Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Servant Leadership Principles from Jesus

Matthew 20:20-28 is a vivid portrayal of servant leadership. When Jesus disciples seek positions of 'power' in His ministry, he plants in their minds the seeds of what it means to be a servant leader, in preparation for the visible demonstration they are going to see in the Upper Room with washing of their feet.
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." (Mt 20:25-28, NIV)
Looking more closely at the passage, there are several other key principles for servant leadership:
  • He explicitly asked "What do you want (from me)?" rather than assuming what they want. He did this even for blind and sick people.
  • He engaged his followers in dialogue that caused them to think ("Can you drink the cup...")
  • He worked with their response (again, as He did repeatedly, e.g. feeding of 5000), which both validated them, showing respect, and helping to seal in the learning
  • He explained the reasons for His decisions, not just a "No." The reason is, he wants them not just to obey, but constantly wants them to learn. Sharing the "why" behind as many decisions as possible is crucial I think for a mentoring leader.
  • He nipped conflict in the bud!  He was in contact with His people enough to know there was grumbling, and He addressed it immediately.
  • He went one further (as usual), going beyond the specific to the general. He introduced the bigger principle of servant leadership, for which He Himself was a model ("just as the Son of Man...")
  • Despite a great job engaging and teaching, he didn't let it sit there. He pushed forward all the way to a heartfelt command - Not so with you!  He provided a contrast between a don't-do word picture (Gentile lords) and one to emulate (servant/slave)
  • He does NOT discourage ambition - there's nothing wrong with wanting to be great, with being a leader, with getting things done. Jesus specified the path to greatness, He didn't block it off.
Not so with you?  By this he is absolutely inverting the idea of what it means to be a leader, and of greatness, completely upside down, in a way that had never been seen before. The ultimate great person, became the most unselfish servant to all, even those who rejected Him. His call here was for a radical transformation of perspective of leadership - a change that if internalized and carried out by us as followers would do tremendous things to build both trust and community, and ultimately, effectiveness.

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