Christian Servant Leadership

Christian Servant Leadership

Christian Servant Leadership Training for the Worldwide Church

Our mission: to reconstruct the body of Christ through working with churches, ministry teams, and organizations who realize that something is wrong in how leadership works within Christian power structures.

Because these systems have abandoned the Biblical view of leadership – servant leadership – they attract narcissists and invite spiritual abuse.

But it is all that many have ever known. We work together with fellow believers to rediscover what Christian servant leadership is supposed to look like.

A Uniquely Christian Servant Leadership Philosophy

The term “servant leadership” is not only used in Christian contexts. Though many principles of servant leadership remain the same whether one is in a Christian context or not, we believe that the best basis for servant leadership is the Bible and what it reveals to us about the ministry of Jesus.

These rock-solid foundations are why servant leadership is the way Christians are to lead others – not merely one option among others. Other leadership models may have many wonderful things to say about leaders and followers, but they are powerful in the lives of communities only to the degree that they accurately reflect a Christ-centered understanding of servant leadership.

Servant Leadership Rooted in the Bible

As Christians, our understanding of how we should behave – especially within but not limited to the context of the church – must come from the Bible. This is why when we work with a group on servant leadership, we start, end, and do everything in between in the light of what God’s word says.

From cover to cover, the Bible tells us about God’s design for those who would lead his creations – his sheep – his way. From the examples of Saul and David to Paul and Timothy to Jesus himself, there is a road map provided for us. A path that we must travel if God’s people are to live as they are called to.

In Philippians 2, Paul describes Christ’s stepping down. “Although he existed in the form of God …” There is no position of power, prestige, and privilege higher than that of God. Indeed, none imaginable. Yet Jesus did “not regard this as something to be held onto” and he willingly “emptied himself” and died the death of a criminal on a cross, bearing the sins of humankind. There is no place or position lower than this. And to what end? That humanity might be redeemed, that we might be commissioned to our highest calling, that we might be empowered by his Spirit, and that we might be presented holy and blameless on that final day, having reached our fullest potential. In fact, this is the means by which we “live” the Gospel. 

God calls every believer to live out this Gospel. To have this attitude that Jesus had himself. Christian leaders are to lead like Christ – by taking on the position of servant.

Ephesians 4 says the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor/teacher are for the equipping of the people of God to do the ministry. These are listed not as positions of power, but gifts given to serve – to equip the people to serve and “build up the body in love.”  

Paul states it well in Colossians 1:  He was made a servant of Christ and his Gospel and “in Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

Paul stepped down from his power and prestige as a Pharisee and out from the power role of creating fear in the church to become brutally persecuted, imprisoned, and even martyred so that those he served in the church could reach their highest calling and potential in Christ – as they in turn would serve others in the Church from postures of humility and not from superiority.

Principles of Christian Servant Leadership

In the King Saul Syndrome, I (Jonathan) relate the story of teaching servant leadership to church leaders in Karamoja, Uganda. At the end of our time, each of the leaders signed the following “manifesto,” which best summarizes how we train leaders to live out Christian servant leadership in very practical ways:

  1. Empower and Equip – I will train the people to do the work of the ministry rather than insisting on doing it myself or building it around myself. I will seek to empower and equip rather than to command and control. (Ephesians 4:9-12)
  2. Big Kingdom Focus – I will seek to build God’s big Kingdom in unison with other churches and Christian leaders by praying for and working with them and I will not seek to build my own little kingdom (Matthew 6:33)
  3. Others Above Self – I will give thanks when I see others gifted like I am and I will give them opportunities to exercise these gifts even if they should surpass my own. Instead of being threatened by them, I will build into them and let God use them, and teach them to do the same. (Acts 18:24-28)
  4. Joy, not Jealousy – I will rejoice when God is working greatly through another Christian leader near me and will not allow it to make me jealous. (Philippians 1:18)
  5. Say No to Self-Promotion – I will wait on God to elevate me in position by respecting those in leadership above me, and I will not seek to elevate myself in my own way. (Luke 14:7-11)

Our Method of Servant Leadership Training in Three Points

To assist groups of our fellow believers in engaging the concepts and practices of servant leadership in their unique contexts, our approach to training is threefold.

1. Develop an Understanding of Christian Servant Leadership through Education

If I were to ask Christian leaders, “Are you a servant leader?” 99.9% would answer “Yes.” It’s what we’re all supposed to say, after all.

But in our experience, most really are clueless as to what Christian servant leadership entails. We seek to give a clear picture of what a servant led community is, doing away with false conceptions through clear and compelling teaching from the Scriptures.

2. Facilitate Conversation

We travel the world meeting with leaders, leaderships teams, and whole communities to facilitate the kinds of discussions and communication that must take place for servant leadership to thrive in real churches, mission teams, businesses, and nonprofits. Servant leadership is about the whole community building itself up in love, not merely those in leadership positions.

