve just done my duty”–drives a stake through the heart of the ego.  The ego craves recognition and appreciation.  The ego is your worst enemy.  This confession must be repeated daily since the ego, nailed to the cross today, will be back in full force tomorrow.

There is nothing else in Scripture like Luke 17:7-10.  It should be memorized and practiced frequently.

Six.  Your reward for faithful serving comes, not from those you serve, but from the Lord Jesus Himself.  “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”  (Luke 14:14).

That’s a great promise: You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. I love to quote that and then ask: Can you wait that long?  Can you believe that strong? Can you sing that song?

We all treasure the story of the returning missionary who stepped off the ship to find no one meeting him.  Meanwhile, on the same ship a celebrity was returning from a safari and had been met by a band and a cheering crowd.  The contrast pierced the heart of the missionary.  “Lord,” he said, “is there no one to welcome me home?  Not one person?”  To which the Heavenly Father said, “Remember my son.  You’re not home yet.”

Seven. The test of your servant-spirit is simple: How you take it when people treat you like a servant.

Our Lord said people do not thank a servant (Luke 17:9).   And yet, haven’t we known people who quit teaching a class or leading a ministry because “no one appreciated what I was doing”?

We can talk all we want to about how pastors are not hired by their churches, but are called by God.  But there is no question but that many churches do treat their ministers as employees, as servants there to do their will.  God will sort that out in His own way.  But pastors (of all kinds) should not be surprised.

I’ve had pastors tell me, “My church did not recognize my tenth anniversary.  I was really hurt.”  I tell them, “Good.  That’s a good thing.  It lets you reaffirm that you are serving the Lord Jesus and not in it for the money or appreciation.”  I will add that it would have been good for the church to have shown their shepherd that appreciation, but it’s better for his growth in Christ that they did not.

A few moments ago as I write, a pastor texted to say the church was cutting his salary by $10,000.  That really hurts, of course, and we grieve for him and his family.  And yet, God can use this in his life and ministry.  Exactly how He does that is between the servant and the Master.



1 thought on “Servanthood: A different kind of leadership

  1. I am a deacon at my church. Thanks for teaching me to be a servant leader. I have always felt not appreciated but after reading this I now know that the reward is not from the people I serve but from the Lord Jesus Christ himself

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