THE BIBLICAL MODEL FOR SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Introduction: The Strong Natural Leader
2. A Paradoxical Style of Leadership
3. The Example and Teachings of Christ
4. Some New Testament Terms for Leaders
5. Principles of Servant-Leadership
THE STRONG NATURAL LEADER
Competent leadership is a much sought-after commodity in almost every area of our contemporary society. The business community in particular demonstrates the priority it places on quality leaders by the price its willing to pay to secure or train them.
Perhaps the most desirable leaders are those whom some have called "strong natural leaders" (SNL)--men and women who share some common personality traits:
Most SNLs lead by precept and power. They super-motivate people verbally and sweep them along in the dramatics, energy, and action of what they are doing (John MacArthur Jr., Shepherdology, p. 114).
Such is the worlds standard of leadership. But Gods standard is quite different.
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A PARADOXICAL STYLE OF LEADERSHIP
"Who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves" (Luke 22:27).
With those brief words, Jesus made a clear distinction between the self-centered leadership of His day and the others-centered leadership that was to characterize His disciples.
Jesus taught that true spiritual leaders are servants--first of God, then of His people. Thats a paradoxical and revolutionary concept because normally servants dont lead and leaders dont serve. But servant-leaders operate on a spiritual plane, not a natural plane. Therefore they must forsake the worlds model of leadership and embrace Christs, which places character above function, motives above activities, humility above promotions, faithfulness above success, and others above self.
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THE EXAMPLE AND TEACHINGS OF CHRIST
Jesus Was a Servant
Jesus was the supreme example of His own philosophy of ministry. In the incarnation, He voluntarily set aside the independent exercise of some of His divine prerogatives, took the form of a bond-servant, and humbled Himself through obedience--even to the point of dying on the cross (Phil. 2:7-9). His whole life was dedicated to fulfilling His Fathers will on behalf of others. Thats the heart and soul of a true spiritual leader.
Jesus repeatedly used the slave/master metaphor to teach servant-leadership to His disciples. In John 13:12-17 He dramatizes humility, which is its primary characteristic:
In Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus condemns the prideful and self-seeking Jewish religious leaders, then uses the opportunity to stress the nature of true leadership:
They love the place of honor . . . and being called by men, Rabbi. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.
But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
William Hendriksen gives this helpful commentary on that passage:
. . . . So Jesus is saying that the attention of his followers must not be fixed on human titles and distinctions but on God in Christ, worthy of all reverence, praise, and honor. . . . To yearn for distinctions and honors above ones fellowmen, and unrelated to the glory that is due to Christ . . . is (what) Jesus condemns (New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 824).
Jesus also confronted His own disciples for their sinful ambitions. In fact, much of his teaching on servant-leadership was prompted by their disputes over which of them would be greatest in Gods Kingdom.
We see that a servant-leader must shun pride and selfishness and embrace humility and self-sacrifice. Later well see how those characteristics apply more specifically to his ministry.
Jesus Was a Shepherd
Jesus saw Himself as the shepherd of His people. In John 10 He says,
Just prior to His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to His disciples,
Hebrews 13:20 says,
Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, who purchased His flock with His own precious blood, then appointed undershepherds to protect and care for it (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Theirs is the sacred task of a caretaker, not an owner. And they are accountable to God Himself for faithfully carrying out that task (Heb. 13:17).
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SOME NEW TESTAMENT TERMS FOR LEADERS
The terms that New Testament writers used to describe their own ministries give us additional insights into the kind of leadership God wants for His church.
The Servant-Leader Is a Slave
The most common metaphor for spiritual leaders is "slave" or "servant," which translates three Greek words: doulos, huperetes, and diakonos. W.E. Vine writes:
Doulos is most commonly translated "bond-servant." Kenneth Wuest comments:
It refers to one born into slavery. Paul was born into slavery to sin by his first birth, and into the position of a loving bond-servant of the Lord Jesus by his new birth.
It refers to one who is in a relation to another which only death can break. Pauls relation to Satan was broken by his identification with Christ in His death. He now is in a relation to Jesus Christ, which will last forever, since Christ can never die again, and Pauls life is Christ.
It refers to one whose will is swallowed up in the will of another. Pauls will was at one time swallowed up in the will of Satan. Now his will is swallowed up in the sweet will of God.
It refers to one who serves another even to the disregard of his own interests. Paul served Satan to the detriment of his own interests. Now he serves the Lord Jesus with a reckless abandon, not regarding his own interests (Wuests Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, Vol. II, pp. 26-27).
A bond-servant wasnt necessarily without dignity or authority. Jesus Himself became a bond-servant (Phil. 2:7), thereby granting supreme dignity to that position. Colin Brown comments:
The [New Testament] resists the contemporary verdict on slaves as a contemptible lower class by, in the first place, the use of doulos in the parables of Jesus to describe the relation of all men to God (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3, p. 595).
The Greek word huperetes speaks of another characteristic of a servant-leader: his relation to his superior. This term is variously translated "servant," "minister," "attendant," and "helper." It has specific reference to:
John Marks ministry to Paul and Barnabas:
Pauls call by Jesus:
The apostolic ministry:
W.E. Vine defines huperetes as:
Rengstrof, writing in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 8, pp. 533), adds:
A huperetes doesnt dictate his own course of action but yields to anothers authority for the sake of accomplishing a specific task--as under rowers worked together at the command of a supervisor to move a mighty ship through the water.
To use another metaphor, its the individual members of the Body of Christ responding to the dictates of Christ, who is their Head. As a huperetes who is granted oversight of others, the servant-leader must faithfully obey Christs orders and convey those orders to those under his charge. He must obey and teach the whole counsel of God (Acts. 20:26-27).
