Leadership and Discipleship

8 Characteristics of a Servant Leader—part 2

 Photo by  Pawan Sharma  on  Unsplash

In a previous post, we looked at three characteristics of servant leadership as seen in the example of Jesus in the first five verses of John 13. This post is a follow-up that covers five more characteristics of servant leadership. These are drawn from John 13:6-17.

If you want a refresher on the first three characteristics of servant leadership, click on this link— 8 Characteristics of Servant Leadership.

4– Authority with Purpose (verses 6-9)

Authority is one of the most misunderstood and abused elements of leading others, regardless of circumstance—work, home, church, business, even within the military. Webster’s definition speaks of—power to influence or command—but also—freedom granted by one in authority.

When it comes to the role of authority as a servant leader within the Kingdom of God, Jesus is our prime example. He received His authority from His Father. Those of us called to be leaders within God’s kingdom receive our authority from Jesus and Him alone. Not a government, nor a board, nor any ecclesiastical (church) authority.

Authority—as seen in the life and ministry of Jesus—is both a responsibility and a privilege.

It is a privilege extended to us by the Lord for His purposes and it carries a double responsibility. We are directly responsible to the Lord whenever exercising any authority within His kingdom, which includes any and all local churches. We are responsible for those Jesus gives us charge over. Abuse of authority happens when a leader loses sight of this double-sided responsibility.

This is what we see of Jesus through His example in washing the disciples’ feet. Sometimes our authority over others needs to be set aside, just as we see Jesus setting aside His outer clothing to strip down to the level of a servant (verse 4).

At times, the Lord’s authority must be exercised for a purpose beyond the immediate situation. This is seen in Jesus’ dialog with Peter in verses 6-9. Jesus was washing the disciple’s feet as an example but Peter didn’t understand this. So, Jesus exercised His authority as Messiah to make it clear Peter needed to allow Jesus to wash his feet.

Whatever authority the Lord extends to anyone is a gift because it has value and purpose beyond the person who bears it. It’s not ours to wield in whatever way we want. Its purpose is to bless and strengthen others. Authority in the role of a servant leader is not a position held or a role to play but leadership that guides others with a gentle strength.

Authority given by our Lord Jesus is both a responsibility and a privilege

5– Discernment and Restraint (verses 10-11)

When the Holy Spirit reveals things to us about others, we don’t have to reveal it to them. We need to use discretion. Discernment is too often lacking or neglected by many leaders, as well as learning to wait on the Lord. Patience isn’t just a virtue it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us as believers (Gal 5:22).

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8 Characteristics of a Servant Leader

 https://unsplash.com/photos/kkQAfonO1XY

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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A Mystifying and Unexpected Event

lightstock-washing_feet.jpg

Servant leadership. It’s talked about a lot in books, conferences, and social media by church leaders and business leaders too. But it’s not so common. Talking about it and living it out are two entirely different things, as we all know. Sadly, the chasm between talk and action can be pretty wide.

Chapter 13 in the gospel of John opens with Jesus knowing His hour had come. It was the time of the Passover, a national festival and memorial. It would be the last Passover Jesus would eat with His disciples but one He would fulfill prophetically to provide redemption for all humanity (Luke 22:15-16).

John’s narrative makes clear what is meant by His hour had come (John 13:1-3), which prefaces an unexpected and still misunderstood event—Jesus washing the disciples' feet. The first five verses paint a paradoxical picture—the Son of God—sent from heaven—stoops down to wash the feet of His closest followers.

Have you ever pictured how this took place?

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4 Ways to Lead Well

 Photo from lightstock.com

Photo from lightstock.com

Leadership is influence. Many good authorities on leadership confirm this.

But is leadership just influence? I'd say it's a lot more than influence.

The question is—What kind of influence does a leader have?

Some leaders are authoritarian—almost tyrannical in their style and influence, while others use a more laid-back approach, even guru-like, as a mentor. And many leadership approaches fall somewhere in between those two.

True biblically sound leadership is more than a style or approach. True leaders and shepherds lead the way for others with confidence and humility. When done well, people follow them by following their example.

Example is essential

This is the third post in a series related to pastoral leadership. We've looked at three words essential to being a shepherd like Jesuslove, feed, and lead. As with the two previous posts, I'll use the four letters of lead as an acrostic—L-E-A-D.

What can be said about leading? A lot! And a lot's been written and spoken about how to lead. Most of what’s written is related to business environments and some of it is quite relevant. But a ministry—especially when pastoring a church—is not a business.

Our prime model for leadership is Jesus. He's the example for all believers wherever they may lead but especially for those of us who are pastors.

How did Jesus lead? He led with authority and humility and used various means to prepare His followers for leadership.

A major part of Jesus' leadership was His example. Not just as a sinless human but as a genuine one. As a Son who followed His Father (John 4:34; 5:19). This is important to note because we need to be lead-able to be good leaders of others.

Our own life example is essential for leading as Jesus led others

4 Ways to lead well

L– Listen and Learn

Listening and hearing well is somewhat of a lost art. We all want others to listen to us but how good are we at listening to others?

Listening is a vital part of good leadership. Leaders need to listen and they need to hear what's being said by those they lead.

