Leadership Articles

Revisiting Servant Leadership

A Feature Article from Leading by God's Design
August, 2016   |   By Dan Gaynor

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I'm convinced that servant leadership may be among the most widely misunderstood concepts. As Christian's we rightly embrace it, Jesus demands nothing less, "Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, 'If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." (Mark 9:35) It is in the application that I think the misunderstanding so often arises. So just what is my take on what Jesus teaches and how might it be different from the way often see the phrase, "servant to all"?

I think at times we Christians have a tendency to forget half the Bible when we consider servant leadership. We remember well the loving, forgiving, encouraging references, and well we should. The first and most important condition every leader must meet is to lead in love and to put the interests of team and mission ahead of self. I do see a tendency though to often overlook the correcting, rebuking, disciplining half to the disadvantage of those same people and mission. The outcome is benign and ineffective leadership that avoids confrontation at all costs. Let's recall what Jesus said in Revelation 3:, "Those I love I rebuke and discipline, so be earnest and repent." In God's design rebuke and discipline are acts of love.

If we are to rightly understand servant leadership, I believe we must start with the question: who or what does the leader serve? Our answer, while likely obvious needs to be stated: Christian leaders serve God first and then as God's servant, the missions and the people they have been charged with. It follows then, that when someone does something that interferes with the mission or hurts people, Christian leaders must do something about it. Servant leadership will draw leaders into confrontation and not away from it.

The Apostle Paul understood this well in instructing Titus as he prepared him to provide leadership to the emerging church at Crete, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure he is warped and sinful; he is self condemned." (Titus 3:10-11) Paul understood how damaging division within the emerging church would be and so he gave his designate clear instructions to confront it and to resolve it in a timely matter. Paul wanted to ensure Titus extended a fair warning first, however in the event the warning was not heeded Titus was the remove the divisive individual.

Let's come back to Revelation 3. Why does Jesus rebuke and discipline? He does so because he loves us and because he seeks to bring about repentance. He wants us to break habits and behaviours that do not honour God and form those that do. This is the heart of repentance and it works just the same way in organizational life. Real servant leaders rebuke and discipline as an act of love, when it is called for. Just as we also forgive and encourage.

Dan Gaynor

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