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).


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

New International Version Bible (NIV)
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Kampff November 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Enlightening as always, Pastor Jack. Loved this: “It’s not what we can get out of church but what we can put into church and giving of ourselves is serving others.” I pray I may be a conduit of His love in the world.


Jack Wellman November 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Thank you so much my friend. I have heard way to often that the pastor did this wrong or the choir was horrible and I didn’t get much out of church today and many who do not attend tend not to get much out of church but what is the real reason we are there?

1. We are commanded to assemble ourselves (Heb 10:25)
2. We are there to worship God and to worship means to give praise to He who is worthy.
3. We are there to grow in grace and knowledge
4. To serve one another (Rom 12, 1 Cor 13, etc.)

What we give is what it is about and not what we get. I see that as a major stumbling block for many in the church and sadly, God must not be pleased at all but they don’t think about this….I try to remember what happened to Korah who grumbled at Moses and basically was the same as grumbling against God (Num 16). Ouch!


Michael Kampff November 4, 2013 at 1:57 pm



Patricia Schneider February 16, 2014 at 5:29 am

Another terrific article with Scripture, Pastor Jack!

I would appreciate your advice & perhaps some suggestions on a recent decision I made. Have prayed earnestly about this, yet two of my siblings in Christ of our ‘New Life Community Church’ have ‘chastised’ me.
As you’re aware, I’m hearing-impaired & need to lip-read folks to comprehend what’s being said. (PRAISE OUR LOVING FATHER I AM NOT DEAF!! THANK YOU, FATHER!!!)
Well, shortly before the New Year, I was becoming sooo frustrated not being able to appreciate Sunday’s services because of these goofy ears. So, after much praying, I decided only to attend when Communion is served (1st. Sunday of every month.)
Chatted with my sister, Millie, on Skype, who suggested looking for wireless headphones w/microphone on whomever is speaking, in this case, our Pastor Don. Well, it seems they’re not available here in USA. Gary & I will go back to the place visited years ago to see if the hearing-aids have improved. (The last one only worked for about a week, then all these whistles, which I couldn’t hear, started doing its thing. Plus, the hearing-aid wasn’t working properly, so we didn’t buy it at $1,100. Of course we lost our $100 deposit. You believe Pastor Don said the Church will pay for a hearing-aid that does work?! Prices have gone up, around $1,500 now. Grrr~.)
In your opinion, Pastor Jack, should I attend Services every week? How do I handle the absurd frustration? Can’t even hear the music a lot of times, ‘though Gary tells me the volume is “normally loud enough.” Yeah~tell that to these goofy ears~! LOL!
About the ‘two siblings who have chastised me’…Ginny & Jim, oh, I just love them to pieces, Pastor Jack! They’re in their 80’s, married for some time. The way Ginny tries to ‘rebuke’ me is just endearing. (And BOTH of them wear hearing-aids! Hee-Hee!)
When I told Gary, he replied that my reasons are none of their business, that they were “from the older generation of Church members.” I laughed, Pastor Jack, telling Gary, “Sweetie, WE are the older generation!” Pastor Don Brown understands, oh, he’s really a terrific preacher as Gary interprets for me at home. (And from the few times I was able to lip-read him.)
God’s wonderful blessings and graces be showered upon you, Pastor Jack, your family & your ministry!!!
Love from your Sis in Christ Jesus ~ Patty


Jack Wellman February 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Hi Patty my good friend. I am sorry for such frustration and your humbleness is truly remarkable and a testimony to your yielding to the Holy Spirit. I would say that since you are a member of the church and the church is the Body of Christ then they church helping you is great. God will always bless the giver (the church in this case) more than the recipient so I see nothing wrong with it. As for how often to attend church, I would say whatever your conscience tells you, that you should do for the Spirit of God confirms to us, usually thru our conscience, what we should and should not do. I am glad you have a wonderful church home and that your pastor is a good one. That is such a blessing that you cannot imagine for many have not such a luxury as having a godly man behind the pulpit. Before I head off to work, after my sermon and Sunday school let me say that you should go as often as you feel led to by the Spirit and I thank God for women of faith such as you.


Patricia Schneider May 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Hello, Pastor Jack!
Gracious, I AM a slowpoke anymore. You answered me back on February 16, 2014 and here it’s now May 13! (Haven’t made the time to read all parts of the newsletter, but put them into a folder to read whenever. Gotta start changing that routine! LOL!)
Thank you ever so much, Pastor Jack, for your edifying, kind, and understanding words!! My spirit feels at peace about this decision I’d made.
Good news, though!! By changing pews to under a speaker, (which is next to our church band), not only can I HEAR the music, but can comprehend about 70-80% of Pastor Don’s words! Would be 100% if he weren’t so expressive with his arms, covering his face where I can’t lip-read! Hee-Hee! Why Gary & I never thought of doing that…we must be ‘losing it’ in our ‘ole age!! LOL!

You mentioned “if I felt being led by the Spirit” & following my conscience, usually I am NOT being disobedient to our Father God. Oh, Pastor Jack, Father & I have such a loving, terrific relationship now. Our precious Savior’s, JESUS, sacrifice on Calvary Tree not only paid the ransom for our sins, but RECONCILED us to our Father!! HALLELUJAH!!! (And to think I used to be petrified of Father?! Oh, how blind I was, Pastor Jack! THANK YOU, FATHER DEAR!!! THANK YOU, SWEET JESUS!!!)
Always, God’s blessings & His graces be showered upon you, Pastor Jack, your family and your ministry!!
Forever your Sis in Christ Jesus ~ Patty


Jack Wellman May 13, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Hi my sister in Christ. So good to “hear” from you again my good friend. We are all still growing my friend…I am blind in many ways still but God is still patient with me but you are such a treasure and I covet such godly women such as you in the church where I am the under shepherd to the Great Shepherd. Thanks for your prayers and I thank God for you and Gary.


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