Despite some similarities, Christian servant leadership looks completely different than secular leadership.
As Christians, servant leadership is defined through Jesus’ life and work. It starts with God, not people. “Servant leadership is a concrete expression of a daily commitment to live out the Word of God and the will of God and thereby advance the kingdom of God,” Christian writers Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges say in their book Lead Like Jesus.
Only out of this foundation and purpose may leaders truly serve others. This is the kind of leadership we train our students in online seminary degrees to embody. This is the way of Grace.
Foundations of Christian Servant Leadership in the Bible
We see Jesus’ Christian servant leadership in the Bible over and over again. At one point in Jesus’ ministry, He taught the disciples about His coming betrayal and death, but they did not understand the meaning of the lesson. Instead, they argued about who would be the greatest leader in the absence of Jesus. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:42-45, NKJV
Jesus emphasizes how the Gentiles oppressed and overpowered others with their authority. The disciples knew this. Jesus said the disciples must be servants to others instead of following the Gentiles’ example.
Greatness is serving, according to Jesus. This is demonstrated through Jesus’ example. After all, He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
One way Jesus demonstrated what Christian servant leadership means was by washing the feet of His disciples. This was a degrading and lowly task. It was one of the most demeaning tasks anyone could perform in that time. “Even Jewish slaves were above it,” Craig Evans writes in The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary. When Jesus “laid aside His garments” and wrapped a towel around Himself (John 13:4), He adopted the posture of a slave.
So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” -John 13:12-17
Jesus knew that He had all things under His power (John 13:3) and that He was equal to God the Father (John 5:18). Yet, He proclaimed that the Father is greater (John 14:28), and He chose to be subservient to the Father. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3) washed His disciples’ feet. Jesus was aware of His power but chose to humble Himself and serve others.
This is not a contradiction. Jesus was fully divine and fully human. The incarnate God “made Himself nothing” (Philippians 2:7), as many translations say, accepting the subservient relationship. In other words, Jesus and the Father are equal in essence, but Jesus is subservient to the Father as they have certain roles in the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
This is a powerful illustration of servant leadership in the Bible.
What Does Christian Servant Leadership Look Like Practically?
Out of a Christian biblical worldview, leaders can glorify God. This is a basic scriptural principle of glorifying God in everything Christians do, as Paul wrote: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Here are three practical ways Christian leaders can glorify God.
- Glorify God with the organization’s mission, vision and strategic direction. Profits can help support charity and community organizations.
- Glorify God by maintaining biblical ethics within the organization. An organizational culture can promote and implement biblical standards through policies that help staff members, such as day care centers, a fund to help workers in short-term financial trouble or letting employees take the day off to resettle elderly parents.
- Glorify God by modeling godly behavior in leading the organization and its resources. Personally applying wisdom, kindness, love, peace, patience, longsuffering, meekness, humility and other Christ-like qualities in interactions with others glorifies God.
Developing Christian Servant Leaders
Are you a leader of a church, a Christian organization, or even a corporation? Regardless of where you’re leading, Jesus has called you to a specific way of leading. And Grace College has online seminary degrees to train you to lead in this way — to lead like the ultimate servant leader, Jesus Christ.
Interested? Learn more about the concentrations offered through our master of arts in ministry studies, including Christian ministry, women’s leadership, counseling, and technology.