What is Servant Leadership? A Christian Study

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What does it mean to be a servant leader?  What is servant leadership?  Are all believers called to be servant leaders?

The Word Servant in the New Testament

In short, a servant is anyone who serves.  That is, they provide for and they wait on others in order to serve their needs.  The king’s translators in the King James Version didn’t like the word slave so they used the word servant.  The most common word for servant in the New Testament is “dulous” which is the Greek word for slave.  A servant is different from a slave because a servant could go to their own home after they were finished serving for the day, therefore they served with pay.  A slave on the other hand was owned by the master of the house and they did not get paid.  They had compulsory duties and could be called upon at any time of the day or night.  One major difference in the culture of the Roman household was that a slave often became part of the family and might be able to work to eventually gain their freedom.  In many cases the slaves were adopted and came to be considered one of the family, either a son or daughter.  The families grew emotional attached to the slaves and the slaves to the master and their household.  The biblical meaning of a servant and a slave might seem closely related but as we shall see but there are major differences.

Who is Greater?  A Servant or a Slave?

Most certainly the slave had a higher value and could be bought or sold but a servant could just quit and work elsewhere.  The Roman’s considered a slave as far greater in importance and in value.  They were more loyal and would do almost anything for the owner.  A servant could easily be a spy or betray their owner and might use what they learned against them.  Not so with a slave who would often keep in strict confidence anything that they happened to overhear while in the home.

In the greatest act of humility ever, with the exception of the cross, Jesus stooped down and humbled Himself to wash the disciple’s dirty, smelly feet.

In the greatest act of humility ever, with the exception of the cross, Jesus stooped down and humbled Himself to wash the disciple’s dirty, smelly feet.

Was Jesus a Servant?

The Bible describes Jesus as taking the form of a servant and being a servant as we read in Philippians 2:7 which says he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” and Isaiah wrote “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1).  Zechariah prophesied that God would “bring my servant the Branch” and that Branch was Christ and that “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,  make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities: (Isaiah 53:11).  Clearly Jesus came to serve as He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28).  How much more can a servant give than to give His own life as a ransom?

In the greatest act of humility ever, with the exception of the cross, Jesus stooped down and humbled Himself to wash the disciple’s dirty, smelly feet.  Remember in Judea there were no paved roads, there were pot holes with water and mud in them and they lived in a hot climate so imagine how this must have looked and smelled!  Here is their Creator…washing their feet!  Even so, “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, 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 also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).  What a powerful lesson on servant leadership.  No one can lead until he or she first serves.  I remember cleaning up the floor in our church one time when a small child got sick.  Someone came up to me and said, “Here pastor, I’ll do that.”  I told them that nothing is below my dignity and I am no better than anyone here and so I would not expect someone to do something that I myself would not do.  I hoped to show servant leadership even though that is not the reason that I did it.  If I cannot serve in any capacity then I cannot lead in any capacity.

Christians Called to Servanthood

Paul saw genuine love as service to the brethren as he wrote in Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”  Even our gifts are meant to serve one another.  The gifts are not for us…but for others as Peter wrote “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” and that “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:10-11).  Jesus told the disciples and He tells us “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

Conclusion

Jesus stressed what was really important when He said that “whoever would be first among you must be servant 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” (Mark 10:44-45).  Remember if we insert the original Greek, this sentence would read, “whoever would be first among you must be slave [dulos] 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.”  If you go to church only to get a good sermon, to hear some great worship music and to get some great fellowship, you are missing the point of church. It’s not what we can get out of church but what we can put into church and giving of ourselves is serving others.  This glorifies God (1 Peter 4:11) and doesn’t glorify the self.  To be great be humble. To be a leader, you must first serve and what greater service than to give your life for others.  You may not have to give your life but you can serve others as put yourself last “for the first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matt 20:16) and the servant will never be greater than the Master (John 13:16).

Another article on serving you might like: 10 Unique Ways To Serve God

Resources:
New International Version Bible (NIV)
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide





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