Term Paper: Theology of Servant Leadership

Pages: 9 (3574 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 9  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Leadership  ·  Buy This Paper

Theology of Servant Leadership

It came as a surprise to me to learn that servant leadership is not a uniquely Christian concept. Robert Greenleaf, who is credited with creating the modern servant leadership movement, did not approach servant leadership from a Christian perspective, but from a secular one; Greenleaf was inspired by reading Herman Hesse's Journey to the East (Greenleaf, p. 21). To Greenleaf, one could be a servant leader without being Christian, and his inspiration for the notion of servant leadership came from the business community, not from the Bible. Furthermore, servant-leaders put themselves in an enabling role, rather than seeking to dominate or exploit their followers. Rather than looking for honor for themselves, servant-leaders rejoice in honoring others and seeing others honored. Because Greenleaf was not inspired by Scripture, I was initially wary of adopting his model for a church setting because I understand that "Wholesale or indiscriminate adoption of corporate business leadership styles to acquire their attendant cultural credibility, relevance, or success is to take a long step away from biblical origins and risk importing cultural leadership values that are not in sync with biblical leadership values" (Elliott). However, being so familiar with Christianity, I cannot read about servant leadership without believing that Jesus Christ was a true servant leader. Not only did He repeatedly say that was not as important as His followers, but He gave His life for them.

As a result, his person aspiring to be a leader in the church, Jesus Christ is my personal model for leadership and is the ultimate servant leader. In fact, when people question me about how one can be both servant and leader, I point to the example of Christ, because he was able to provide leadership and guidance by putting the needs of his followers above his own, while not allowing the wants of his followers to dissuade him from the appropriate and proper course of action. Servant leaders are group members first, and leaders second. What makes servant leadership so difficult for many, including myself, is that we consistently receive conflicting messages from society. I have been taught that leaders are bossy, aggressive, controlling, and command that their followers do specific things. Unfortunately, this notion of leadership, which so many embrace, is destined for failure. People are not inspired to follow leaders that do not pay attention to the needs of their followers; they may be short-term followers because of fear or necessity, but they will not be long-term followers when a leader is clearly selfish. Therefore, I am devoted to not only examining the concept of servant leadership, but also incorporating servant leadership into my personal ministry.

Biblical and Theological Foundations of Christian Servant Leadership

I find my biblical foundation of Christian servant leadership in the words of Jesus: "Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant" (Mark 10: 43). The idea was revolutionary during Jesus' time and represented a significant break with the many of the patriarchal leaders in the Old Testament, who struggled with the idea of servant leadership despite being devoted to God. There are Old Testament examples of servant leadership. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, despite being heartbroken about the idea of sacrificing his son, Abraham agrees (Genesis 22:5 and 22:8). This is an example of servant leadership; Abraham was devout and put the needs of his people above his own needs, even being willing to lose his son in order to fulfill his covenant with God. Of course, God, satisfied with Abraham's loyalty, told him that he did not want him to actually sacrifice his son. The binding of Isaac story, of course, foreshadows the story of God sacrificing His son as a way to provide atonement to His people, another demonstration of servant leadership.

Moses provided another tremendous biblical example of servant leadership. Moses spends the majority of his life working for the Lord and attempting to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Moses was imperfect, as all people are, and when the Israelites need water in the desert and God instructs Moses on how to work a miracle to bring forth water from a rock, Moses and his brother Aaron take credit for creating the miracle. Reading the entire backstory, I understand why Moses would behave this way. The Israelites have caused him nothing but trouble as he has tried to lead them. It appears like every time Moses leaves them to their own devices, they do something else to displease God, creating substantially more work for Moses, who repeatedly intercedes on their behalf with God. However, when Moses fails to do what God says and then takes credit for bringing forth the water, God becomes very angry with him. He tells Moses, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them" (Numbers 20:12). With this revelation, Moses understands that he will not be able to enter into the Promised Land. In other words, there is no personal pay-off for Moses to continue to lead people. However, he does not quit. He continues in his leadership role. Leadership without expectation of a personal reward is the essence of servant leadership. Furthermore, it is important to understand that, with God, there is a reward. "The next glimpse of Moses we are given comes in Matthew 17:3 when he, along with Elijah, appears before the three disciples, and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses did get to go into the Land after all! He was ushered into the land of likeness with the Trinity and was able to talk with the Lord face-to-face once again" (Martin & Holeman, p. 73).

What these examples demonstrate is that God's view of leadership is about servant leadership. Servant leadership is not about power, position, or titles. Instead, it is largely about how a person interacts with a group. "Leading at a higher level includes both results and relationships" (Blanchard and Miller, p.112). Jesus provides a perfect example for how position is unimportant in leadership. Jesus did not preach to people as the Messiah or as God; instead, he preached to them as a devout Jew who was seeking to reconcile them with God's will. That does not mean that Jesus denied being the Messiah; he affirmed either that he was the Messiah or was considered the Messiah by others in several biblical passages, including: Mark 14:62, Matt 26:64, Luke 22:70, and John 4:25. This does not mean that Jesus was ashamed of his godly status or that he was trying to mislead people about his identity; instead, it demonstrates a basic Christian principle of servant leadership, which is that leadership is about who a person is, not about who a person appears to be. In other words, for Jesus, the fact that he was the Messiah was almost irrelevant, because the status would have been meaningless without the actions to support them.

Furthermore, Jesus carefully cultivated relationships with people. Not only did He establish personal relationships with his disciples, but also with the people to whom He ministered. Given His power, Jesus could have used intimidation and coercion to get what He wanted, but He did not. He understood that servant leadership must be based in relationships, not in coercion. Furthermore, in building these relationships, Jesus was acting as a servant. His Father had directed the role that Jesus was to play, so that Jesus was aware that he would face execution before ascending to Heaven. He was willing to provide the ultimate sacrifice for his people, and, while modern leaders will rarely be asked to sacrifice their lives for their followers, His example proves that only someone who has learned to serve is qualified to lead.

It is important to realize that servant leadership does not necessarily mean coddling behavior. "Sometimes people need a little hard encouragement" (The Arbinger Institute, p.48). There are times in the Bible when Jesus acts in righteous anger. Matthew 21:12 provides that "Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves" (Matthew 21:12). Clearly, this is an example of hard leadership. Furthermore, in some ways it is an example of coercive leadership. Looking at the examples of centralized and decentralized organizations, it becomes clear that while the Jewish faith was largely decentralized at the time of Christ, and the leadership it did have was, in many ways, corrupt, there were times and places where a coercive model was appropriate. "Rules need to be set and enforced, or the system collapses" (Brafman & Beckstrom, p. 19). Rules had been set, but they were not being enforced, and the evidence of the money changers in the temple demonstrated how the system was collapsing. Therefore, while servant leaders… [END OF PREVIEW]

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