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Christian Servant Leadership


When you think of servanthood, do you see it as an activity performed by relatively low-skilled people at the bottom of the economic ladder? Often, we assume that if we serve, people will lower their view of us. But this is wrong.

Servanthood is not about position or skill. It is about attitude. Leaders seek ways they can add value to others, and the primary way they do it is by serving them.

In John 13, the Savior of the world exhibited that he was also the greatest Servant of all time. The story is familiar to many. When the disciples gathered in the upper room for the Passover feast, they forgot to secure the services of a servant to wash feet at the door. It was a custom to do this. But when they realized this oversight, none of them volunteered for the job. Instead, they argued over who was the greatest.

When Jesus saw this, he decided to make an object lesson out of it. So, after supper, Jesus stripped down to a garment around his waist. Then he took a basin of water and a towel and began washing his disciples’ feet. As Jesus interacted with his men, several lessons about service and adding value arose. How should a Christlike Servant Leader go about his leadership ministry?

Christlike Servant Leaders …

1. ARE MOTIVATED BY LOVE to serve others (John 13:1–2). Jesus’ love was undeserved, unending, unconditional, and unselfish. It was not the worthiness or the merits of the disciples that drove Jesus to serve them. He was not expressing gratitude. He was expressing grace. Love made him serve his disciples. Think about it: Jesus even washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the man who would betray him and have him killed the next day.

Christlike Servant Leaders:

2. POSSESS A SECURITY that allows them to serve others (John 13:3). Jesus knew who he was, and he was secure enough to get down on the floor and wash his disciples’ feet. He did not have to prove anything. In fact, he had nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and nothing to hide. A leader who is interested in gaining a title is insecure. The secure leaders are into towels. Jesus’ security enabled him to both stoop and stretch.

Christlike Servant Leaders ...

3. INITIATE SERVANT LEADERSHIP to others (John 13:4–5). Jesus did not wait for someone to check the rule book to find out what to do in this situation. He saw a need and met it. No one else had volunteered for the foot-washing job that night—so Jesus made an object lesson out of the event. He started something that he hoped would be passed down from those twelve disciples to others (see John 13:12–15). Foot washing will never be a popular action. It will be done by leaders who are willing to pioneer an act of humility and sacrifice.

At this point let me say that I am in no way advocating we include foot-washing into our worship. As Jesus used it as an example of servant leadership, that is how this is to be understood today

Christlike Servant Leaders ...

4. RECEIVE SERVANT-MINISTRY from others (John 13:6–7). A servant’s heart exposes pride in others. Peter had a challenging time letting Jesus serve him. He still possessed a worldly mindset that assumed that someone of Jesus’ caliber should never stoop to wash feet. Sometimes leaders must learn to let others serve them. Leaders sometimes become so used to serving others, it is difficult for them to relax and receive. In this instance, Jesus was asking Simon Peter to sit and allow the Master to serve him.

Christlike Servant Leaders ...

5. WANT NOTHING TO HIDER THEIR RELATIONSHIP with God (John 13:8–9). Peter moved from one extreme to the other. If Jesus was going to wash him, he did not want to miss anything he might do. He wanted Jesus to wash his entire body. Peter exhibits a great attitude here. If Jesus was giving away, he wanted to receive all that Jesus had to give; he did not want anything to stand between him and his Lord.

Christlike Servant Leaders ...

6. TEACH SERVANTHOOD by their example (John 13:12, 15). Afterward, Jesus discussed the meaning of his foot washing. He reminded them that the Master and Lord had just washed their feet, so no position should prevent them from doing it for someone else. Jesus let them know that if the Master washed their feet, they ought to imitate him. His model was to be reproduced in their servant-leadership role. In fact, His example was much more powerful than a lecture about the principles of service. Actions speak more loudly than words.

Finally, Christlike Servant Leaders ...

7. LIVE A BLESSED LIFE (John 13:16–17). Jesus reminded them they were blessed if they obeyed him in this lifestyle. The greatest blessing follows those who step out by faith and do the opposite of what the world is doing. God blesses those who “go countercultural” and serve people with no thought of getting something in return from them. The return comes in the form of God’s blessing.

When leaders serve, they add value to the people who receive their service. This value might be as simple as feeling worthwhile or special. It could be that the value is a resource we put in people’s hands or a word of encouragement we speak to them. Whatever it is, people always receive something and feel better about themselves because of their leader.

A good habit for a leader is to try to add value to everyone he meets; try to add something to their lives rather than take it away. Seek to replenish and resource them to live the higher life God has called them to. This is what Jesus did, day in and day out. Maybe that’s why people think so highly of him. He served.

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