The Bible teaches that men are to be leaders, but what does that look like?
The phrase “servant leadership” is not found in the Bible, but the model of servant leadership clearly is. Jesus wanted the men who followed Him to be leaders―but not the kind of leaders who seek power, status, and material wealth for themselves. Jesus wanted his leaders to lead by serving others. Men of Valor lead by serving others.
John 13:3-17 tells the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. Afterwards, He explained what it meant: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (NASB).
Note that the Lord did not tell them to do what He had done. He commanded them to do as He had done. The disciples were not told to become full-time foot washers; they were to become…full-time servers of men and women.
Serving others can be exceedingly difficult. It can be exhausting. Yet the most effective leaders are servants, and no one demonstrated servant leadership better than Jesus. Alone with His disciples in a room in Jerusalem on the night before He was crucified, Jesus did the unthinkable: with no one available to wash their feet, Jesus became the foot washer. The Master became the servant. The greatest and most high became the least and the lowest.
If we are followers of Jesus, if we desire to be excellent disciples of Jesus, then we must commit every day to do “as” Jesus did and use all our energy in service to others.
Men of valor are full-time servants.
In his essay “The Servant as Leader,” Robert Greenleaf made a wise observation about how an attitude of servant leadership begins and what kind of results it can produce: “The servant leader is a servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. This person is sharply different from one who is leader first. For such it will be a later choice to serve—after leadership is established. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.”
How do we know whether a leader’s service is genuine?
I really like Mr. Greenleaf’s answer to the question. He said, “The best test and the most difficult to administer is: ‘Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, and [here’s the one I really like] more likely themselves to become servants?”
He Lived It
Let’s look at Jesus in this light. Jesus didn’t merely talk servant leadership; He lived it. The only reason He came to earth was to serve God the Father and, through His death and resurrection, to serve humanity.
As for His inner circle of disciples, they became better people in every conceivable way after He had met them. Look at some examples.
Then They Lived It
The disciples all fled in fear as Jesus was arrested the night prior to his crucifixion. Yet following His resurrection and ascension into heaven, we see them acting in ways far different than before. Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4). When threatened by the Sanhedrin to stop preaching, they said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” And “they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
Again, in Acts 5, the apostles were arrested for preaching the good news and for healing. They were miraculously released from prison and went to the temple to preach. Again, they were arrested, beaten, told not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then freed. They rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” By comparison, James and John in Mark chapter 10 had sought to be seated at the right and left hand of Christ when He came into glory. Now they rejoiced that they could suffer shame for His name, demonstrating the humility they had learned from Christ.
Ultimately, according to historical records, all the apostles except John suffered martyrs’ deaths. These same apostles who had fled at Christ’s arrest, and especially Peter who had denied Christ three times, now demonstrates immense faith and courage in the face of martyrdom! Their time with Jesus made them far better men and disciples—men of valor.
Even though Jesus was present at creation as the Creator and had every right to act as “leader-first,” His statement—“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV)—shows that His mindset was unquestionably “servant-first.” And He refocused His disciples’ thinking to be servant-first.
Men of Valor know that service is the path to legitimate leadership.