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Servant leadership - What is it?

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Leadership symposiums and development programs have become popular among Christians and non-Christians alike, and it seems that servant leadership is being lauded as a particularly effective leadership style. Some think of leadership as a position of glory to be taken with pride and executed with authority. However, it seems that those who practice servant leadership are often more successful. Though occasionally taught by those without Christian heritage, servant leadership is actually a biblical concept.

Matthew 20:26-28 records Jesus' description of servant leadership: "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 your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Rather than promote themselves as greater than one another or request positions of honor, Jesus' disciples were to lead through service. Jesus Himself is the best picture of servant leadership. He brought salvation to the world not through a position of high honor, but as a regular man who was subjected to a criminal's death.

John 13:1-20 records one depiction of Jesus' servant leadership. It is the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet. Feet are dirty things, especially when they are sandal-clad and have walked through the dusty streets of Jerusalem. It was a low servant's job to wash the feet of house-guests. At the house where Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal, there evidently was no servant to wash feet. So Jesus did it. He took off His outer robe, a humbling thing, bent down, and scrubbed the grime from the feet of those He came to save. God washed the feet of man. Simon Peter recognized Jesus' humbled position and at first declined to have his feet washed. This was out of the norm. Leaders were not supposed to serve their followers. But Jesus did. In so doing, He set an example for all believers. We are to serve as He did, love as He did (John 13:34-35). We do this not through flaunting our positions of authority, but by recognizing authority as God-given.

Romans 13:1-7 talks about honoring our governmental authorities because all authority is from God. James 3:1 warns people not to presume to be teachers, for it is a position of trust. God expects much from authorities and teachersā€”leaders. He expects them to care for His children and to glorify His name. We do this not by demanding respect and obedience, but by serving those under us. Servant leaders lead people. They care for people, listen to their concerns, love the people under them, are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard themselves. In short, they follow Jesus' example.

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