Christ: Modelling Servant Leadership


Very often, this question is posed either in the media, in our personal presence, or directly to us, it is, “what makes a good leader?” I sometimes wonder if people are having a laugh when they asked and usually it is when some public figure, perceived great leader end up failing. Then the daggers are out, the diagnosis starts, analysts comments, and sociologist are asked to give their take on the failings of modern leaders. The question is not unique to secular leaders, as many Christian organisations daily are faced with the same question and mainly in light of continuing failings of those public leaders, they voted in or appointed to office. As if to put me in the spotlight, the question frequently is aimed in my direction. I sometimes wonder if it is a test to misrepresent my position, to trip me up or to see whether I understand the art of biblical leadership. Whatever is the reason, I am very suspicious, as I am made aware of the constant dripping and transmission of guided or unguided comments, “he is a critic” label. Regardless of their motives I never shy away from saying what I think, what are biblically sound teachings, so they hold no power over me. Self appointed ones, or organisationally appointed un-gifted, in it for the money, prestige and power will huff and puff and blow you away if you dare to question their motives for office. Godly gifted and experienced leaders on the other hand thrives on criticism, to them this is fuel to improve and prove critics wrong. Learned people knows the only way an organisation will survive, is taking a critical look at itself, adapt and change to what works,the Jesus Christ model. The biblical prophets never shied away from being labelled “controversial”, speaking out against errors even under threat to their personal safety. They were the most abused, criticized, beaten, rejected, chastised, rebuked, and frowned upon people in society. However, they knew their walk with God was not a popularity contest, never a road to be recognized, praised of men or given a medal. Their walk with God was often a lonely one, the road less travelled, not a road packed with big up their chest, I am he, I have made it, this is my territory, dare you criticise, you will never arrive.

Clear evidence of how little modern leaders know of the bible, they so resolutely claim to know, and lacks understanding of what a biblical leadership model looks like. A research in the US reveals important information; evidence of what many of us knows but is too afraid to say, for far too long. The investigation shows only 2 % of current church leaders are in the right position, the right calling. In other words, 98% of people in leadership are not in the right position, serving in the right role, so occupying or blocking a place that is not biblically right for them. Yet many wonder why the church is not progressing, advancing and making a difference, turning the world upside down, as the early Christians did. The research took sample from various churches, and is not unique to any specific organisation; it is international and covers a wide field. Very shocking figure indeed, but it does not make headlines because many are accepted by the congregations based on popularity or they ticked all the boxes of our tastes, our likes and dislikes, our personal concepts of leadership, and not the bible. Some who never understand simple biblical themes, church doctrines, have no behaviour in church are making decision about who should lead and what leader they want. When people are blatantly failing, but an administration just move them from one place to another to repeat the same mistakes, the whole administration are under indictment before God and man.

Many leaders know they do not belong the moment they are appointed, but because no standards are set, they follow and do as they are told, they follow the crow, they want to fit in. Then they big up their chest, lord it over, dictate their own ideas and make people feel small and inferior because they use that position to inflate their own ego. Too many of today’s leaders are on an ego trip, inflation of the self, the mentality of “my position lifts me above you, I am in charge”. From where then, does this ego trip style of leadership emerged and which develops into an unmoveable brick wall, an untamed, unconquerable dragon? For me two things immediately emerged, the first is many churches have lost sight of the biblical view, Jesus model leadership, lacking biblical knowledge, we claim leaders do not need training and appoint the ones we like, they don’t criticise or rock the boat. However, leadership training goes back to Moses and the Old Testament priesthood system, continues up to Christ who set the New Testament standard by training His disciples as to what is required in leadership. “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the 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” (Matt. 20: 25-26). “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22: 26). Sensational, did you get that? That is powerfully potent message my friends! Nevertheless, who is listening, and why do we tolerate such abuse of leadership positions? Christ is saying his kind of leadership is that of a servant leader! So you are not anyone’s boss, you listen to the people they are your boss! It is obvious then that we do not follow the biblical model of leadership because either we do not know the biblical concepts, or we know but ignore it because of our personal need to be seen as important. That is falsity, and a misrepresentation of Christ.

