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Turning the World's Values Upside Down: Christian Leadership Is All about Serving

by Max Aplin  
1/10/2017 / Leadership


Reading the Gospels makes it clear that much of what Jesus taught was highly radical.  Time and again He tore up the rule book of conventional wisdom and replaced it with something very different. 

One area in which He did this was in His teaching about leadership.  What the Lord had to say on this subject turned the world’s values on their head. 

The typical nature of leadership 

It can hardly be doubted that in every culture throughout history a large majority of people in leadership positions have used their status for their own advantage.  In all walks of life, people tend to want to have power and authority so that they can get their way.  It also means that they can delegate unpleasant tasks to others.  So people typically use leadership to make their own lives easier at the expense of others. 

It is true that most leaders are not so selfish that they are only interested in themselves.  There is usually some give and take.  But on balance most leaders use their authority to gain more than they give.  This is what happens today and it was surely what happened in the time of Jesus’ ministry. 

Christ’s teaching about leadership 

Jesus totally rejected this whole attitude, however.  

In Matthew 20:25-28 He states: 

25 . . . You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and that their officials act like tyrants over them.  26 It must not be this way with you.  Rather, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave, 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ 

In this passage Jesus doesn’t explicitly mention Christian leadership.  But it must be at least part of what He is talking about.  He is teaching that Christian leaders must act like the servants and slaves of those under their authority. 

In the similar passage in Luke 22:25-26 Jesus explicitly mentions leaders: 

25 . . . The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.  And those who have authority over them are called benefactors.  26 But it must not be this way with you.  Rather, the one who is greatest among you should become like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.’ 

This passage is crystal clear that Christian leaders need to serve those under their authority. 

Often those of us who have been Christians for many years can lose sight of some of the astonishing things that the Bible teaches.  We can become numb to the radical nature of what is being said through over-familiarity with the words.  But if we stop to think about Christ’s teaching in the passages I have quoted, it really is amazing.  He is saying that Christian leaders must act in a way that is in some key respects the exact opposite of how society expects leaders to act. 

Note too how in Matthew 20:28, cited above, the Lord draws a comparison between Christian leadership through service with His own ultimate act of service.  He was God incarnate, yet He chose to humble Himself and die on a cross for us.  Although He was in a position of enormous authority over us, He chose to serve us sacrificially.  So it makes sense that His followers in leadership positions should try to imitate His service, albeit very weakly. 

Pastors must serve their flocks 

It is essential, then, that church leaders act like the servants of those under their authority.  They must give, give and give some more to the Christians in their churches.  

It must often be quite tempting for pastors not to behave in this way.  But a good church leader should always be known for his service of the Christians he leads.  He must not be afraid to get his hands dirty. 

Of course, no Christian has an infinite amount of time or energy.  So pastors need to use their resources wisely.  There are occasions when certain types of service should be delegated to others. 

Acts 6:1-6 provides us with an example of this from the very early days of the church.  The apostles were spending a lot of time meeting the practical needs of Christians.  So they put seven men of good reputation in charge of this work so that their own prayer and teaching ministries wouldn’t suffer. 

Christian leaders do need to carefully pick and choose what they do.  But every leader without exception should be known as a servant of his flock. 

Husbands must serve their wives 

Christian husbands too must act as the servants of their wives.  God’s created order is for husbands to be leaders in a marriage and to have authority over their wives.  But again, this is not leadership as the world understands it.  Instead, it involves acting as a servant of the person under authority. 

Look at what the apostle Paul says on this topic in Ephesians 5:22-25: 

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as you would to the Lord.  23 For the husband is head of the wife, as Christ is also the head of the church . . .  24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives should be to their husbands in everything. 

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it . . .’ 

Mainstream modern Western culture rejects the idea that husbands have authority in marriage.  But in doing so they are rejecting what God has designed. 

To be fair, however, I think one reason why mainstream Westerners oppose a leadership role for husbands is because husbands so often abuse that role.  All over the world men can be found using authority in marriage to take advantage of their wives. 

If a husband persists in doing this, it would surely be better for him not to have authority over his wife.  Abusing authority to manipulate anyone is a serious matter indeed.  

But if a husband does not abuse his authority, then it is good that he has it.  And when a husband uses his authority to serve his wife, it works out very well for her.  Look again at what Paul says in Ephesians 5:25.  He tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.  How did Christ do this?  He volunteered to be crucified!  In other words, Paul is saying that husbands should be enormously self-sacrificial in the way that they love and serve their wives.  This is hardly something for wives to complain about! 

Servant leaders are not weaker leaders 

It is important to understand clearly that when a Christian leader serves the person or people under his authority, this does not make him a weaker leader for doing so.  He is still in charge.  Where appropriate, he is still calling the shots.  It is just that when he calls those shots, instead of making other people work for his advantage, where possible he makes himself work for their advantage. 

Actually, a servant leader will often want to give way to the views of others.  So there is a sense in which Christian leaders should often draw back from telling people what to do.  But even this is really a use of authority. 

And when an important matter in the will of God is under consideration, a servant leader will be as forthright and insistent as anyone about what should happen.  Christian leaders should not be shrinking violets when things need to be said and done. 

But as a rule Christian leaders should spend and be spent in the service of those who are under their authority.  This is what Christ did, and His example should be followed. 

 

See also: 

The Radical Nature of the Normal Christian Life 

Is It Wrong for Women to be Church Leaders? 

Church Leaders Should Warn of the Danger of Falling Away from the Faith

I have been a Christian for over 30 years. I have a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Edinburgh. I am a UK national and I currently live in the south of Scotland. Check out my blog, The Orthotometist, at maxaplin.blogspot.com

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