“Servant leadership” is a misappropriation of Jesus’ words, where instead of being servants, we choose to be leaders with servant-like attitudes.  On the outset it seems right, but all the while we maintain the status quo of worldly hierarchical leadership that Jesus didn’t want among His people.  It never fulfills Jesus’ intention of simply having servants, who by their words and lifestyle, lead.

Servant leaders and servants appear on the surface the same, but the default of a servant is to serve and the default of a leader is to lead. Jesus asked for one of these. You cannot have both! Note, Peter wasn’t asked to lead the sheep, but rather care for them and feed them. Caring meant giving the Shepherd’s love and feeding meant giving the Shepherd’s Word. Peter and other leaders had nothing of themselves to give. They were simply servants serving Jesus’ love and word. Leading through serving, not serving by leading! The Chief Shepherd reserves the right to do the directive leading of His sheep. Corporately this is discovered through mutual submission one to another.

Consider Jesus’ words below and ask yourself if you are a leader who serves or simply a servant. There is a world of difference. The first has position, the second has none. Jesus asked for the latter not the former.

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes {position} of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them {position}, and they that are great{position} exercise authority upon them {position}. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (servant); And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (slave).” – Matthew 20:25-27

It may appear that it’s only a different attitude that Jesus asked for, but at closer inspection we can see that Jesus wants us to have neither the wrong attitude nor authority over one another in the body of Christ.  Paul’s words, “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves” – Phil 2:3b, best capture the attitude we are to have toward one another. Creating hierarchy automatically undermines this attitude.

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat {position}… But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts {position}, and the chief seats in the synagogues {position}, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi {title}. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth {title}: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters {title}: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.– Matthew 23:2-12

Brotherly mutual submission and hierarchical leadership are mutually exclusive ideas. You cannot have both! We are called to the former!

Jesus too, chose to be a servant who led, not a leader who served.

Are you a servant leader or are you leading as a servant?

Related post: Church Governance 101

The Bible passages with the inserted {words} are from a very insightful presentation http://biblicalelders.com/presentation.htm (Note: not all views in the presentation are supported by Light and Life Bible Ministries)

By Rob Morley

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