A late Bible teacher and author who was a church leader in England made a profound statement concerning the need for servant leadership in Africa. In a continent which is seeking to come out of poverty, corruption, mismanagement and financial greed extending from the top leadership to the local mwananchi, the need for servant leadership cannot be overemphasized. It is in this context that John Stott said that what Africa needs is not more resources of aid but more servant leaders.
Those words could not be more relevant to us than today. He has gone to be with the Lord and His life is that of a servant leader. He gave a lot into the church and its leadership and helped many through His dedicated authorship to be convinced of what they believe in. So we may ask, who is a servant leader? May I take this opportunity to walk with you in a rich Bible passage that clearly brings out key characteristics of a servant leader. I must say beforehand that they don’t have to be 7 characteristics and neither is the number 7 any significant here; it is just to give us a framework as we follow along.
So I invite you take the plunge into First Thessalonians chapters 2 and 3 with me. I will highly suggest you read the passage before continuing.
1. Biblical Servant Leaders are humble followers of Jesus Christ, who seek to decrease that Christ may be exalted. They are gospel-centred and gospel-driven. They have received Jesus themselves and rejoice in his grace and have a deep sense of purpose from God – to declare the gospel of Christ crucified. They see glorifying Christ and serving Him faithfully in this way as the measure of success and the ultimate bottom line. Thus they place integrity ahead of ambition, numbers, ‘success’ and even safety. You see this in Paul and Silas who had “already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi” but undeterred by this went onto Philippi with one God-given bold goal, “declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” (1 Thess. 2:1-2) This is the mission of the servant leader. The gospel is the most precious thing to him personally and he knows it is the only message that saves and the only message that sustains believers. The servant leaders doesn’t motivate people not with guilt or false promises but with the gospel of grace (e.g. Rom. 6; 12; 1 Cor. 6; Gal. 5; Eph. 4-5; Col. 3). He doesn’t puff others up and he doesn’t puff himself up. Servant leaders do not decide where to go and what to do and who to speak to and what to say based on what will inflate their CV or their following (1 Thess. 2:4-5). Rather, they seek to make sound, logical judgments that forward the gospel. You see again and again in Paul’s letters that he is not remotely worried about personal credit or about building his own empire or brand. It is not his words that matter but the Word of God and its progress (see Phil. 1:12-18). It is not his gospel but “the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:9). Which is why he is so excited when the Thessalonians receive his message not as the words of men but “the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13) about “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).
(This is the beginning of a feature from the forthcoming Conversation magazine. To see the next six marks of biblical servant leadership look out for the April issue.)