Recently I was asked, “We use the phrase ‘servant leadership’ frequently, but what does that really look like? It’s all too easy to desire for our wants and needs be taken care of, rather than acting as servant leaders who care for others, spiritually and physically, behind the scenes. What are your thoughts?”
In most cases, I think we in church and ministry leadership honestly do want to be Christ-honoring servants. I’m friends with many pastors, and I deeply appreciate their love for Christ and love for those in their churches.
But all of us can find it difficult to do the hard and thankless things that servants do, especially when no one is watching. True service is training in humility. It’s interesting that Paul tells Timothy to command the rich not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, but to do good and be rich in good deeds (service) and also to be generous and willing to share (giving). Serving and giving, in concert, are the only things that break the back of arrogance, materialism, and self-obsession.
Genuine leadership is serving, and serving is leadership. The shepherd leads by giving himself to the sheep. The Good Shepherd owns the flock, the shepherds under Him don’t. We don’t shepherd our flock, but His flock: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:2). So overseers are servants caring for their Master’s flock.
This is the ultimate paradigm shift. Peter then tells us we should not be “greedy for money, but eager to serve.” Sometimes we’re eager to be served, not to serve. We all like to be called servants, but it’s easy to become resentful when we’re treated like servants.
First Peter 5 then describes leaders as “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Examples of what? Examples of Christ-like service, in which we put others before ourselves.
Leaders should never use God’s flock to build their kingdoms and reputations in order to further themselves. Rather, we should set the example of humble service. Let’s be humble leaders, not self-promoting celebrities who fail to follow the servant-leader model exemplified by Christ.
God knows our hearts. If we’re in this for fame, money, or power over people , rather than to honor and serve Christ, God will judge us severely. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
But if we’re broken, humble, quick to admit and confess our weaknesses and sins, and ready to serve, God will shed His grace upon us, comfort us, and empower us. Then, and only then, will we be Christ-like and Christ-exalting. Then, and only then, will we be leaders worth following.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.