THESIS: A Christian leader is a servant = choosing to be a slave of Jesus Christ so that he can be free from the restraints of this world in order to obey Jesus’ commands and serve His interests.
I’d like to preface my remarks by clearly stating that, through I am specifically addressing my remarks to church professionals, the term “Christian leader” is really an oxymoron. If you are a Christian that is in a position of leadership then you are by nature (or should be) a Christian leader, and as it relates to today’s topic a “Servant Leader”. There is not one set of “Standard Operation Procedures (morals and ethics, etc.) for Church leaders and another for leader in the “real world.” This lesson applies to all Christians that seek to lead.
Now to the subject. I don’t think that most people have ever really considered the high cost of being a Christian leader. A careful reading of the definition that I have given us should cause us to pause a moment. Think about it. Have you really given careful and intentional consideration to what it means to “choose to be a SLAVE of Jesus Christ”
And how would you apply to your life the expression: “Being free from the restraints of this world in order to obey Jesus’ commands and serve His interests.”?
Let’s examine these issues.
First: What does it mean to be a slave of Jesus Christ? Matthew 20:20-28 offers a good case study from Jesus’ leadership teachings.
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)[dk1]
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Him with her sons. She knelt down to ask Him for something. 21 “What do you want?” He asked her. “Promise,” she said to Him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left, in Your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able,” they said to Him. 23 He told them, “You will indeed drink My cup. But to sit at My right and left is not Mine to give; instead, it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 24 When the 10 disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you[dk2] . On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant[dk3] , 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave[dk4] ; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”
Notice in particular verse 28 – for it reveals some of what Jesus is speaking of concerning being a slave…
- Slaves do not show up to be served; they show up to serve.
- Slaves do not show up to get; but to give.
- Furthermore, this idea of giving is much more than adding a little value here or there; a slave gives their life. Their life is devoted to their Master. Fulfilling his commands and protecting and advancing his interests are their purpose in life.
- Slaves do not have the luxury of clocking out or signing off; a slave serves 24/7 if need be. Jesus sums it up clearly in Luke 17…
Luke 17:7-10 (HCSB)
7 “Which one of you having a slave tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank that slave because he did what was commanded? 10 In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’”
Now let us briefly address the second portion of our definition of being a servant leader…
Second: How can we be free from the restraints of this world in order to obey Jesus and serve Him?
Matthew 6:24 (HCSB) No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.
- I am afraid that far too many Christian leaders have divided interest. Because of the calling on their lives, they serve Christ and his Church but they also have “outside interests” that sap the passion and strength from their lives. They are “worldly” chasing after the same things that the non-Christian leader seeks – money, position, perks, and such.
- We have failed to teach one of the vital doctrines of the Christian faith that is pertinent to this subject and that is the concept of salvation as being “purchased”. For example Paul strongly admonished the leaders of the church at Ephesus:
Acts 20:28 (HCSB) Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased [dk5] with His own blood.
- In other words, an important part of Jesus’ atoning work was to “purchase” us – we belong to Jesus. This important doctrine is beyond the scope of this essay, but it bears being mentioned for it is important in understanding servant leadership.
- However, having said all that it must be remembered that Servant Leadership is not about humility. A servant leader will be humble (that is a subject for another lesson), but don’t fall for the trap of doing things so people will notice how humble you are and say, “Ah what a servant!” That is NOT the goal. The goal is to achieve Jesus’ goals! We serve – lay down our lives – because we want Jesus’ honor and glory to be magnified and his interests advanced.
This has strong practical applications when it comes to leading people:
- FIRST: Being a servant leader requires knowing who the Master is and keeping Him as the Master. And of course the Master is Jesus Christ.
- As I allured to above, a very real danger is to make ourselves the master. Our service to Jesus and his Bride (Church) is not really about them but about making ourselves feel better or important.
- Another danger very real danger is making the people of God the master. It must be strongly emphasized that our mandate is first serve Jesus and then through Him serve people.
