pastor

8 Characteristics of a Servant Leader

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https://unsplash.com/photos/kkQAfonO1XY

In a previous post, I shared the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet as an example of servant leadership. As mentioned in that post, the idea of servant leadership has become more popular wherever leadership is discussed. However, transferring talk into action is always a challenge.

Knowing why we need to be servant leaders is answered by Jesus in John 13:12-17. But knowing how to do it—how to actually be a servant leader—is not always clear.

First of all, for pastors and leaders in churches it is fitting for us to be servant leaders because that’s how we see Jesus lead. This is reflected in what Jesus says about Himself and for His followers in Mark 10:43-45—

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

It is also the very nature of Jesus—

… and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart. (Matt 11:29)

But what if you aren’t a pastor or leader, at least not in a recognized sense?

All believers are leaders in some way in various roles in life. Wherever we have influence in people’s lives—whether among family or friends or at work—as believers, we are called to be examples and this is an important qualification for any leader.

Even within the church, whether we are recognized by others as people having influence, we are called to fulfill God’s purpose for our life within His church body (Eph 4:15-16). 

Here are the first 3 of 8 characteristics of a servant leader—seen in the leadership of Jesus (John 13:1-17)

1– Motivated by love (verse 1)

This is always our first priority. We are to be compelled by love to serve others with our leadership—not ambition, nor obligation.

We need to see people as Jesus saw them and love them as Jesus loved them. Jesus had compassion on people as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Jesus was compelled by His love for the Father. It was always His number one priority. But is it ours?

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Sheep Need a Shepherd

People need leaders

A good friend told me long ago, "People need leaders." I was a young pastor and he was a captain of firefighters. We were leaders in our respective fields and I was his pastor—and we mentored one another as fellow followers of Jesus.

His statement resonated in my heart as true. It reminded me of my responsibility in God's kingdom. Not just as a pastor, but as a follower of Jesus. Discipleship done the way Jesus did with the twelve apostles will naturally produce leaders.

An important characteristic of the Jesus People Movement was the importance of life example in leadership. I'm concerned this is a neglected emphasis today in all aspects of leadership, but especially in God's kingdom.

Life example is important for leadership in God's kingdom

Grassroots leadership

Look at the leadership of Jesus and what He endeavored to instill in His followers. What was the key? Jesus was intentional about who He discipled and He did this through shared life—it was personal.

People were drawn to Him in a natural way. From the first to the last, people saw Him, heard Him, and could not ignore Him. Even those who opposed Him and later plotted to kill Him couldn't ignore Him.

So what was it about Jesus that drew people to Him? His design for leadership was to build from the ground up—a grassroots leadership. He set the example with His humility.

People saw Jesus and heard Him but could not ignore Him

Humble leadership

Jesus used no fanfare or clever strategy to draw more people. In fact, He often avoided big crowds of people and His teaching and expectations for following Him seemed to push people away from following (John 6:60-66).

This is so backward to what is popular and prevailing mantra of more and bigger is better.

But that's not the way of Jesus. It's also not the way of great leadership, according to Jim Collins in his book, From Good to Great.

What set apart the companies that rose to greatness? One essential—humble leadership. In a business model, this means putting the company and your people above your self. This was the example of Jesus for the kingdom of God.

Humility is essential for great leadership and to lead like Jesus

Jesus the Good Shepherd

Leadership in God's kingdom involves following the example of Jesus. This is seen throughout the gospels but illustrated and explained in John 10 where Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

Just as people need leaders—sheep need a shepherd—a shepherd they can trust.

Several years ago, I was asked what the basics were to pastoring and planting a church by a young missionary pastor in Thailand whom I mentor.

I came up with three words to summarize the responsibilities of a pastor—love, feed, and lead—based on John 10:1-18.

3 words can summarize the responsibilities of a pastor—love, feed, and lead

I'd like to unpack these three words related to the leadership of Jesus and pastoral leadership in additional posts. Hopefully, you'll see how they can apply to leadership at any level for anyone who is a follower of Jesus.

As a pastor and missionary overseas, I've found myself challenged by the unending demand and task of leading people in ministry. In the process of leading, I developed a basic list of ministry priorities and values.

Feel free to download that list here— Ministry Priorities and Values

Lasting Fruit—the Plan of Jesus

The mangoes of the Philippines are amazingly delicious! It's their national fruit, and I've found no other mango like the queen of mangoes, the tu-od variety. I posted this photo on Instagram and Facebook a few years back, proclaiming their goodness, and saw a lot of agreement.

But there are plenty of other wonderful fruits in the Philippines and SE Asia—papayas, guavas, lanzones, jackfruit, and even durian, and much more.

Yet, the fruit I'm most excited about in the Philippines doesn't grow on trees.

Who's In Charge of the Church?

