Jesus, the Model Servant Leader
The framework that makes servanthood possible for the people of God is the example of the life and ministry of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His promise of empowerment through the Holy Spirit. Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:13 implies the tremendous possibilities available to each believer, when he said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Our Lord, Jesus, demonstrated to us the essence and extent of servanthood, as the Scripture declares, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8).
The overflow of attitude and disposition of true servanthood was most evident, when He agonised in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the crushing reality and the weight of humanity’s sin began to bear down upon Him. He said “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV). The humanity of Christ was most evident in the scriptures, and so too was His obedience to the Father.
The Servant Leader
The Servant of People
This takes us to the second essential of servant-hood. The major distinction between the two essentials is that the primary focus on Biblical servant-hood is that of being a servant of God. Without this focus, the concept is irrelevant and inapplicable, and particularly because of the nature of human beings. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). It is no wonder then that humans are prone to doing things for others, under the pretence that we mean them well, when what we are really doing is establishing ourselves in one way or another. The distinction continues; that as a logical outcome of being a servant of God, Biblical servant-hood’s secondary focus is on being a servant of people. It has always been God’s way to use people to bless other people. There are two fundamental considerations for being an effective servant of people. They are:(a) Love for people, and (b) Having a Biblical view of self. Both these considerations demand a particular emphasis on the vessel that God desires to use, so as to make adjustments to that vessel that will be consistent with, and easily facilitate, the smooth flow of God’s grace from Himself, through the privileged vessel, and to the recipients He so loves; the objects of His sacrifice in Jesus Christ.
Biblical View of Self
The Bible demands that we endeavour to see ourselves from divine perspective. We were all born as Adam and Eve’s heritage; heirs to a nature of sin. God’s judgment against sin puts all sinners at a base level of depravity, and on a course that leads to hell and the lake of fire. It is from this that all Christians have been delivered. This deliverance has come, not by humanity’s initiative, but by that of the living God. “It is by grace through faith, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8). Now, if “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9), then we all do not deserve to be alive. So since we are alive, whether we are Christians or not, wealthy or not, healthy or not, educated or not, it is as a result of God’s unmerited favour. In terms of the reality of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability to Him, therefore, the only thing that separates us from the beggar on the street is the grace that God grants to us. Our exercise of leadership should therefore be characterised by (a) Inward humility, and (b) Dependence on God.
Jesus’ model challenges our whole concept of power, of authority, of status.
The King Who led with a Towel
The Servant of God
This takes us to the first essential of servanthood; that you, as a part of God’s people, where ever He affords you the privilege to serve, be it a supervisor or a simple labourer,see yourself as a servant of God first, above everything else. You could have been redeemed and taken to glory, but you were left here, and left here to give God glory; for “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB). There are two essentials that must be embraced if you are to excel in living the requirement of being God’s servant first: (a) You must demonstrate obedience, and (b) you must express love.
Demonstration of Obedience Obedience refers to the observance of God’s revealed will, in your life, for the purpose of giving God glory.The Gospels, and particularly the book of Luke, which identifies Jesus as the Isaianic servant of God, present Him as the willing, obedient, enduring servant who paid the ultimate cost of allegiance to His Lord. In His relationship with the Father, Jesus Christ represented what God wanted man to be before the incarnation and what He wants man to become since the incarnation. Adam was made to be God’s servant (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:15, 19-20), to walk in obedience (Genesis 2:16-17), and to have fellowship and communion with Him (Genesis 3:8-9). Sin was allowed access to the relationship, and it damaged the relationship that God desired between Himself and humanity. Christ, in His redemptive work, has restored that relationship for us; but we need to preserve it by our obedience. This requires: (a) Knowledge of God’s will, (b) Self-mastery, and (c) Faith that God’s way is best.
Knowledge of God’s will.
We must give ourselves over to the pursuit of knowing God’s will. How can you expect to make the right decision in respect of issues that face you on a daily basis if you do not know God’s will for His people, and for you, in that particular situation? And how can you expect to effectively lead God’s people, at whatever level, except in the way that meets with God’s approval. The servant of God must know God’s will.
It seems to me that the greatest threat to a Christian is not Satan, as many of us suppose, rather, it is the self. In The Imitations of Christ, Book One, à Kempis (n.d.)noted, “DO NOT yield to every impulse and suggestion but consider things carefully and patiently in the light of God's will.” The natural cravings and desires that God gave to us must be kept in check if we are to be the best that we can be. If we master ourselves, with the power that is available to us through the Holy Spirit, can you comprehend how victorious we would be over Satan and his schemes? “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city (Proverbs 16:32 NASB). Kempis further noted that, A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and most mortifies his will. True, each one has his own difficulties to meet and conquer, but a diligent and sincere man will make greater progress even though he have more passions than one who is more even-tempered but less concerned about virtue. The servant of God must therefore master self.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1998). The Power of Servant Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press. Greenleaf, R. K. (1979). Teacher as servant: A parable. New York: Paulist Press. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303971273_Towards_a_Theology_of_Servanthood
Applying the Towel
As a leader, this way of relating to people isn’t typical. Such a way of relating to people reverses the order. It is subversive. It destabilises. It upsets. Jesus’ model challenges our whole concept of power, of authority, of status. When his disciples were arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be number one shall be slave to all..” Jesus’ leadership with a towel inaugurates a community of foot washers. It deletes the image of clamoring for power, people climbing over each other to get to the top. Jesus’ example even puts to rest the notion that I wash your feet so that you wash mine.
Within the context of service among the people of God, the concept of servant-hood is rather more inclusive and appropriate, than that of servant-leadership. Biblical Servant-hood is a lifestyle disposition, whereby a believer’s attitudes, motives, and actions towards others, are governed by the fundamental belief that he/she is God’s servant first, in all that he does, and that as a representative of Christ, his service to others, whether as leader, colleague, or follower, must be rendered in a spirit of obligation to the will of God, and to the greatest good of those individuals. Being a good servant of God, demands (a) obedience, which requires a knowledge of God’s will, self-mastery, and faith that God’s way is the right way; and (b) love, which is manifested through love for God, and love towards God’s creation. The secondary focus of Biblical servant-hood is that of being the servant of people. This requires (a) love for people, which challenges one’s humility, patience, endurance, and willingness to learn, and (b) a Biblical view of self, which requires humility and dependence on God. The servant of God must both present and represent God, not himself/herself.