Servant Leadership Is Jesus' Style

Servant leadership is the idea that in order to be an effective leader, one must be willing to serve his/her followers. What does that entail? It means first that the leader must provide the followers with the materials and resources needed to get their jobs done. Too many times one hears the complaint from a subordinate stating that there is something missing or is needed to do the work expected of them. I was consulting in an organization that expected a service manager to find the best prices on parts needed for vehicle repair. That person had a computer, but was restricted to only certain sites he could access. It caused a lot of frustration because he knew there were substantial savings found at other places, and it did mean the company could not take advantage of those available savings. It is a shame that “rules are rules,” however. Jesus gave his disciples everything needed for their work. He blessed them and gave them the very power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their tasks. For example, one day Jesus was in a boat talking to a large group of people, and he was talking in parables. When asked by the disciples why he spoke to the people in parables, Jesus said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given to you but not to them” (Matthew 13:11 NIV). He constantly taught and empowered them.

Second, the Lord allowed the disciples to work without micromanaging. When he called Peter and Andrew to follow him as his disciples, he said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19 NIV). And, he did. He worked closely with his disciples in teaching them about the kingdom of heaven. He was constantly showing them how to interact with the crowds that followed them. He worked miracles in their midst and gave them the power to do miracles, also. Sometimes, they failed. There was an instance where they could not heal a demon possessed young man. Jesus healed him, and the disciples came to him in private to ask why they could not heal the boy. Again, Jesus taught them, and in so doing, encouraged them to increase their faith. All through Jesus’ ministry, he and the disciples worked as a close and cohesive team. Certainly, there was a little infighting occasionally (when they wanted to have him appoint one to sit on his right hand in the kingdom), but all the power of the ministry came about because of the team effort---Jesus taught, equipped them and let them do their thing. This culminated in the time after the resurrection of the Lord. He was so confident in his team, that they could perform his work without them, that he instructed them to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you(Matthew 28:19-20 NIV). What amazing confidence in his team---and that team changed the world.

Third, the servant leader has a vision and a calling that is clearly transmitted to the team and that the team embraces. Jesus had such a vision and calling. He said that he came into the world to save sinners. He said that he came to do the Father’s will. He said he came to bring salvation to the world, that the world through him might be saved. He came to establish the kingdom of God. This was the purpose for which the second person of the Godhead left the glory of heaven, was born of a virgin and died an ignominious death. His victorious resurrection sealed the mission, and the disciples were assured that the vision and mission to which they subscribed was in fact complete. That is the reason they were able to go into the entire world and preach the gospel. That is the reason that they were willing to give their very lives for that vision and mission. They were totally committed to their leader.

Finally, the servant leader is willing to put others before his/her self interests. It is the living out of the “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” The best example of this is found in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John. It is the evening meal of the Passover, and Jesus is having the meal with his disciples. While the meal is in progress, Jesus removes his outer garment, places a towel around his waist, takes a basin of water and begins washing his disciples’ feet. You remember that in Jesus’ time, people would bathe prior to going out, but because they travelled on the dusty roads and wore sandals, their feet would become dirty. When they arrived at their destination, the host’s servant would wash their feet so they could be comfortable. This was a servant’s job, and on this occasion, our Lord took that position and that job---washing his disciples’ feet. Why? What was he teaching them and us about how a leader should behave? Listen to the account found in verses 12 through 15 from the Message version: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as Teacher and Master, and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.” The Lord is teaching us that <>servant leaders need to serve their subordinates. They need to be able to consider their needs as important as the leader’s. Don’t misunderstand. He does recognize the need for a hierarchy in leadership roles. He continues to say, “A servant is not ranked above his master, an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I am telling you, act like it---and live a blessed life.” A servant leader shows empathy toward his/her subordinates, loves them, cares for them, wants the best for and from them and assists their performance. Observe the way the Lord loved, cared for and taught his disciples. Look at the way the disciples gave up their personal comforts and interests in order to follow Jesus. This is a great example of a smoothly working team focused on accomplishing the vision and mission of the group, and it all came about as a result of the servant leadership role of the Lord.

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