You could scroll online right now and find at least half a dozen titles about how to be a great leader — how to get people to follow and listen to you, how to achieve influence and make a difference. You’d find titles about how to make your name known, build your company or acquire positions of power. Leadership isn’t a new concept; there have been leaders since the creation of the world. But when Jesus came along, he decided to flip the narrative of leadership on its head. People didn’t expect that — at all. And it’s not the kind of marketing strategy you’d find in a best-selling “how-to” leadership book today.
In Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT), this is what Jesus said about leadership:
But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
There’s this beautiful Christian-ese phrase we use to describe the kind of person Jesus talks about in Matthew 20 — a “servant leader.” In Christ, the goal of our leadership is not to grab power but to serve.
While we might have a bestselling book to reference (American Leadership), we do have three different qualities to keep in mind if you want to become a servant leader:
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. — Proverbs 21:3 (ESV)
As a servant leader, perhaps the most important quality is integrity. It is the foundation on which all other leadership qualities are built. Proverbs 21:3 is a reminder that Jesus calls us to walk in the ways of righteousness and justice — our actions should reflect our faith.
If we are true servant leaders, we can’t cheat, lie and manipulate our way to the top. We are called to do something much different and entirely countercultural — to be honest.
Integrity is an intentional lifestyle, reflecting an overall track record of honesty and good character. We will stumble here and there, and we will we fall short (because we’re humans, after all). But true servant leaders are able to confess their sins before God and those they lead.
Living life with integrity, especially in the face of challenges and temptations, is an incredible way to witness to those who look up to us.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. — Colossians 3:12 (NLT)
One of the most difficult things to admit to ourselves and others is that we don’t know it all.
With the internet at the tip of our fingers, it can be tempting to swipe through a few pages in a search engine and convince ourselves we’re an expert on a subject. It can be so easy to isolate ourselves in a bubble of self-knowledge and self-assurance, kicking out any and every opinion that doesn’t align with what we want.
If we’re not careful, we can become prideful. It’s easy to become addicted to the power and authority attached with being a leader.
One of the most rewarding experiences is the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds who can share their perspectives and stories.
Knowing someone else’s journey allows us to expand our view of the kingdom of God — it’s a beautiful place filled with people from all countries, languages and ethnicities!
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:12‑13 (NLT)
Servant leaders practice flexibility — they’re willing to adapt to their situations and surroundings. They recognize that life can throw them into unexpected situations or challenges.
But instead of allowing those unexpected events to cause anger, confusion or panic, servant leaders recognize that God is present in every circumstance. They have the willingness to practice being flexible and actually invite change!
It can be easy to get stuck in routines, with one set way of doing things. But a servant leader’s ability to recognize change for what it is — an opportunity for growth and faith — will help as they lead others well.
Leadership might seem intimidating. A lot of responsibility goes into it. But servant leadership also brings the potential to witness to others and demonstrate Jesus in ways other positions wouldn’t have fully allowed.
Take some time today to think about the people in your life God is calling you to lead. And when it’s time to make decisions within that role, ask yourself a famous question: “What would Jesus do?”