Second, the biblical leader is based on giftedness, if you do not have the gift of leadership you have no right accepting that appointment and being in a leadership position. Romans 12, I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 make it very clear that positions in the church are based on being spiritually gifted. The gifts are given so the church may be led by God, functionally balanced, and therefore have a universal appeal. I will make the bold statement that the reason behind the mediocre performance of the church is that we have leaders in the wrong positions. We often pay lip service the phrase “you cannot fit a square peg in a round hole”, but until people in the churches realise the full significance of the phrase, it will never change. Many misapplied the advice that the Apostle Paul gave to Timothy, as advocating a ministry free for all. “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (I Tim. 3:1). This would leave Paul open to accusations of double standards and would fly in the face of the advice he give earlier that ministry position are based on God given gifts. However, neither Paul nor the Bible in general believes that every church member so inclined should pursue the office of a bishop. Though there are many interpretations as to what Paul meant, there is no reason why the rendering of this formula adopted in 1Tim. 1: 15, faithful is this saying,” should be changed here. The “faithful saying” could be referring to the aspiration for high and difficult work in the Church and so he confirmed such a desire to be a principled one. For the office of a bishop in those days was apparently beautiful and honourable, and in those days meant demanding and unceasing work, being in serious and endless risk. The fact that so many today are pursuing the position for alternative reasons, filthy lucre, and ego devalues the position, as many pursue it for monetary gain, and to be seen of men. The office of a bishop is not a position for novices or the unlearned. Neither is it meant for personal aggrandization but only to promote the gospel message of Christ.

Perhaps the clearest articulation of Jesus’ view on leadership is at the point in Matthew’s gospel where the mother of James and John asks Jesus if her sons can sit with him, one on his right hand the other on his left in is Kingdom. Jesus goes on to explain his idea of leadership. Matthew 20:25, Luke 22:26) Jesus is a servant leader, not motivated by his personal desire for power or status, but to serve. Jesus was prepared to serve everyone, even the one who would ultimately betray him. To illustrate this, he the Son of God, washes the feet of his disciples before the last supper (John 13: 1-20). In doing this, he enhanced rather than diminishes his position as their teacher. Jesus’ and therefore God’s relationship with humankind is wonderfully illustrated in Luke and Mark’s gospel about the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35, Mark 16:12- 13).

Two followers of Jesus were walking away from Jerusalem, discouraged by the events of the previous days. They had believed that Jesus was the Messiah to redeem Israel, but he had ended up dead. Put yourself in the place of the two dejected men walking from the Jerusalem. Then Jesus suddenly joined with them. The nature of the discussion and of Jesus actions gives us a beautiful insight into his style of leadership. Jesus proceeds to give them what must have been the most terrific bible study of all time, “Then, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them all the passages of Scripture about himself” (Luke 24: 27). When they got to Emmaus, Christ does not presume to want to over stay his welcome, giving more than an indication he wanted to move on. He leaves it up to the men to invite him to stay longer with them, and they invited him. It is then in the breaking of the bread that they recognize him. Here is a lesson on etiquette, Jesus did not forcing himself on the men. Rather as a true servant leader, he met them where they were, educated them, opens their eyes to the reality of his ministry and paving the way for them to come to their own conclusions. Their eyes were open that very hour and they got up and hurried back to Jerusalem to tell their story, the story we have today. Jesus influenced many diverse people during his ministry but compelled no one to follow Him. In the Emmaus story, Jesus is getting alongside these two men at a time of need, keeping his identity from them, teaching them, empowering them to make up their own minds, exercising the power of freedom to conclude and choose to believe.

Now many have seen different models, rendition and interpretations of leadership. However, a good teacher – Jesus the Christ of God, inspires hope for tomorrow – the gospel, ignite the imagination – yes you can overcome your circumstances, and instil love – for God and fellow man. It is a fact that many earthly leaders do not have all the answers, but the gifted just need that ability to inspire us to search for and find the answers. John Quincy Adams, former president of the United States of America once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. I often hear a very inspirational phrase that gives me much hope, “If Christ led you to it, He will take you through it”. It is a fact that no man can take you further than he has gone himself. Many wants to be leader and they have not the gift; neither have they been trained to lead. Any wonder the church is operating under 2% of its capacity and capability. The church then have a responsibility to raise their game, rise above nepotism and chose the biblically spiritually inspired gifted and trained leaders Christ desired, not only for the good of the organisation, but for the saving of many souls to the kingdom of God. What the church can learn from Christ model of leadership is that it is not about a title, prestige or a designation. Rather it is about the full impact of the gospel, influencing and inspiring young men and women to take up the baton and run with patience the race set before us. Our leadership process must be about getting results, influencing others and spreading the passion for lost souls, and not suppressing or driving them away. The biblically gifted and inspired leader inspire his colleagues, “I want to do what he did”, and his team to win, “he sets the benchmark” for Christ.

  1. Now hear this, 1. Biblical spiritually gifted and trained leader apologies when he offends people and his apology should be sincere, specific, and public when needed. Leaders who admit and apologize for their errors are viewed as stronger, not weaker.
  2. Biblical spiritually gifted and trained leader knows how to handle his employees. Great leaders know a first-rate employee regrets an honest mistake. The leader listens to and speaks with the employee to learn what caused the error, how to avoid making it again it in the future, and how to best handle it now.
  3. Biblically trained gifted and trained leader knows how to respond to an important personal life event. Workers never forget when their leader supports them in both joyful and tragic situations such as funerals, weddings, child’s illness, etc.
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