4 Marks of 21st Century Servant Leadership

How to Be a Servant Leader

Servant leadership is the direct opposite of the world’s model of leadership. The world says leadership gives me the right to be served; but Christ’s example shows that leadership gives me the opportunity to serve others.

Jesus demonstrated servant leadership when He, “Laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded” (John 13:4-5).

The world’s model of leadership concentrates on harnessing the energy of followers to make me successful. Servant leadership is about helping others reach their potential for Christ. Following are four characterizing marks of the leadership Christ calls us to in the twenty-first century:

1. Servant Leaders Cultivate a Heart of Grace

Servant leadership begins with grace and controls with grace. Second Peter 3:18 admonishes us, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”

Notice these characteristics of a heart of grace:

  • A heart of grace rejects idolatry.
    Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. Hebrews 13:9
    Is there any person, object, pursuit, or pleasure in your life that is apart from, equal to, or above your love for Christ?
  • A heart of grace resists pride.
    But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. James 4:6
    Allowing pride in our lives is equivalent to rejecting grace, for God only gives grace to the humble. Christ repudiates status seeking.
  • A heart of grace recognizes weakness.
    And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
    It was through Paul's weakness that he found the sufficiency of God's grace. When we are slow to recognize or acknowledge our weaknesses, we manifest pride and cheat ourselves of the opportunity to receive God's grace. God is not attracted to our strengths; He is attracted to our weaknesses.
  • A heart of grace reigns in worship.
    O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. Psalms 95:6
    The key to effective public leadership is a genuine private walk with God.
  • A heart of grace rejoices in service.
    For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. 2 Corinthians 4:5
    Jesus Himself knelt and washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:14–17). Paul saw his role in ministry as a servant: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (2 Corinthians 1:24). 

2. Servant Leaders Cast a Biblical Vision

Casting a godly vision for others is an essential to servant leadership. Proverbs 29:18 declares, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Vision is a clear understanding of the preferable future impacted by God’s Word. It is available to a leader with an accurate understanding of God, himself, and circumstances. Vision is inspiring, change-oriented, and empowering.

Biblical local church ministry requires the entire church to catch the vision from the pastor. There is nothing that can motivate people to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God like a scriptural vision.

3. Servant Leaders Coalesce a Team of Co-Laborers

The work of God is far too large for personal pride. Servant leaders are willing to lead, but they desire to train a team. Sure, it takes more work to develop others than to go it alone. But in the long run, more is accomplished for the glory of God.

Equip and train your people by including and involving them in soulwinning and other ministry in the church.

4. Servant Leaders Continue the Purpose with Godly Oversight

Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the servant part of “servant leader.” But neither can too much emphasis be placed on leader. To effectively serve others, you simply must lead, and part of leadership involves oversight.

Godly oversight is intensive—and time consuming. But it gives others the resources and direction they need to stay in the race for the Lord.

As Paul bid his final farewell to the leaders of the church at Ephesus, he charged them, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Following are some key areas in which a pastor must provide oversight:

  • Establish core values and leadership requirements.
    Much of these basic principles are communicated through your preaching. Specifics are communicated one-on-one.
  • Allocate resources to match ministry objectives.
    Does your budget match your core ministry values? Or are large amounts of resources being spent on that which does not contribute to reaching people and growing Christians? A pastor must oversee the church’s financial stewardship.
  • Identify vulnerability in its early stages.
    So many great problems can be averted with early recognition and action. Proverbs 27:23 instructs the shepherd, “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.” The Lord’s undershepherd should be diligent in his care for the precious sheep of his flock.
  • Train leader workers regularly.
    It is only as we develop others around us that we permanently succeed. Invest yourself in purposefully mentoring and training others.
  • Lead through transition.
    I tell our church often, “A growing church is always in transition.” As exciting as growth is, people need a leader to set the course and keep things steady through the transition involved.
  • Update staff, deacons, and church family on programs.
    Paul rehearsed his missionary journeys with the church at Antioch. Most of the believers in Antioch would never personally see the fields where Paul served. Yet, as he reported to them, they were better able to understand the big picture of the ministry happening through their church.

So, to faithfully serve those God has called you to lead: cultivate a heart of grace, cast a biblical vision, coalesce a united team, and continue the work with godly oversight.

God is able to do,“Exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20). And He’s given us the privilege to lead His people in His work!

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