Robert Greenleaf is credited with the term “servant leadership,” but I would say the concept goes back to countless examples in Scripture. Abraham showed servant leadership and humility when he allowed Lot to choose his portion of land (Genesis 13:8-9). Moses demonstrated servant leadership time and again when he made personal sacrifices and interceded for God’s people in the wilderness (Exodus 32:11-14). And David showed servant leadership in his valuing of his men (2 Samuel 23:13-17). But Jesus is The Model of servant leadership. Jesus’ example and teaching made it very clear that leadership is not about accruing power to the leader, but using whatever resources the leader has for the benefit of those in her or his care.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 NIV)
For those “outside” the leadership task, this may seem like a fairly straightforward paradigm. When a person tries to live into this servant calling, however, the cost becomes very clear.
I remember my own sense of call to ministry and saying to God, “O.K., Lord, I’ll serve you.” I hadn’t realized I expected to serve on my own terms.
When I protested the long hours, the Lord said, “But I heard you say you’d be my servant. Time is not your’s to keep. Time is my gift to you. I promise you time enough for my work now and your Sabbath refreshment. Keep your heart focused on an eternity of joy.”
When I longed for rewards, the Lord smiled, “But I heard you say you’d be my servant. The rewards I have for you are beyond comparison. You’re looking in the wrong place for them.”
When I asked for the pain to be removed, the Lord said, “But I heard you say you’d be my servant. My service is to the human heart– a place of pain. You will feel the pain of those who are broken. That is the only way I can heal.”
When I complained because I felt so alone, the Lord said, “Alone? You are never alone. But if you’re wrapped up in yourself, you miss me. I am with you. Always. You don’t seem to take that very seriously. Believe! And I have given you my children, too. You’ll find they’re a lot like you.”
In the silence of the moment, I realized that the Master of the Universe was not a tyrant, but my Father. His only son rolled up his sleeves to sweat and serve among us. This Jesus was and is the Servant King to whom no nobility can compare.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
“O.K., Lord, I really do want to be your servant. It’s not easy for me. And I’ll probably start grumbling again. I’m not even sure I have what it takes. But, if you’ll have me, I’m yours.”
And I heard God’s gracious response, “I want you — now and forever. And remember, as you serve me, I serve you .”
Adapted from Douglas J. Rumford, What About Heaven and Hell, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2000, p. 124.