Servant Leadership

A Biblical Model of Servant Leadership

Position Paper

We believe that Christian Leadership is ultimately expressed through the life and words of Jesus as expressed in the Bible. We take the radical view presented in Philippians 2 that Jesus came to this world to demonstrate the character of God. In doing so, He demonstrated the highest form of leadership, the leadership provided by a servant-more to the point, a bondservant, one who presents himself to another in servitude.

"Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity each of you should in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave1 by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death-even the death of the cross!" (Philippians 2:1-7. The NET Bible.)

Recent exegetes site the conditional participle in verse 6 suggesting that a better translation is "precisely because he was God, he became a servant". Thus, it is the essential nature of God to be a servant, not an exception to His nature.

We believe that one of the fundamental characteristics of God is to become such a servant. We believe that God, in Christ, demonstrates this aspect of His character in sending Jesus to be our Guide and Model, as well as our Savior.

This concept is expanded by the words of Jesus Himself in Matthew 20:26-28 and Matthew 23:11-12.

"It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you 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: 26-28. The NET Bible)

"The greatest among you will be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted". (Matthew 23:11-12. The NET Bible)

Again, the word translated "slave" is more accurately interpreted as a "bondservant," one who, because of personal debt, pledges himself or herself in servitude to another.

Christian leadership is not based in any inherent or acquired authority. Rather, Christian leaders are mere instruments of Christ; what we do we do in His name. (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21-23; Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18-20.) What does it mean to act in the name of Christ? Only when we act according to the mind of Christ do we act with His authority; this attitude precludes doing anything merely to enhance our own position or prestige. Christ's Spirit will always be reminding us, "You are a servant of servants; you can do enormous good if you don't care about getting credit for it." Servant Leadership, as thus described, is not about power or position, although it can be present in one who has power as well as position. Rather, it is about a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ, Who lived for the express purpose of serving others.

Servant leaders are one with their community. They listen, honor, trust, help and encourage others-treating them with dignity and respect.

This model of leadership is a radical one because it represents a dramatic return to what we believe is the original Heaven-defined concept of leadership and a departure from the egocentric concept that seems to pervade current secular thinking. In a world where power and position rule, the idea of Christian leadership, as defined herein, is difficult to understand and even more difficult to convey. By the Grace of God, and to His glory, it is the purpose of the Christian Leadership Center to promote and assist in the development of Christian leadership throughout the world.

The Christian Leadership Center at Andrews University
February 25, 2003
Responses are welcomed.