Jan’s Considering Servant Leadership

kinnon —  November 18, 2008 — 4 Comments

Jan, at The View from Her has just posted Part 2 of her conversation, Considering Servant Leadership,

…we persist in pursuing leadership as something to be developed in followers of Jesus, though it is never mentioned as a characteristic of a disciple. It is listed as one of the many gifts present in the body of Christ – along with prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, caring and mercy (Romans 12). Yet we continue to send church staff to leadership conferences and require attendance at leadership development seminars. We read John Maxwell books and mandate leader quotas in ministry plans. For some reason, leaders insist on foisting this one gift above all others upon good people whom God created with other valuable gifts. Why? Because leaders think they make things happen, and they want to replicate more people who’ll make things happen, and they’re in charge. When you’re in charge, what you want is what happens. And that is the conflict.

But think about it this way for a moment. Imagine that Jesus was quite serious about laying down your life to serve, and denying yourself. Consider that of all the gifts, he exemplified the gift of serving. Maybe the denying and laying down is especially difficult – and required – for leaders. Now imagine leaders required to attend seminars on how to be a better servant. (Imagine a “Servantship Summit!”) Rather than making leadership “one size fits all,” it appears that serving is required for all, and is perhaps most difficult – and necessary – for leaders.

Back in ’05 and ’06, as we were recovering from the impact of working with the antithesis of servant leadership (or perhaps Level Minus 5 leadership in G2G speak), I wrote a lot on Servant Leadership. One of those posts was titled, What Lens? where I suggested that “leadership” could be defined by the lens used by the leader. I wrote that too many church leaders used the King lens, and then I stated,

The Cross is the lens through which we need to view Christian leadership. Through the Cross we interpret the Scriptures. When Paul speaks of obeying leaders – he is seeing leaders through the lens of the Cross. The Cross is hard. It is the place where the Creator of the Universe, chooses to abase Himself, to make Himself the lowest of the low – that we who rejected Him would be won back to Him. Paul never loses sight of his Saviour on the Cross. As he says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. When Paul speaks of leaders, he is speaking of those who are willing to lay down their lives for those they lead. Leaders who are right in the midst of their people. Paul views leadership through the lens of the Cross. To interpret his teaching any other way is to miss what he is saying completely.

And what does Jesus say of leadership in light of the Cross? When Zebedee’s sons, James and John, who still view Jesus through the king lens, ask to sit on his right and left in “glory” – Jesus asks them whether they are able to “drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptisim I am baptized with.” (Mark 10:38 ) Jesus is asking whether they are willing to be crucified like Him – though they do not understand his question even as he has just explained it to them in Mark 10:32-34 – their lens is still the lens of the king. They still expect Jesus to take His throne at the Temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows where He is heading.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

4 responses to Jan’s Considering Servant Leadership

  1. Thanks for the link, Bill. And thanks for the reminder about your Servant Leadership posts – I’m going to go back and review those.

  2. Bill, I got to study Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term Servant Leadership in a series of books. But what is often lost is that Greenleaf got his idea from Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. And one the main character in that book is Leo, who disguises himself by becoming the servant of all, even though he is the real leader.

    Sadly when the church started adopting this concept, I sometimes wonder if they missed this part.

  3. Jonathan,
    I’m more inclined to say that Jesus described servant leadership in Matthew 20 and Mark 10 – and Greenleaf picked up on that. As Petersen puts it in the Message (Matt 20:25)

    He said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”

    But I know you already knew that. 🙂

  4. I loved the idea of the Cross lens and the King lens. Brilliant!


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