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What does it mean to be a servant leader?

To listen to Nancy's answer recorded live on Moody radio, click here

Few are called to lead multitudes of people, but all Christians are called to lead by the way we live our lives and speak into the culture. Our perfect model of a leader is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Through His life on earth, He showed us how to lead by being a servant who listens to the Father and is obedient to His Father’s will.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26–28). All leadership should be servant leadership.

Godly leaders should continually check their motives of why they want to lead. Being a leader does not mean that everyone will listen to you and do what you tell them to do. It does not promise a position of honor, glory or power. It takes a humble person who listens to God through His Word and commits to follow through to the end no matter what.

The disciples learned this lesson directly from Jesus. “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10: 35-38) “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 10:43-45).

“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).

It is sad commentary in the church today is that we have many “Christian” celebrities who are pastors who want to have their voice heard but have no interest in pastoring their own people with a towel and basin to wash their feet.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 1:30).

The bottom line to the application of servant leadership is that we should never emulate the examples of the world; our example is Jesus, who came as a servant. Therefore, our mission is to serve one another and to give of ourselves. Christ came to give His life. We are to give of our lives, not only in service to Him, but to our fellow man including those in the church and outside it!

Important principles of servant leadership in action:

1. Be quick in offering to serve and be willing to give of yourself in new and different ways. You will find you can do things you never could have imagined. Would you consider taking food to the homeless and sitting on a sidewalk with them or join a team that visits prisoners can be a blessing for all.

2. Make sure they know that you care. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Being knowledgeable alone does not make you a good leader. Being knowledgeable and caring does. Through that, you will gaining trust of others that will give you opportunities to start sharing about Jesus.

3. Invest in others. Freely giving your time is a surefire way to let others know how much you care. Spend time connecting with others as often as you can.

4. Don’t place restrictions on your willingness to serve. A true servant leader is willing to clean toilets if necessary. Take time to learn the names of people with whom you work and so when you see them, you can offer words of encouragement.


Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 29-31).

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