- In other words, while most often the practical manifestation of being a slave of Jesus Christ is going to be that we serve his people, our service them is always secondary.
- Our example is Jesus himself. There were many times that Jesus walked away from the people because he served a higher purpose – to do His Father’s will (John 15:9-10).
- I like Brian J. Dodd’s thoughts on this: “Sometimes it is difficult for caring pastors to keep a balance between serving people and pleasing them. Bob Schaper, a seminary professor of mine, taught me a motto that has helped me keep the balance between obedience to Christ and servant-like posture towards people: I am your servant, but you are not my master.” _Brian J. Dodd, Empowered Church Leadership, p. 57
- SECOND: Being a servant leader means that we serve Jesus’ interest (do not get distracted by lesser things!)
2 Timothy 2:3-4 (NKJV) You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
- THIRD: Being a servant leader means that we do what is in the best interest of those Jesus has called us to serve (His will, not ours or theirs). This will require tough choices, and “shooting straight” with people. This must always be done in the spirit of Christ (love) but nevertheless, our goal is to mature people to become fully functioning followers of Christ. This will not be easy and will often require serving them in ways that they will not fully understand nor appreciate.
- FOURTH: Servant leadership is the best way to succeed and be great. Again, Jesus did not condemn his disciples for wanting to be leaders and for wanting to be great leaders; He just reminded them that the best way to do this is to be a servant leader. And oddly enough, even if pagans practice servant leadership they will succeed. In other words, this is one of the standard operating procedures (the way Jesus designed the universe)
- FIFTH: Finally, it must be remembered that not only does Jesus permit you to be a great leader but he expects it. We will give an account and that account could be a horrible ordeal if we do not succeed at being a productive servant leader.
14 “For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.
15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one—to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.
17 In the same way the man with two earned two more.
18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts [dk6] with them.
20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’
21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’
22 “Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’
23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’
24 “Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’
26 “But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.
28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents.
29[dk7] For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
30 And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Closing observations: (In light of the fact that most often our expression of servanthood will be in serving people[dk8] …)
- I commend the wise counsel that Solomon’s advisors gave to Rehoboam; if only he (and his dad!) had listened.
- I Kings 12:7 (The Message) If you will be a servant to this people, be considerate of their needs and respond with compassion, work things out with them, they’ll end up doing anything for you.
Remember, followers ask three questions: (learned from John Mawell’s teaching)
FIRST: Do you care for me?
- A relational issue – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” (Jesus was often “moved with compassion”)
SECOND: Can you help me?
- Put another way: “Will my life get better?” or “Will this leader take me to another level.”
- This is a competence issue – It doesn’t matter how much you care for people if you are not competent. Leadership requires continual growth. For example, nobody goes to the loving old family doctor that still bleeds his patience!
THIRD: Can I trust you?
- This is a character issue.
- No matter how effective a scorpion may be, nobody follows a scorpion because of their character.
Servant Leadership positively addresses all three.
Finally, let this be the servant leader’s motto:
Titus 2:9-10 (HCSB) Slaves are to be submissive to their masters in everything, and to be well-pleasing, not talking back 10 or stealing, but demonstrating utter faithfulness, so that they may adorn the teaching of God our Savior in everything.
_david l. kemp \ 120110 Staff Meeting
[dk1]Even though I like the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the reason I have used this particular translation throughout this essay is because the translators of the HCSB are the only translators with the courage to accurately translate the word “doulos” as slave (its true meaning).
[dk5]Note the concept of “redemption” / this is a “purchasing” concept (Ephesians 1:7, 14; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:19).
Even the concept of being given our freedom should be seen in terms of being free to be what we were originally meant to be, i.e. stewards of God on earth (Genesis 28)
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
[dk7]This verse gives one of the Kingdom’s standard operating procedures (one of the rules of the universe)
[dk8]Though our duty to be slaves of worship should never be underestimated. This is extremely more important than serving people (a subject for another time)