Leadership guru, John Maxwell, wrote in his blog: What’s your highest calling as a leader? Well, I believe it’s being a servant leader. I often teach that leaders ask the question, “Will I help people?” But servant leaders ask, “HOW will I help people?” When you’re a servant leader, you do so much more than just make people a priority. You look for specific opportunities to serve them and help them reach their potential[1].


The title of this chapter and the words of Maxwell may come as a surprise to some. In God’s eyes, a godly leader is someone willing to take the meanest jobs. This is what Jesus told His budding under-shepherds:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave 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 10:42-45).


A leader who is passionate about his cause is more than willing to serve others to succeed. Aubrey Malphurs defines Christian leaders this way: “Christian leaders are servants with credibility and capabilities, who are able to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction”[2]. Note the emphasis on servanthood as basic to the identity of what makes a Christian leader.


Let me be clear at the outset of what a servant-leader is not. Such a leader is not a spineless coward who is easily pushed here and there by people. This is the caricature that may come to mind when someone reads about leading by serving. There is not a better Person to refute this than the Lord Jesus Himself. He was “meek and lowly” (Matthew 11:29), yet He was a tower of strength. He was never intimidated by the highest religious personalities in Israel and even by the civil powers of the Roman empire. On the contrary, He held His ground against all comers when it comes to defending the will of God.


So what does a servant leader look like in practice? First, a servant leader pursues the good of others more than himself. Leaders of this world typically think of their welfare first before that of others. Such leaders spend their time scheming how to advance their agenda and interests even at the expense of his people. No wonder it is common for followers to view their leaders cynically. They do not feel that their concerns are the priority of their leader.


In contrast, a servant leader spends his time thinking of ways by which he can help his people attain their goals and alleviate their suffering. Just like their Master, they dedicate their lives to pursuing the good of others.


Second, a servant leader serves. A godly leader does not think it below himself to be laboring for the benefit of his people. At times, this may mean joining fellow church members in arranging chairs in the worship hall or even washing dishes in the kitchen. Of course, such a service is to be rendered mindful of the priorities of the leader’s life. For the pastor, his top priority is prayer and the study of the Word, among others (see Acts 6:2).


Third, a servant leader is willing to make painful decisions for the good of others and the entire organization. There will be occasions when this may appear to be against serving others. For example, in our office, there are times when we have to talk to erring staff or even let a few go. True, to those being disciplined, they don’t feel being served. In fact, such an action is intended for their improvement. One has to remember that a leader serves the whole group and not just individuals. For the sake of the group, a leader may make decisions that, even for the group may look self-serving. Being misunderstood is one of the hazards of leadership.


In sum, a servant leader leads because he wants to better the lives of others. It simply means applying the second great commandment in the area of leadership. Godly leadership is to love others as oneself.


Discussion Guide

1. What differentiates a servant leader from other leaders?

2. How can the life of the Lord Jesus be a pattern for servant leaders?

3. Identify areas of your life where you can improve in serving others



[1]  Accessed 7/3/19


[2] Malphurs, p38.