By Ron Boehme
God is doing a wonderful work in the world today, and much of it centers around increased Christian compassion and servanthood in the nations of the world. Despite the dark storm clouds of sin and judgment that are also present, this emphasis on servant leadership is raising to the forefront because:
- There is a worldwide awakening taking place in the Church,
- The cause of world evangelization has risen to new urgency,
- and societal reformation is needed in many places to fulfill the Great Commission.
To make disciples of all nations is to teach the followers of Christ to live out their faith in all areas of life – and this could lead to the changing of whole nations. This can only take place when we live out a biblical Christian worldview that brings redemption into every area of man’s life. Because there are only two kingdoms in this fallen world, there are two types of leadership: The servant leadership of Christ through love and influence, or satanically-inspired domination through fear and control. God has called us to serve in both the spirit and methods of Jesus. He is our perfect example, and the source of all power and strength.
The greatest need in the world today is for the Church to follow the example of her Lord and Master and serve the nations of the world better than anyone else. The ultimate key to leadership is the full manifestation of servanthood. The words of the Lord Jesus could not be simpler: “But the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11 NASB) .
True greatness comes through serving others. There is no greater key – those who serve best are those who are worthy to lead. Notice once again the words of the world’s greatest leader: “In this world the kings and great men order their slaves around have no choice but to like it. But among you, the one who serves you best will be your leader. Out in the world the Master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here, for I am your servant” (Luke 22:25-27 TLB).
The great challenge of the Church at the end of the 20th century is whether she will rise to her appointed position in human affairs by assuming the place of the world’s greatest servant. As Jesus so clearly stated, whoever serves people best will be given leadership and authority. This is an inescapable principle in the world God created. If atheists, or humanists, or Marxists, or humanitarians, or Moslems, or Hindus, or any other group serve their nations better than the body of Christ, then they deserve to lead in those nations.
If there should be a race for supremacy in the world today, it would be in the area of serving, not armaments. If Christians learn to serve their cultures and peoples as Jesus would have them do, the world will see the greatest revolution ever. Leadership will be established through either servanthood or through slavery. The Apostle Paul said: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all [emphasis mine] that I might win the more” (I Corinthians 9:19).
A Servant Leader
The word serve or servant is found some 1,452 times in the Bible. It is one of the largest topics of Scripture. (Remember, whatever God wants to emphasize, He says many times in Scripture.) Let’s look at eight different characteristics of servant leadership in Scripture.
1. Humility: a servant leader must be humble. Only a humble person has been set free from the tyranny of ego and pride to see the needs of others. The more humble you are, the more significant other people become.
Christ produces humility in us when He saves us from ourselves. When we admit our selfishness, and turn to Him to be forgiven and changed, He empowers us to humbly reach out to others. We have been set free to humbly serve. Pride is a slave to ego; humility is a servant to Christ and to others. Pride leads to difficulties; humility produces freedom, and brings true leadership. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
Christian leader Bob Mumford says we would never trust a man or a woman who doesn’t limp. This refers to Jacob, who wrestled with an angel and came out limping, a broken and humble man (Genesis 32:24-31). You can see true humility in the broken and contrite spirit of a man or woman who has wrestled through selfishness and come out the other side. You can trust broken people the same way you can ride horses that have been broken.
Myron Augsburger, a Mennonite leader adds, “Servant leadership often means leading from our weaknesses, not using our strengths to hide behind lest our inadequacies be seen. Actually, our faith to move with our inadequacies makes possible the Spirit’s dominant role.“1 The humble person will have authority to lead.
2. Under Authority: a servant leader must be a man under authority. The New Testament has a word, huperetes, that stresses the role of the servant in relation to his superior. A true servant is not an independent soul – he has a clear line of authority under which he serves. To be a true servant one has to recognize masters, and operate in submission, counsel, and under control. You cannot be a Christian Lone Ranger and profess to be a servant. If you do not place yourself under the authority of others, you really are not under the authority of Christ.
If you have not learned to be a good follower, you are not qualified to be a good leader. Leaders who are not good followers almost always become tyrants. Rebellion and independence is within them, and this combined with egotism can be deadly. The true servant leader willfully places himself under the care and authority of others. This is easy because he is a broken man who knows the depravity of his own heart all too well. He gladly submits to others because he needs them to walk the pathway Christ has laid out for him. He appreciates authority for the protection it provides. The more humble he is, the more authorities he will recognize in many areas of life. His submission is a mark of his servanthood, and it automatically gives him the authority that others will want to follow.
