In John Maxwell’s pithy phrase, “leadership is influence.” It applies to government, business, sports, education, etc. And church.
In that influence lies our power as leaders. But for His disciples Jesus turns upside down the common notion of leadership.
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45
Not to argue with the Lord, but I could never resolve what looks like a logical contradiction. Leaders tell others what to do while servants do what they’re told. You can fill one role or the other but not both at the same time.
What does Christ want His disciples to do? Suppress their ambition to lead and content themselves with compliance?
Paul believed otherwise; he commends those who aspire to lead churches.
“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” – 1 Timothy 3:1
So the answer isn’t to disparage leadership. To the contrary, it’s a gift from God for His people.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” – Romans 12:6-8
But this passage highlights the problem; Paul distinguishes service from leadership. So is servant-leadership a vain attempt to join what God has separated?
Perhaps the answer has to do with mindset. You can strive to be a powerful leader, but stay humble.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; 7rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!” – Philippians 2:3-8
Jesus adopted the mindset of a servant to fulfill the will of God and pay the price for human sin and failure.
But didn’t Jesus exercise authority over people? Didn’t He instruct, command, and direct? If He had the heart of a servant, He had the behavior of a leader.
So how do we reconcile the two?
In his Building a Story Brand podcast, Donald Miller interviewed Todd Duncan about his new book, The $6000 Egg, which deals with customer service. They stressed that putting customers first doesn’t demean employees; rather, it empowers them. In Miller’s opinion, you should have the mentality of a coach. Help people flourish; change the world by serving others.
Miller and Duncan integrated servanthood and leadership by focusing on purpose. And that’s what I’d been missing.
The issue is motive. Why do you want to be a leader? To get your way? Or to help people succeed? Do you want to promote yourself or the Lord and others? What drives you?
We’re beginning Advent, so let’s apply the question of motivation to Christmas. Why did Jesus come to this world? He could have assisted us from heaven without the hassle of taking on human nature!
Christ came as a substitute. He became like us so we could become like Him. That’s what we call “the reason for the season” and it informed Jesus’ leadership.
If you embrace Christ’s purpose as your own, God can and will bless your leadership.
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” – Philippians 2:9-13
Want to be a servant-leader? Attend to God’s purpose for you in Christ Jesus. When you do, you’ll find all the humility and authority you need.