Servant Leadership

Secure Christian leaders have found their own identity and security in Christ. Insecure leaders try to establish their identity and sense of worth in titles, degrees, and positions of authority and power. Insecure parents promote their children to such attainments. Such was the case when the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Jesus (Matt. 20:20-28). She wanted her children to sit on the right and left side of Jesus. The Lord said it was not His to offer, and asked if they were prepared to drink from the cup He was about to drink. When the other ten disciples heard about this, they became indignant.

When people clamor for power and position, it creates interpersonal problems in any organization. What are the others supposed to do when someone climbs over their backs to get ahead? They neither want those kind of people ruling over them nor do they want to succumb to the same self-serving tactics. Jesus exhorted them not to be like the Gentiles who exercise their authority and lord it over others. Instead, they were to be like a servant or a slave if they wanted to be great.

There is no position lower than a servant or a slave. Christian leaders are not supposed to rely on their position as the basis for their leadership. Christian leadership is not position-based, it is character-based. Those aspiring to the position of an overseer must show they are qualified by their character (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). The ability to lead may be somewhat dependent upon gifts, talents, intelligence or personality, but that is not what qualifies them to be a Christian leader. Even though someone may be gifted, talented, intelligent, and personable, they should be immediately disqualified if their character is deficient. Christian leaders should be loving examples to those under their authority and not lord it over them (see 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Leaders are subject to the needs of those who are under their authority. Every great leader should sense the burden of being responsible for those who follow them. Jesus certainly did. He served us by giving His life to meet our greatest need. Jesus had no human position of authority in the religious establishment or the state. And yet, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:29). The recognized His authority because of the quality and conduct of His life.

While Christian leaders are not to appeal to their position or demand loyalty to themselves, those who are under authority are required to respect their position. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Dr. Neil

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