3. Accountability: a servant leader is accountable. This is similar to being under authority, but the emphasis here is on what the servant accomplishes for the one he serves. A common word for this in the New Testament is the Greek word doulos. A doulos is a bond-servant who is aware of the stewardship entrusted to him by his master. The servant acts as a good steward with the overriding sense that he is accountable for his actions.
Jesus so graphically spoke of this in the Parable of the Talents. In that story, all of the servants did something with the money they were given. But only two of the three multiplied their stewardship with a keen sense of their master’s expectations. This is the essence of true accountability. They did not settle for good or better – they set their sights on the best. They were rewarded for their servanthood, and the servant who settled for less had everything taken away.
If Christians are to serve the peoples of the world, we must know God’s expectations and act accordingly. We must believe that we are accountable (not just encouraged) to make disciples of all nations and teach them all that Jesus commanded. We must accept as a stewardship the commandment of world evangelization. We must become accountable to being the best servants in the world, as well as the best stewards of our time, our money, our resources, and our people. We have a reason to do so – we must give account of ourselves to God.
4. Zeal and Diligence: a servant leader must be zealous in his work. A servant works hard and does his work well. In the Scriptures, there is a Greek word that describes this – diakomos. The stress of the word is the goodness of a servant’s work. There is no such thing as leadership without hard-earned labor. It is the hand of the diligent that rules.
This is so basic. Most leadership is not glamorous. It’s not a special privilege, nor a life of ease. It is just plain hard work, and those willing to pay the price gain authority by simply out-serving others. When you study the lives of great leaders in history, both inside the Church and in the world as a whole, you always find this quality of diligence in labor. Great servant leaders know what they want to do, what the needs of their people are, and then work to the bone to accomplish the task. They are exalted to leadership because they work harder for their cause than anybody else. A good servant leader combines a good cause with righteous methods and plain old hard work.
Most Marxist revolutions have been won through this quality of leadership, even if the righteous goal and godly means were missing. Vladimir Lenin brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia in 1917 through tireless effort. He made himself a majority by working harder than the rest, and today much of the world is filled with atheistic communism because of this example.
We must be willing to work harder and more zealously than anyone else on the horizon. A servant leader gains influence by righteously winning the battle of labor. This is cultural conquest through hard work. There is no other formula for victory.
5. Character: servant leadership is steadiness and faithfulness of character. A true servant is quiet and dependable. They know that they have a job to do, and the master can always count on the job being done. A leader does not have to be flashy or have a dominant personality – but he does need to be steady and totally trustworthy. When an employer finds a faithful worker, he tries to hang on to him with all his might. What usually happens is that the faithfulness of the employee is rewarded by increasing leadership and responsibility.
In a world that knows increasingly little about faithfulness and commitment, the Body of Christ has a golden opportunity to aspire to leadership in literally every dimension of life. One way in which Christians can give vastly needed servant leadership is to cultivate an outlook for steady, long-term growth and development. Most people today have lost the sense of working toward the future. With foresight and faithfulness of servanthood, the Church can give the world a beacon of hope. The present tumultuous time in history will cause people to look for leadership that is steady and firm. That leadership should be found in the Church of Jesus Christ.
6. Team Spirit: servant leaders love to work as part of a team. This flows out of their humility which values the gifts of other people. More and more the world is realizing that the best leadership is shared leadership. An awakened Church can offer the beauty of teamwork that comes from knowing God. M. Scott Peck, in his thought-provoking book The Different Drum, challenges world leaders to look to this important truth: “The strength for real servant leadership can be found only when people work together in love and commitment. It can only exist in a climate in which leaders are emotionally sustained in community. It cannot exist in a climate of competitive isolation in which idealism and humaneness are crushed. Only through community will our officials be strong enough to truly be our leaders, truly to be peacemakers.“2
True servant leadership has always been associated with teamwork. The best example of this is the cooperation of the Godhead Who operate in different functions as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet govern the Universe as One in the perfection of unity. This perfect model has been given to the Church and has resulted in the concept of plurality of leadership and teamwork in the Church.