A missionary friend of mine pointed out how Jesus listened and even asked questions as a young man (Luke 2:46). I’m pretty sure He knew the answers back then but it reveals the respect He showed others.

Reading through all four gospels this is seen in how Jesus engaged in conversations with everyone. Jesus was observant and heard what His followers talked about and even asked questions (Mark 9:33-37; Matt 16:13-15) to probe and prod them to think.

Listen well

Jesus didn't listen to look for a place to jump in with what He wanted to say. He listened then responded in a way that let others know He heard them.

If you're a leader, are you able to listen to others and hear what they have to say? If not, why should anyone listen to you? It helped me pastor God's people when I started learning to spend more time listening than speaking.

I've learned a lot by listening to others, some of it good and some not so good. I try to hear their heart as well as their words. I also try to pay attention to what's not being said, as this can reveal much.

One more thought on all this. A good leader keeps learning from others even as we see in the example of the young Jesus in the temple. This is a sign of humility and openness.

When people see humility and openness in you and me—like what we see in Jesus—they’ll be more willing to follow our leadership.

When people see our willingness to listen and learn, they’re more willing to follow our lead

E– Educate and Equip

Education is often reduced to teaching and transferring knowledge. But a good education needs to be practical and useful for life. An academic education won't prepare God's people to serve in the church.

God gave leaders to the church body to equip them for service (Eph 4:11-16). I spoke about this previously when we looked at the word feed.

Jesus taught people more by example and dialoguing with them than just talking at them.

Look at how Jesus equipped His followers—those chosen as apostles and those who chose to be His disciples. Yes, He taught them as He spoke to the crowds but also revealed things to them behind the scenes (Matt 13:10-17).

Hear, see, and do

Those who followed Jesus learned by watching Him, hearing Him, and being with Him. Those He equipped for ministry watched, learned, then were given opportunity to do what they learned from Him.

Perhaps you're familiar with Jesus sending out the twelve, found in Matthew 10 and Luke 9. Later, Jesus sends out others who followed Him—not His specially chosen apostles (Luke 10:1-3).

This is an important example for pastors—we who are shepherds of God’s people!

Teaching and training need to be useful and productive, otherwise, it's just knowledge. Nowadays we can get that on the internet. We need to educate people for a specific purpose or purposes. This is the nature of equipping.

A simple question for any of us who lead is—Are we talking about truth or equipping people in the truth?

Are we talking about truth or equipping people in the truth?

A– Accept and Acknowledge

I've served in many different ministries over the past four decades or so, often at the bottom of the "food-chain," as some of my friends say. You name it, I've probably done it, from cleaning toilets to running a backhoe.

But my wife and I also served in several different leadership roles. Because of our own experience, we learned to accept people as they are not how we think they should be. Not everyone can do everything or has the same gifting (Rom 12:4).

We've had staff who didn't do well in certain things but excelled in others. This taught us to find the right place for each person within the ministry.

Acknowledged and appreciated

Everyone has a place and purpose within the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:14-25; Eph 4:16)

When a specific role needs to be filled, it's important to find the right person. Otherwise, they will be frustrated as will we (their leaders). Accept people for who they are without unrealistic or unreasonable expectations of them.

When people feel valued, they do their work better and they're a lot happier doing it. They need to be acknowledged, noticed, and appreciated. This is especially true for those who serve in a volunteer capacity.

We all want to hear the Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:21).

Everyone has a place and purpose within the Body of Christ

D– Disciple and Delegate

In a previous post, we looked at discipleship as a means of feeding God’s people, but here I'd like to see how it benefits the Kingdom of God as a whole.

Discipleship isn't just about knowing doctrine and how to live it out, there is a greater purpose. Yes, a good disciple is a disciple-maker but there's still more to it.

Jesus knew He was preparing the apostles to lead and establish the church—the Kingdom of God on earth. Discipleship should involve doing. Yes, it's good to do life together but it's more important to have shared experiences.

By shared I mean a mutual participation on equal footing. How? Prayer, worship, serving others or any other activity where the leader isn't in charge of or overseeing the disciple. This helps create a shared trust of one another.

Delegation is not dumping

Delegation works best when trust exists. Not just dishing out responsibilities or tasks but entrusting it to others. Too often delegation is seen as dumping work off onto others. But wise delegation in ministry is an extension of discipleship.

Genuine discipleship sets the stage for reliable delegation. You come to trust those you disciple and they trust you. When trust exists, it's a lot easier to delegate a task or responsibility with confidence that it will be done well.

Early on in the Lord's training of His followers, He sends them out to do what they've seen Him do (Luke 9:1-6). He delegates ministry to them. He entrusted His authority to them along with responsibility.

Jesus shows us how discipleship done well leads to fruitful delegation. It includes authority with responsibility because of mutual trust.

Delegation works best when trust exists

Love, feed, lead

This is the last of four posts originally posted on the Poimen Ministries blog. Three posts looked at three primary elements of leading as Jesus led—love, feed, lead—based on His role as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

If these posts blessed you, please share them with others. I hope they will be helpful for any leader within the Kingdom of God, whether you lead in a church or other ministry, or lead some other way.

Here are the other posts from first to last—

People Need Leaders

A Shepherd’s Love

Feed My People!

 

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