Biblical leadership is all about serving others. Leadership directly affects all of us, often in many different ways. We all either lead or follow another leader in a variety of different situations and relationships. And there are times when we quickly switch back and forth between leading and following within the same context. That change may happen so naturally that we don’t even realize it’s taking place.
Leadership Is Vital
No great thing was accomplished without someone taking a leadership role to move the vision forward. Nearly every great thing started off as something small that grew into something larger primarily because someone was willing and able to step up and lead others towards a common goal.
At the same time it takes a team of people who are willing to follow someone in order to accomplish more than they could on their own.
Leadership isn’t just required for big projects or massive teams of people. In truth any situation where two or more people come together requires some form of leadership. Otherwise, when leadership is absent it breeds chaos.
The Bible says it this way: "Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers."— Proverbs 11:14
In fact, the Bible says a great deal about leadership. Unfortunately far too many of God’s people let the world define and demonstrate good leadership rather than looking to God’s Word to learn the godly principles and see the examples found there.
When it comes to the world’s way of doing things, the way to get ahead is to push other people down. There, leadership is about manipulation and control. It involves bending others to your will and making them do the things you want so you can achieve your own goals.
The world is your oyster. The only way to get what you want is to take it by force.
To the world’s way of thinking, good leaders are those who get what they want. Success or failure is entirely on the shoulders of the individual. Because insecure people are unwilling or unable to trust others, they are compelled to control and dominate others by whatever means necessary to get what they want.
The trick to good leadership, according to the world, is to make people like it when they are manipulated and controlled. So the world focuses on using emotional triggers and psychological inputs to force their desired outcomes.
Jesus said there’s a better way.
Lead by Serving
Jesus takes the whole worldly system of leadership and flips it on it’s head. In fact, Jesus held up the model of worldly leadership and told us not to be like that. He calls us to be different.
Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant."— Luke 22:25-26
Jesus said that godly leadership comes out of serving others.
Despite rarely acting that way, the world at least sees enough value in the servant leadership approach to use that same type of language. For example, politicians tend to call themselves “servants of the people” even though most politicians seem to be out only for themselves rather than looking out for the best interests of those who put them in office.
The famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said it this way. “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”
Serving is Loving
On the face of it, serving others doesn’t seem like leadership at all. To put off our own needs and wants while prioritizing helping others get what they want really pulls against our flesh. It seems nuts.
And how is cleaning the toilets at the church anything like leadership anyway?
Here’s the thing. When we serve others, when we help them reach their goals and come along side them to serve them what we are really doing is loving them. Think about the Biblical definition of love:
"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."— 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
That sounds a whole lot like someone who is serving another, doesn’t it. It’s what Jesus did in his time here on Earth. He loved us so much that he laid his own life down so it would be a ransom for the rest of us (1 Tim 2:6).
But what does that look like? Doesn’t it make us door mats to be walked by and abused by everyone we come across?
If we limit ourselves to the natural then it sure can seem that way. Let’s look at a couple examples from the Bible.
Joseph is a classic example of a leader who became truly great because he served others faithfully. When he was a young man, most likely a teenager, Joseph had a couple dreams that seemed to indicate that he would rule over his other brothers.
That whole thing really riled up the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers to the point where they ultimately sold him into slavery. He went from being the favored son of a wealthy man to being a slave.
Joseph ended up working as a slave in the house of a senior official in the Egyptian government. He was so diligent and faithful with his work that it wasn’t long before he was running the entire household and business interests for his master.
Eventually Joseph was falsely accused of a crime and landed in jail. He went from being a slave to being a prisoner. But even there Joseph demonstrated diligence and faithfulness. In relatively short order he was promoted to where he basically ran the whole prison for the guards.
Yet in spite of his abilities there is no record of Joseph ever manipulating anything to get promoted. The only thing recorded along those lines is that he asked a fellow prisoner being released if he would mention Joseph’s case to Pharaoh. Unfortunately the fellow prisoner promptly forgot his promise to Joseph. For two more years.
But then Joseph is remembered at precisely the time when God wants to elevate him from the prison yard to the palace. Joseph ends up being the number two guy in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.
That happened because Joseph was faithful in serving others and continued to believe the promises he got from God as a teenager even though everything in his life seemed to be pointing in the opposite direction from what he understood God told him.
Serving others prepares us to lead others.
Another example of someone serving others even to his own detriment is David. He was secretly anointed king over all of Israel by the prophet Samuel in his youth but Saul was still on the throne.
David faithfully served Saul even when it meant exposing himself to extra danger in battle. Over time Saul grew jealous of David and tried to kill him. It got so bad that Saul actively tried to hunt David down so he could kill him.
Despite all that persecution by the man who was in the very position David had been promised years earlier, David never lifted his hand against Saul. David still did what he could to support Saul indirectly even though Saul persecuted him and wanted him dead. David flatly refused multiple opportunities to kill Saul.
As far as David was concerned God anointed Saul to be king over Israel. Therefore it was God’s responsibility to remove Saul in order for David to have the throne. David trusted God to make things right and he trusted God would promote him at the right time, which is exactly what happened.
Honoring the leaders appointed over us, even the ungodly ones, prepares us for leading others.
Biblical Servant Leadership
That model of serving others in faithful humility while waiting on God to promote us is the way to become a leader in the Kingdom of God. We have examples like David, Joseph, and a myriad of others to look to for inspiration.
In the New Testament Jesus is our clearest model. This is how Peter explained leadership should look for the church:
Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud, but favors the humble.”
"So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor."— 1 Peter 5:2-6
It’s a simple concept in principle. But it can be very challenging to live out in our every day lives. Doing things the way Jesus showed us takes patience and faith that God will do what he says he will.
But the results are better for everyone involved, especially for each of us as leaders.