Servant Leadership

Much has been written and discussed on the subject of leadership. What are the qualities of a leader? Are leaders born or made? Who is a leader? Does a leader have that “it” factor that makes them sets them apart as a leader? These are just a handful of questions that arise when leadership is discussed.

What comes to mind when you think of a leader? Do you think of your boss? Someone who is highly educated? Someone with all the right connections? Someone who knows how to take charge in a crisis? The truth is everyone at some point in their lives will find themselves in a position of leadership. Granted, not everyone will be elected President of the United States or be the CEO of a large multi-national corporation, but everyone assumes leadership positions. For example, do you raise children? Do you teach children or coach a little league team? Are you a supervisor or manager at work? Do you pastor a church or are you on the church board? Are you serving or served in the military where you led other soldiers?

Leadership can take on many different forms as there are as many different people and styles of leadership. There are leaders who lead with an aggressive authoritarian style and there are those who lead with a quiet strength and character. What does the Bible have to say about leadership? What does God look for in a leader? Are there biblical principles on leadership that we can apply to our everyday lives?

In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, we learn about Israel’s desire to have a king rule over them. Through the prophet Samuel, God anoints Saul as Israel’s first king. However, through continued disobedience, God rejects Saul as king and sends Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel. Jesse brings out his sons and Samuel sees Eliab, the oldest son.

“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’” (1 Samuel 16:6, NIV).

Samuel thought Eliab looked like a king, the same way people discuss whether or not a presidential candidate “looks presidential.” Samuel believed Eliab had that “it” factor- he looked like a king, he was tall and probably well built, had a commanding presence, but God had other ideas.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).

Jesse brought seven of his sons out before Samuel and God rejected every one of them. Samuel asked Jess if he had any more sons. Jesse said he had a son who was shepherding the sheep, his youngest son, David. Jesse sent for David and Samuel waited for him to arrive.

“So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.” (1 Samuel 16:12-13, NIV). In the next chapter of 1 Samuel, we come across the story of David taking down the giant Goliath. Eventually, David overcomes many obstacles and becomes king upon the death of King Saul.

This brings up the first characteristic of a servant leaders: In order to lead, we must have our hearts right toward God in order to serve others. The way for us to lead is to follow the example of Jesus. In Matthew chapter 20, the disciples James and John are jockeying for position as to who can sit on Jesus’ right and left hands when he enters into his kingdom. Jesus used the moment to teach all twelve disciples about servant leadership.

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know 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, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:25-28, NIV).

What Jesus talked about with His disciples was certainly a radical concept at the time and still is to this day. In order to lead, you must know how to follow. In the secular business world, there are those who seem to revel in making themselves look great by putting down others. To people such as that, it does not matter how many people they step on while climbing “the ladder of success.” In fact, those people may say “The end justifies the means” or “Win at any cost.”

This brings up the second characteristic of servant leaders: In order to lead, we must have an understanding of authority and submit ourselves to God’s purpose and plan.

The Apostle Paul expands on Jesus’ example of servant leadership:

“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; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knees should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11, NIV).

The Lord Jesus came to this earth to fulfill the purpose for which he was sent- to die for all of the sins of humanity. This was always the plan of God- even before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is our example of serving God with humbleness and singleness of heart. We must look at everything we have and are as gifts from God. If we humble ourselves, God will exalt us in his time. However, if we exalt ourselves, God will humble us as he did powerful kings and mighty nations. If we have the proper understanding of God’s will for our lives and submit to him, we will be ready when called upon. As in the Bible, God calls upon ordinary people to do extraordinary things- even things that seemed impossible and beyond natural ability. A few examples are Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promise Land, Gideon leading an army of 300 against the Midianites, David conquering Goliath with five stones and a slingshot, and Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

Now with Jesus as our example for submitting to God’s authority, servant leaders display a third characteristic: Servant leaders also submit and pray for our earthly leaders.  When posed with the question of whether taxes should be paid to Rome, Jesus responded by asking to see a coin. Jesus asked whose picture was on the coin and they said Caesar’s. Jesus then said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17, KJV). As Christians, our first allegiance is to God, but we are to follow authority, because all authority is put in place by God.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2, NIV).

“I urge, then first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people- for kings and all those in authority, that we may love peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV).

As a leader, there are many decisions to be made on a daily basis. A supervisor may find himself in a situation where he has to evaluate employee performance. A commanding officer may have to devise a battle plan. Whatever the situation, there may arise gray areas in business or in the field of leadership. Not every decision or action by a leader will be clear or even popular with the group, hard choices have to be made. How do I cut money out of the budget? Whom do I let go? How do I deal with this crisis? This brings up the fourth characteristic of servant leaders: Servant leaders seek wisdom from God’s Word and apply to their lives.

      When he became king, Solomon was asked by God what he wanted. In essence, God gave Solomon a blank check- Solomon could have asked for anything he wanted- fame, money, possessions. However, Solomon asked God for the wisdom to lead Israel. Wisdom is needed to lead, whether it be leading a family, finances, a business, or a country. Wisdom is essentially applying God’s Word to a given situation. We must keep God’s Word close to our hearts. We cannot ignore the wisdom contained in the Bible or seek it half-heartily. If we apply the principles of God, we will be successful.

“Be strong and courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9, NIV).

Though not a complete or exhaustive list, these principles can serve as a foundation from which we can succeed in life. We must remember success God’s way is not about material possessions or titles, but it is about serving him with our whole hearts because he gave us everything when his Son, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. Jesus came first as a servant, but he is returning King of kings and Lord of lords. Whatever your current lot in life, there is a God who loves you and will lead you by the still waters and give you peace and rest in our tumultuous world.

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