Because retreats are the ideal place to begin this facilitation, we often try to arrange these whenever we work with a group, although we are more than happy to work with the circumstances and availability of the community.

3. Equip, Encourage, and Empower Servant Leadership Communities

There are many tough things in any community that must be addressed and worked through, especially when processing such impactful and pervasive issues as the nature of leadership. There are individuals in any community that will need to work through their own issues and interpersonal problems which may be blocking community growth.

We love to come in and listen, counsel, and encourage the ways in which we can move forward and grow. We really believe that we must “become the community we are asking others to be.”

We train for the long run: our goal is to help these communities be able to build other servant led communities for years down the road. A major component of servant leadership is multiplication – servants making servants making servants.

Servant Leadership for Local Church Leaders

I once asked a pastor on the verge of a (second) burnout. “What percentage of pastors face burnout because the people cry out for a king, and the pastor has tried to be one?” This young pastor replied “Oh, easily 90 percent.”

A significant portion of Christian culture is asking for celebrity-kings to lead their congregations. Many – even students fresh out of Bible school and seminary – go into ministry determined to be that king. They want to be the one who leads the way. The one up front. The one to whom others look up. Of course, all in the name of the kingdom of God…

This same young pastor, as he embraced the principles of servant leadership, made a conscious effort to refuse to be the king for his church. Rather than be the one with all the answers, he sought to equip and empower his people to do ministry and to build up the body. In doing so, he has found an incredible peace, joy, and rest as he serves those God has given him as a servant leader – one who leads by service.

One of the cornerstones of our method when we come to train a church team are retreats and all-team gatherings. We seek to bring pastors and elders who are committed to doing church according to the principles of servant leadership together where they can learn from one another. We discuss questions like the following as we create a road map for a servant led church – based on Scripture, and built by those who will be using it.

  • What is Biblical servant leadership? What are the principles of Christian servant leadership? 
  • What is it servant leadership not? What are misconceptions people have about it?
  • How can you lead as a team, not simply as a committee?
  • What titles do you use in your church? How does this influence idea people have concerning the roles of staff?
  • What are the metrics that measure success as a servant leader?

After our times of meeting together, we continue to personally call on, meet, and coach these leaders to help them continually build their community to be one where everyone understands their roles as Christian servant leaders in this world.

Servant Leadership for Mission Teams

Dysfunctional teams. Power struggles. Misunderstandings. Disparate vision. A spirit of fear and control. Bad communication and poor listening. Distrust. Isolation.

The number one reason people leave the mission field is because of bad team relationships.

No one – including leaders – can last in such a culture. The number of missions team leaders who have emotional and physical affairs is staggering.

I remember when I was made leader of our team. I was appointed because I had been in country for three years, which was longer than anyone else.  My language, as a result, was slighter better.

I was given goals and objectives from our organization to carry out with my team, but I was never taught how to lead them. I led just like the leader who had been leading me – with some modifications for my personality. So how did it go?  

There was poor communication, some hurt feelings, and eventually there was a huge team blow up under my leadership. Wow. Humbling.

After returning home and working with hundreds of workers overseas in my role as global outreach pastor at a local church, I saw the same thing happening on almost every team. The guy who has been there the longest leads, and he leads like the guy before him. No one works with this leader – teaching and training him how to shepherd the members of the team as a servant leader. And so the vast majority of teams blow up. 

This song keeps playing over and over on the field. And it is a bad song. 

It does not have to be this way. I could have done some very simple things to help our team be healthy. I simply did not know what those simple things were. A deep understanding and practice of Christian servant leadership changes everything.

Instead of trying to control the team, there is true empowerment. A spirit of fear turns to one of joy. Pathways of deep understanding and communication are found. Power struggles dissipate. Shared visions can be achieved and visionaries can dream, try, and even fail in the presence of a team and family that loves them and helps them try again. 

My wife and I have found that the best way to help missions teams is to come in and do retreats with all parties gathered together where everyone can process where they have been and chart a new servant led course ahead. After this initial meeting, we continue to walk with leaders on an individual basis to better establish the foundations of a servant-led community.

Servant Leadership for Mission Organizations, Missional Businesses, Non-Profits, & NGOs

When small organizations begin, they more naturally do the work of growing people – structures exist to support people. But as they get larger and structures get heavier, this can flip to where people are used to support structures.

We help organizations think about how they can get back to truly supporting their people who are often in very difficult places so that they feel truly empowered to do the work of ministry they are called to do.

We know a gifted man working with a mission organization who was called to work with an unreached people group in Central Asia. Though his passion is to work with people on the ground, his agency has consistently pushed him into the position of management within the organization – a position which crushes him, though of course he faithfully serves anyway. In the name of expanding their influence in the area and building a larger structure, his agency has become deaf to his needs and risks burning him out.

This is not an uncommon situation in mission organizations, many businesses, non-profits, and NGOs.

If you are concerned that people may be getting sacrificed for the sake of structures in your organization, Christian servant leadership offers a better way forward. Let’s talk about how we can help.