Jesus’ leadership example is servant-leadership. He “came not to be served but to serve” (Mat. 20:28). Servant leadership has a two-fold emphasis: 1) the servant-character of the leader and 2) the importance of the people being led. God’s picture of a local leader is not that of the manager of an enterprise or a decision maker, but of one who with the wisdom gained by personal experience builds an intimate relationship with others whom he cares for and tends with a view toward their growth and maturity. Proper leadership in the eyes of God is focused on the Lord’s will and the people’s needs.
A servant-leader encapsulates Paul’s words in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” Later in that passage Paul demonstrates the uniqueness and importance of every member in the church, shows the fallacy of any “I’m superior” attitude, and places all members in the body of Christ on equal footing (leaders and followers). A servant-leader does not exalt himself over his fellow-servants or with titles, authoritarian benefits, or service at the expense of their followers. Their character is characterized by humility and their conduct characterized by sacrifice.
A servant attitude is being in subjection to God like in Acts 27:23 when Paul declares that he belongs to and worships God. Paul demonstrates servanthood to God in this, choosing to be in subjection. God’s prophets like Paul are examples of leaders who lead God’s people and simultaneously serve God. The two acts are intertwined because leading God’s people is service to God and serving God for some includes leading God’s people.
Servant-leaders are, above all, followers themselves. Leaders are not exempt from being a follower and servant of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ wish that each follower be servant-minded. Servant-leaders are servants first and leaders second; their primary focus is to identify with the person of Jesus and serve in harmony with His purposes, Spirit, and methods. The motivation behind servant leadership is not his own authority that he uses, instead it is God’s authority that he seeks. He knows serving is not about him and what he derives from his serving. It is about every thought being devoted to pleasing the Lord, about focusing on doing what mose pleases Him. This type of leader presents to his followers an example which influences their respect–this is the source of a servant-leader’s authority. People follow servant-leaders because of the natural influence of the leader’s great character that begets the people’s respect. Secular leadership is wholly dependent upon authority, rank, and title, but leadership by earned respect is the most transformative and motivating leadership. This is what servant-leadership is intended to be.