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lightstock.com

Who's in charge of the church? Who's in authority over the church? The pastor? A bishop? A priest? Elders? A board of directors or deacons? The pope?

The correct answer—the biblical one—is none of the above. Jesus Christ alone is the founder and Head of the church—the Body of Christ.

However, the New Testament speaks of priests and pastors and bishops. Are certain people given special places of authority over people within the church? Well, yes and no.

Body ministry

A characteristic of the early church, and almost every period of revival since then, could be termed organic leadership. This would include leaders who either break away from existing institutional leadership, or rise up in spite of or in defiance of the institutional leadership.

This was true of the Neo-Pentecostal movement at the turn of the 20th century. It was also true at the beginning of the Jesus People Movement in the mid-sixties into the early seventies.

Along with fresh new leaders, many believers were empowered to step up and serve within the church in various ways, which became known and described as body ministry. People within the Body of Christ—the church community—were empowered to do ministry or service.

This was an important principle of the Protestant Reformation, a reforming of the church back to its biblical foundations based on the 5 Solas. What we call body ministry now was known as the priesthood of all believers.

Do you want to see revival?

The 5 Solas provide the bedrock of theology for the church—the Body of Christ—to function as Jesus intended. What does this look like in action?

The early chapters of Acts provides some good insights, and later in the book of Acts when new people groups were reached with the gospel and new churches were established.

When I hear believers say they want to "see revival," I wonder what they mean or expect. What is seen in the book of Acts is taking place in many parts of the world now. However, there is a caveat.

A fresh work of God produces new leadership, but these new leaders need equipping.

This is why Paul spent a year in Antioch (Acts 11:26), a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:11), and two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) teaching the believers, while reaching out with the gospel in surrounding areas.

The need for equipping

New leaders and believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the ministry God calls them to do, but they need the example and guidance of more experienced leaders.

By the same token, those of us with experience often need the influence of the fresh new life and vision of young leaders.

The Holy Spirit gave the apostle Paul vision for this need of equipping God's people for the work of the ministry in Ephesians 4:11-16. In that text, Paul outlines why leaders are needed for a healthy church body (community)—

...to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13 NIV)

This is not a New Testament concept. It's always been God's design for His people to be a kingdom of priests (Exo 19:5-6). But Israel chose to reject this by telling Moses they didn't want to hear from God directly (Exo 20:19).

The church, the community of God's people, can't afford to make this same mistake.

If you want to see revival, a continuous equipping of God's people and young leaders needs to take place. Not just in America (or wherever you are), but throughout the world.

This is a huge need in many nations where God is already moving in a fresh way.

A priesthood of all believers

It was never God's intention for there to be a formal distinction between God's people and their leaders. The terms clergy and laity are not found in the Bible, they're manmade.

The basis for a formal priesthood or leadership is never seen in the New Testament, except to explain the distinction between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments).

This is made clear in the book of Hebrews, especially in chapters 7–10. Even when Jesus is called our High Priest, it's in a different sense than the priesthood of Israel (Heb 8:6).

A clear, biblical view of the priesthood of all believers is found in the first epistle of Peter—

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9)

This is also echoed in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).

All believers don't have the same calling, gift, or role within the Body of Christ, but one thing is clear—Jesus is in charge of His church.

The 5 Solas and the priesthood of all believers

So, how do the 5 Solas factor into this principle of the priesthood of all believers? Here's my own brief summary—

  1. Soli Deo Gloria— the primary purpose of the church is to glorify God as His living testimony on earth, as the Body of Christ (Acts 1:8; 1 Pet 2:9)
  2. Solus Christus— there is only one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5) and Jesus, alone, is the Head of the Body of Christ (Col 1:18)
  3. Solo Gratia— it is only by the grace of God that we're included into the church and how we are to serve the Lord in whatever way He gifts and calls us (Rom 12:3-8)
  4. Solo Fide— the church is not an institution, but an organism—a living body of believers—who are to begin and continue in faith (Gal 3:1-3)
  5. Sola Scriptura— the Scriptures (the Bible) are the sole basis of authority for all matters of faith, and this includes how the church is to function as the Body of Christ (John 6:63; 8:31-32; 17:17; Eph 4:11-16)

Don't give up on the church

As said before, God's intention is for all believers to be involved in the church as part of a community under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the leaders God raises up.

Do people within a church need to submit to recognized leaders? Yes, as long as the leadership doesn't violate the essence of these 5 Solas and become abusive and overbearing.

If you've experienced some form of abusive leadership connected to church, then I encourage you to not give up on the church. Seek out a community of believers and leaders who genuinely and humbly honor the Lord, and the truths of these 5 Solas.

Sure there are failures and problems, but the Body of Christ is what Jesus established. When things are not right, He will bring reform and revival.

If you love Jesus, be ready for what He wants to do on earth, and ready for His return. The time is short and there are billions who still need to hear God's story of redemption.