There are essentially five reasons why people follow someone else, or five kinds of power:
- Coercive power
- Reward power
- Positional power
- Expert power
- Servant power
We’ve talked about these in detail here. But let’s zero in on the power with which Jesus led: servant power.
All four of the other kinds of power would have been appropriate and right for Jesus to use.
- As God, Jesus could have immediately punished everyone who wouldn’t follow Him (coercive power).
- He could have offered them great wealth, fame and success in this life if they would follow Him (reward power).
- He could have simply said, “I’m in charge – in fact, I’m God – you must follow Me!” (positional power).
- He could have appealed to His infinite wisdom and knowledge of all things – “I’m the smartest one around so you should follow Me. I know what I’m doing.” (expert power).
Instead, He served His followers.
Consider John 13:3-17 – another of the great servanthood passages. We can gain some insights into the true nature of servant leadership from this passage:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, 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.” (Matt. 20:25-28; see also Mark 9:33-35; Matt. 26:35)
Servanthood is not weakness.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; (John 13:3)
Jesus’ servanthood was not out of personal weakness, but personal strength. He knew who He was in God. He knew He was God. He was very secure in who He was.
Only those who are secure in Christ can exercise true servant leadership. Those who are insecure become dominating and possessive, ambitious and competitive. They intimidate others through their expertise, manipulate them through coercion or reward, or dominate them through position.
Servanthood must be chosen.
… so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. (John 13:4)
Jesus chose this style of leadership. No one made Him do it – no one even expected it!
In reality, few men choose this style of leadership (Phil. 2:20-21). Moreover, servanthood must be chosen daily. It is not a one-time event. We must take up our crosses daily, allowing God to put to death our own agendas and ambitions.
Servant leadership is genuinely selfless.
After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. (John 13:5)
… He knew who was going to betray Him … (John 13:11)
How many pairs of feet did Jesus wash? Twelve! Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him, yet still washed his feet. This reveals the selfless nature of true leadership. The true Christian leader will not only serve those who can benefit him or who are assured of succeeding in the future. The godly leader will also serve those who he knows will let him down – even those who he knows will stab him in the back! He serves not only the loyal but also the disloyal; not only the strong but also the weak; not only those with great potential but also those without apparent potential.
Servanthood does not mean weakly letting everyone else set the agenda.
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” (John 13:8)
Jesus’ servanthood did not mean that He gave up being in charge, and just naively let others set His agenda for Him. He was always the leader. Servant leadership is not “people-pleasing” but doing the will of God.
“You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” (John 13:13)
To be a servant does not mean you don’t lead, but it establishes your motive for leading and your attitude as you do lead. Some think that true servant leadership means that you give up leadership and let others set the course and the agenda. Servant leadership does not mean you give up leadership. It refers to the motive, style and the attitude with which you exercise your leadership. You must lead, but you must lead as one who serves.
The Characteristics of Servant Leadership
The following are some essential and biblical characteristics of servant leadership:
- Our model is the Lord Jesus who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
- In the Kingdom of God, greatness is ranked by service, primarily through voluntarily being last (Mark 10:43-44).
- One of the primary functions of leaders is to serve the needs of others. The leaders serve the people (2 Cor. 4:5); the people do not serve the leaders.
- If you have a heart of servanthood towards people, they will follow you. You won’t have to flash your badge of authority at them, to let them know who they’re supposed to take their orders from. People will want to follow you. They will respect you and trust you and want to follow you. You will become their role model (1 Pet. 5:1-3).
- This kind of relationship with the people takes time to nurture. The first four kinds of power are quicker and easier to use. The true servant leader must build a life before the people that earns their respect and trust. Thus, churches that change pastors every three to four years are destined to perpetual fruitlessness, as are the leaders who try to lead them.
- This relationship must continually be re-charged. Just because you served someone 10 years ago, and they wanted to follow you then, doesn’t mean they still do now. This must be a continual lifestyle of leadership.
- We do not start with servanthood and the cross and then move on to “bigger and better things.” We start in servanthood and we go deeper and deeper in servanthood and in the cross.
- Servant leadership always results in people following Christ, not the servant. This is because ultimately – and in the truest sense – we’re all serving Him. Consequently, the servant leader will not be guilty of the arrogant self-promotion that characterizes so many insecure religious leaders today (2 Cor. 3:1, 4:5; see also Isaiah 42). Jesus was not a self-promoter. Neither should we be.
- Servanthood involves stewardship of the gifts that God has given you. This means the servant leader will use his gifts for the benefit and advancement of others and not himself (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
- Servanthood involves stewardship of the people you serve. This means your desire will be to mobilize and empower them to find their greatest fulfillment in life and ministry (Eph. 4:11-13). This also means the servant leader will be sympathetic with the weak and merciful and understanding toward those who err (Is. 42:3). This was the spirit of Jesus.
- Servanthood involves self-giving even to the point of death if necessary. The servant leader must be totally dedicated to the cause he shares with his followers – even to the point of accepting personal risk, personal loss and self-sacrifice for the good of others (John 10:11; see also Acts 15:26).
- The servant-leader is the one God will anoint and vindicate (Is. 42:1; John 12:26).
The first four kinds of power (coercive, reward, positional and expert) all involve exchanges of some kind. But the final kind of power does not involve any exchange. Servant power is transformational power.
Transformational leaders understand and attempt to meet the tangible needs of their followers, but they go beyond the mere exchange process by empowering and inspiring their followers to fulfill their highest potentials in the calling and purposes of God. Thus, while it is more complex than transactional leadership, transformational servant leadership is considerably more potent.
The servant leader’s goal is that the highest potential of the people be fulfilled. Will you seek to be like Jesus, and lead your followers this way – with a servant’s heart?