The day of the super pastor, as well as the day of the super executive, are coming to an end. Only in the strength of shared servant leadership can we cope with the immensities and complexities of life upon our planet. Here again, the Church has an amazing opportunity. But first it needs to follow the Head – then as a united team of servants, lead the world into greater fruitfulness and productivity.
7. A High View of Each Individual: servant leadership is committed to developing the potential of others. A righteous leader is a true spiritual gold miner: He sees the gifts latent in the lives of others and wisely uses all means to extract and develop that gold. He knows success is not achieved through dominance, but through releasing the rich human deposits found in every man and woman made in the image of God. A high view of man is essential for good and lasting leadership. Christians should make the best leaders in the world because they respect the talents of others, given by the hand of their Creator.
In this area, the Christian worldview towers over all others battling for supremacy on earth. Marxism and Islam share a low view of man and selectively suppress individual talent. Generally, they both crush initiative, creativity, and abilities. Talented people only want to escape their oppression, while the majority simply give up. Biblical Christianity is not threatened by the gifts and abilities of people: rather, it is pleased to help propel them into their destinies.
A true servant leader will use power to release and elevate others. Dennis Peacocke wisely explains: “Power, or leadership, can go one of two ways. You can use it to make people or things do what you want them to do, or you can use it to draw God’s purposes out of people or situations … God views power as the ability to draw out of people and situations the purposes for which they were created. Servant leadership is just that; it serves by drawing out potential, helping turn it into achievement.“3
8. Not Self-seeking: a servant leader does not care about position or status. This is contrary to his very nature. He exists to serve, and is motivated to do so out of the joy serving brings and the pleasure that comes to the heart of God. His is not the leadership of force or power. He has the leadership of loving influence and sacrifice. This humble quality is what gives him his true authority: He can be trusted to lead because he doesn’t care about power.
Servants are not concerned about rank, privileges, titles, and benefits. A servant wants to give his life meeting the needs of others. If he can do that through a position of responsibility, that is fine. But if his position is taken away and given to someone else, that doesn’t matter either. Nothing has changed in his heart. Titles and positions may be means to the end, but the goal of the servant leader is plainly and simply to serve.
Servants to All
Every Christian must follow Jesus Christ by becoming a servant to all. Now is the moment in history to accept the challenge of changing nations through Christian servanthood. This is an offensive posture, not one of retreat. The strategy is nothing but the power of service.
The world is crying out for leaders to guide them. But no answers will work except those of the King of kings and Lord of lords. His is the pathway of obedience and servanthood. At this crucial juncture in human civilization, with a new century looming in front of us, this question paraphrased from Esther 4:14 asks the Church: “Have we not come into the kingdom for such a time as this?”
We must set our hearts on serving people and nations in the spirit and true servanthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we emphasize authority, we will end up in tyranny. If we properly emphasize serving God and serving people, we will give good leadership.
Will we try to lead by worldly means, or will we pay the price of serving people better than anyone else? There are short-cuts to power through manipulation and control. But the manner in which we gain power will also determine how we use that power – will it be by force and coercion, or by loving influence and servanthood?
The cultural mandate of developing the earth is still the goal of God through His Church. Pat Robertson is right when he says: “It is clear that God is saying, ‘I gave man dominion over the earth, but he lost it. Now I desire mature sons and daughters who will in My name exercise dominion over the earth and will subdue Satan, the unruly, and the rebellious. Take back My world from those who would loot it and abuse it. Rule as I would rule.’“4
Leadership will be exercised in the world for the remaining days that God allots to man upon this fragile planet. Someone is going to give direction to the nations as we head into the 21st century. It could be the various forces of evil plunging entire peoples and nations into gross darkness and human despair.
But let our prayer and action be this: that the Church may arise to her destiny, and give light and blessing to the peoples of the earth through serving them better than anyone else.
This article was taken from the book Leadership for the Twentieth Century by Ron Boehme, © 1989, Frontline Communications. Used by permission of the author.
1 Letter to the author, February 18, 1988.
2 M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 324.
3 Dennis Peacocke, The Bottom Line, August, 1987.
4 Pat Robertson, The Secret Kingdom (New York: Bantam Books, 1984), p. 201.