The third Greek term for a slave is diakonos, from which we get "deacon." Its Greek root is dioko, which means "to hasten after or pursue." Its used in the New Testament for:
All Christians serve Christ, but diakonos, as applied to spiritual leaders, emphasizes their service to others. Paul, Apollos, Epaphras, and Tychicus are examples:
Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant (doulos), who is a faithful servant (diakonos) of Christ on our behalf (Col. 1:7).
That you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister (diakonos) in the Lord, will make everything known to you (Eph. 6:21).
As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant (diakonos) and fellow bond-servant (doulos) in the Lord, will bring you information (Col. 4:7).
A diakonos serves others by ministering the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:1-6), the gospel (Eph. 3:1-10; Col. 7:21-23), and Gods Word (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 4:6). Just as a table waiter must get the food from the kitchen to the table without spilling it, so a diakonos must dispense Gods revelation without adulterating it in any way. That task will dictate how he prioritizes his ministry and budgets his time (Acts 6:2-4).
From doulos, huperetes, and diakonos emerge a picture of the spiritual leader as a bond-servant whose highest goal is to fulfill Gods will for his life. Toward that end he submits to the Spirits control, saturates his mind with guidance and instruction from the Word, and actively pursues the ministry of the Word to others.
The Servant-Leader Is a Steward
Another metaphor for spiritual leaders is steward:
The overseer must be above reproach as Gods steward (Titus 1:7).
The Greek word translated "steward" in those passages is oikonomos, which is a compound word meaning "a house arranger" (oikos, "a house" and nemo, "to arrange"). It pictures one who oversees and dispenses the property and goods of another. He doesnt own the goods but is entrusted with their care and charged to be faithful in his duties.
In Luke 12:42-48 Jesus emphasizes the importance of being a faithful steward:
But if that slave says in his heart, "My master will be a long time in coming," and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
And that slave who knew his masters will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
True spiritual leaders are stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). In Colossians 1:26 Paul defines a mystery as a theological truth that "was hidden from past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to [Gods] saints." He gives an example:
In a broad sense, every Christian is a steward of what God has entrusted to him or her: people, possessions, spiritual gifts, and so forth. But in a specific sense, spiritual leaders are to be faithful stewards of Gods Word (with particular emphasis on the New Testament, in which God has revealed his mysteries [cf. 1 Cor. 10:6]).
The Servant-Leader Is a Shepherd
Our last metaphor is a shepherd. Jesus gave gifted men to the church to serve as teaching-shepherds to equip the saints for the work of the ministry so the church might be matured in love and sound doctrine (Eph. 4:11-16). In Acts 20:28 Paul charged the Ephesian elders to,
Peter added that elders are undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd, Christ, who will reward then with an unfading crown of glory if they oversee the flock with humility and integrity (1 Pet. 5:1-4). They do that by feeding it (John 21:15-17; 2 Tim. 4:1-2), protecting it (Acts 20:28; 2 Tim. 4:2-3), and maturing it (Eph. 4:11-16).
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Unlike the worlds self-reliant and self-seeking strong natural leaders, Gods leaders are servants, stewards, and shepherds. As they faithfully pursue their high calling, God commends His people to them:
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. . . . Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Heb. 13:7, 17).
Someday their highest goal will be realized, when they hear from their Chief Shepherd:
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PRINCIPLES OF SERVANT-LEADERSHIP
Some General Principles
1. Christ is the highest example of servant-leadership (Matt. 20:28; John 13:12-17; Phil. 2:5-11).
2. Servant-leaders are gifts of Christ to His church (Eph. 4:11-12)
3. Humble servitude is Christs measure of true greatness (Matt. 20:26).
4. Faithfulness is Christs measure of true success (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
5. Servitude flows from a pure heart set on the pursuit of Christlikeness (Phil. 3:8-11).
6. Servant-leadership is a lowly position, yet with true dignity and authority.
7. The servant-leader is a servant by nature.
8. The servant-leader is appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28).
9. The servant-leader is a steward, not an owner (Acts 20:28).
Some Key Attitudes
1. The servant-leader is a willing learner (1 Tim. 4:15-16).
2. The servant-leader is humble, not proud (Matt. 18:4).
3. The servant-leader is self-sacrificing, not selfish (Luke 22:26-27).
4. The servant-leader recognizes and maintains biblical priorities (Acts 6:2-4).
5. The servant-leader is trustworthy (faithful) (I Cor. 4:2).
6. The servant-leader serves fearfully and reverently (Heb. 7:17).
7. The servant-leader serves for Christs glory rather than his own (1 Pet. 5:2).
8. The servant-leader serves from a willing heart, not from compulsion (1 Pet. 5:2).
His Relationship to God
1. The servant-leader is born into slavery (new birth, John 3:3).
2. The servant-leader is bound to Christ (Phil. 1:1).
3. The Servant-leader follows Christs example (1 Cor. 11:1).
4. The servant-leader seeks only to please God (Gal. 1:10).
5. The servant-leader is obedient to Gods Word (1 Tim. 4:16).
6. The servant-leader is a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).
7. The servant-leader is honored by the Father (John 12:26) and the Son (1 Pet. 5:4).
8. The servant-leader is accountable to God (Heb. 13:17).
His Relationship to the Flock
1. The servant-leader is entrusted with the flock of God (Acts 20:28).
2. The servant-leader is part of a team (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 3:1-9).
3. The servant-leader actively and pursues his ministry (2 Tim. 4:5).
4. The servant-leader dispenses the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
5. The servant-leader feeds the flock (John 21:15-17).
6. The servant-leader warns the flock (Acts 20:28; 2 Tim. 4:2, 4).
7. The servant-leader matures the flock (Eph. 4:11-16).
8. The servant-leader guides and sets an example for the flock (1 Pet. 5:3; 1 Cor. 11:1).
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