Servant Leadership Confusion

I was recently at a conference where we spent some time talking about leadership.  The conversation was centered around what makes a good leader and how do we be good leaders to others.  One of the interesting things that was said was something to the effect of the only way to be a good leader was to be a servant.  This is of course a common theme in Christian culture.  And like a lot of themes in Christian culture it’s only sort of true.

I’ve been giving the idea of leadership a lot of thought lately – both in the context of my job and in the context of singleness and marriage.  You can see some of my thoughts about leading while dating here.

I think in our context as a Christian man, be it single or married, this idea is very confusing.  Partly because we use a lot of words like servant and leader interchangeably and I’m not so sure that’s helpful.

We tell men to lead.  We say in fact that you should lead.  That our leadership is needed.  We are told to serve.  We are told that Jesus’ model of leadership was servant leadership and that we should follow that example in life and of course in marriage and often even in dating.  So let’s unpack that all a little.

Here are some important conclusions that I’ve personally come to

You can be an effective leader without being a servant.  Now this will undoubtedly bother some people.  I guess it sort of depends on how you define servant.  Let me rephrase.  You can be an effective leader without being what Christian culture calls a “servant leader”.

I know this because I can quickly name several historically effective leaders that weren’t what we would call servant leaders.  Just for starters: Hitler.  Genghis Khan.  Alexander the Great. I don’t think you can argue that they weren’t leaders.  But you wouldn’t call them servant leaders.  Now you could say they served in a sense.  They gave people vision, or hope, or purpose bigger than them.  Maybe they even provided protection or riches for their people – which could be a sort of service.  But I don’t think we’ll be calling any of them servant leaders.

My point is that leadership and servanthood – at least as we typically define it – are not the same at all.

To be a leader you really only need two things.  You need to be going somewhere and you need to have someone following you.  If you don’t have anyone following you, you are not a leader.

Now Jesus was indeed the greatest leader in history.  Even from a common sense secular point of view.  This is a guy who had no army, no land, no money, no committee, no title, no political office etc.  He had a three year public life, lived in a small geographical area and really only talked to a few thousand people, most of whom also had none of the afore mentioned advantages, was executed and yet changed the world and we are still talking about it 2000 years later.

Jesus was also obviously the greatest servant of all time.  He left His throne, gave up his power, met people’s deepest needs and gave his very life for each of us.

But here is a thought I have – and I’m not saying this is exactly right as I’m still working it out:  It was not Jesus’ servanthood that made Him a great leader but instead it was who He was, partly as a leader, that made Him the greatest servant.  In other words, in order to wash your followers feet – you have to have followers.

Feel free to wrestle with that.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Ok Justin.  Neat stuff.  But what does this have to do with singleness?”  As a man, looking for a spouse, I think it has a lot to do with it.


We spend a lot of time telling men that the need to be the leader.  Be it in dating or marriage.  We also tell men that they need to be a servant, like Jesus was a servant, to their wives and too often by extension to women in general.  In other words, “Be Like Jesus to get the girl” and then “Love your girl like Jesus would and everything will go right.”  Leadership of your girl/wife means serving your girl/wife.

But if we have the wrong view of what that means, which many in Christian leadership do, then we are setting ourselves up for at best a lot of frustration and at worst utter failure.

I’m going to get more practical in the next blog or two about this.  But for today I want to leave you with some questions to ponder.

Why did people follow Jesus?  Why would a woman follow a man?  What does serving another person really mean?  What does serving have to do with attraction?  Are women attracted to leaders?  To servants?

5 thoughts on “Servant Leadership Confusion

  1. Some really tough things to ponder here. I believe first and foremost, as a man……….I have to know who I am in Christ. That is easier said than done. It’s not just “accept” Him as your Lord and Savior and it’s gonna be okay.

    Every Christian man is not going to be ‘equal’ in the looks department. Not every man is going to be some amazing evangelist. Not every man is going to be a praise leader. Not every man is gonna have equal inheritance of family land / resources / wealth. Not every man is equal in intelligence, or education level. Yet, the unknown, countless men over the centuries knew who they were in Christ. They were not most, if any of the things I mentioned above…they probably had none of the “good” traits or were on the winning side of any of the above traits.

    Over the years I have tended to focus on these unnamed, unknown, and faceless men over the centuries who obeyed God, broke bread, worked hard, accepted what they were good at, and strove to be conformed to Christ. There isn’t much or anything written about them. No memorials to their faith. Can’t say there are books, or anything that mentions these men. Yet, they were there. Were all these men leaders? In today’s world (and even aspects of our Christian culture), the answer would be “no”

    They didn’t plant a church, serve in mission, raised / donated a ton of money to build a new church to “reach out” to the local community. They didn’t have wealth so to speak. They didn’t start “bible colleges” and they didn’t have children who were “gifted” and probably didn’t have children with nice teeth.

    What they had was a confidence to stand firm on His foundation. They paid with persecution. They paid with having to be “in hiding” and forced into trades that others would not do because they were excluded from so much BECAUSE of their faith to follow Him. They raised their children, stood by their wives, their local or home church. They uplifted and helped each other. They belonged to a real “church family” in deed and action. Not in the “feel good” way we say it today in church on Sunday.

    They served their Savior, and their families. They stood for something far, far greater than all of their gifts gave them.

    This I guess could be construed as a servant / leadership thing, and if it makes me an outsider in today’s modern evangelical church culture in the USA. So be it.

    You have given me a TON to ponder on this upcoming backpacking trek I am taking Justin. Thank you

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