Servant Leadership – Introduction (1 of 6)
January 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
So, when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:3-5, 12-17).
The above passage from John shows us a picture of Jesus, the perfect example of leading as an act of service.
When we speak of servant leadership we are referring to the very model of leadership of Jesus, whose life is a continual example of what it means to be a servant leader. Without fail, he seeks to serve those around him. He leads by example. He gives his disciples a clear vision and understanding of his mission. He equips them to work toward fulfillment of the mission. In Matthew 20:25-28 the text reads:
“But Jesus called them to himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus’ words here are paradigmatic: he intends for his followers to model his very life. He lives to serve those around him: he provides the ultimate example of sacrifice in giving his life for his people—those the Father has given him. This sacrificial attitude embodies all of his words and actions. He embodies and epitomizes servant leadership. As servant leaders, then, we are to serve the vision that is given us by Christ himself—we are to serve those we seek to lead and, unlike the typical leadership model set by this world, we are to set a clear vision that is going to help the world. This necessarily means that in the process of striving to lead thus, such leaders may not be served by their followers in return. This is a chance we must be willing to take to emulate Christ who had no guarantee of reciprocity of the service he so readily gave. However, that being said, it is part of the mission and vision of Christ to make disciples who will in turn make disciples and who will serve those they seek to lead, following the example you have placed before them. A follower can only be as much of a servant as the leader he imitates. This is important to remember as the ultimate responsibility for the action of the follower lies with the leader: if there is a problem with a follower, the leader needs to first evaluate his leadership in pursuit of the root of the problem. It is likely that he is not modeling Christ’s example of servant leadership, and thus fostering such in his followers.
In their work Lead Like Jesus, Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges make clear that the single greatest leader of all time is Jesus Christ. He is the one we are to emulate in leadership. All others will fall short, but Christ’s life stands flawless. They say:
“In His instructions to His first disciples on how they were to lead, Jesus sent a clear message to all those who would follow Him that leadership was to be first and foremost an act of service. No Plan B was implied or offered in His words. He placed no restrictions or limitations of time, place or situation that would allow us to exempt ourselves from His command. For a follower of Jesus, servant leadership isn’t just an option; it’s a mandate” (Blanchard and Hodges 2005, 12).