“[Christian leadership] seeks to serve. Encourage and inspire. Respect rather than exploit others. He reflects, prays and acts according to the words of Jesus Christ…”
Before one develops today´s topic, as always, it is important to mention that the English version of this article has been translated from the Spanish version of Towards Excellence (https://hacialaexcelencia.org/2022/10/09/de-senor-a-siervo-del-cielo-a-la-cruz/); not necessarily from the original texts and works of authors here cited.
Anthony D’Souza, in his book “Developing the Leader within you” states that when discussing leadership skills and people management we must remember that Christian leadership implies service. And that in fact when considering the Church or para-church organizations, this concept of service is more easily assimilated. However, when it comes to corporations and businesses in general, the term “service” is seen as out of place.
D’Souza expresses that part of the confusion may stem from a lack of understanding of the true concept of leadership. And he emphasizes that for many, leadership implies power, authority, honor, prestige, or personal advantage. And of course, none of that constitutes Christian leadership, he stresses. And, in fact, he describes it this way:
“[Christian leadership] seeks to serve. Encourage and inspire. Respect rather than exploit others. He reflects, prays and acts according to the words of Jesus Christ: ´…but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your servant; as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:26-28)”. (D’Souza, Developing the Leader within You 1994)
Here it is worth noting that while servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by renowned author Robert K. Greenleaf, in his essay, “The Servant as Leader,” essay that was originally published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf stated:
“A servant leader focuses on the growth and well-being of individuals and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform at their best.” (Greenleaf, Center for Servant Leadership 2016)
If servant leadership as a phrase was coined and spread since the 70s; its concept, its very essence is tremendously older; in fact, timeless as Greenleaf has said. And it is that more than 2,000 years ago, servant leadership was actually modeled, practiced and spread by our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, it was He who taught leadership to his disciples, both with the exposition of his Word and through his works. Ultimately, empowered leaders, says Anthony D’Souza, are those who challenge the status quo and forge new paths. In fact, Jesus taught his disciples to be leaders who change attitudes and traditions, as shown in Matthew 23: 1-36 and Mark 7: 9,13.
In “Empowering Leadership,” another of author Anthony D’Souza’s books, he clearly states:
“With the power of Scripture, with the persuasion of vivid parables, and with the poignancy of example from his own life, He [Jesus] taught [his disciples] how to lead his people.” (D’Souza, Empowering Leadership 2001)
No one could deny that Jesus’ style of leadership was unique and unusual. Let’s look at a few instances, during which Jesus provided leadership:
- Jesus healed the leper – He really cared and responded to the needs that were presented to him.
- He evicted the merchants from the temple and cleansed it – He confronted an entire institution.
- He conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well – He broke down the barriers.
- He visited the house of Zacchaeus, the publican (tax collector) – He provoked the dialogue.
- He defended the woman whom the Pharisees wanted to stone – He bravely argued and defended his case.
- He washed the feet of his disciples – He set the example for him.
- He was hung on a cross – He gave his life in sacrifice, to become a reconciler.
For the purposes of this study, we will take a closer look at one of the above cases. And we will focus on the one related to the woman who was about to be stoned by the Pharisees, whose story we find in John 8:3-11.
Robert K. Greenleaf, in his essay, “The Servant as Leader,” discusses Jesus’ leadership in this passage from the following perspective:
“A leader must have more of an armor of confidence in facing the unknown — more than those who accept his leadership…a very firm belief that in the stress of real life situations one can compose oneself in a way that permits the creative process to operate…Jesus sits there writing in the sand…In the
pressure of the moment, having assessed the situation rationally, he assumes the attitude of withdrawal that will allow creative insight to function.…And a great one came, one that has kept story of the incident alive for 2,000 years — ‘Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.'” (Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader 2008)
Who could have resisted these words? Who could have refuted them? As Greenleaf says, Jesus could have delighted the crowd with rational arguments about the superiority of compassion over torture. He could have presented a good logical argument for it. But he did not! And rather, with authority and knowledge he raised the challenge already stated, and then the crowd stepped back, one by one:
“But they, hearing this, accused by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest to the last; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman who was in the middle.” (John 8:9)
Jesus was a leader; he had a goal and that was clearly to bring more compassion into people’s lives.
“Jesus straightened up, and seeing no one but the woman, he said to her: Woman, where are those who accused you? Did no one condemn you? She said: None, Lord. Then Jesus said to him: Neither do I condemn you; go away and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)
Clearly Jesus, as a servant leader, demonstrated in this episode his total compassion for the brokenhearted and even sinners. As true as this woman had sinned, it was also true that she had been publicly humiliated; and Jesus responded immediately in her defense and protection, safeguarding her dignity; without this meaning that He has tolerated her sin. On the contrary, as her Word says, Jesus did not condemn her, but he was emphatic in directing her to a life that does not contemplate sin as an alternative.
And so, continuing with our analysis of servant leadership, the renowned D.L. Moody raised the following reflection:
“The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.” (Núñez, Jesús, el hombre que desafió al mundo y confronta tu vida. “Jesus, the man who challenged the world and confronts your life” 2018)
It should then be noted that Jesus, the image of the invisible God; in fact, the very Creator of the universe was seen in different and many instances, as a servant. It is inconceivable, as stated by Dr. Miguel Núñez, that the Creator of the world was seen serving the creature. That he who sustains the universe (Hebrews 1: 3), would kneel to wash the feet of his disciples (John 13: 1-17).
But Jesus, throughout his earthly life, left us, without a doubt, a model of service and humility. And to support what has been said, let us analyze how from the incarnation of Jesus to his death, this was a tremendous reality. For this purpose, we will refer to the extraordinary study presented by Miguel Núñez, in his book, “Jesus, the man who challenged the world and confronts your life.”
- Jesus, from before the creation of the world, existed in the form of God, but he did not considerhimself to be equal to God. He humbled himself, was obedient and obedient until death on the cross.
“ Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
- Entering this world, he does so in a manger, devoid of everything; only with the company of the earthly parents of him.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)
- When it came to serving, Jesus never asked his disciples to do anything that he hadn’t done before.
“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:13-15)
- In his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, at the time of being acclaimed as King, he does so on a donkey and not on a horse as was usual for royalty.
“And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.” (Luke 19:28-35)
- Jesus in his first coming, brought a message of peace and not of war, with the sole purpose of reconciling man with God. Therefore, to fulfill this purpose, the only way was the cross.
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—everyone—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:6-7)
- “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
With all of the above, it is important that we as servant leaders understand this profound teaching so that our leadership reflects the character of Jesus and replicates his model of leadership. Núñez sums it up this way:
- “There is no exaltation without humiliation: the incarnation first and the glorification later.
- There is no glory without suffering: the cross and then the glory.
- There is no crown without a cross: first the service and then the coronation”. (Núñez, Jesus, the man who challenged the world and confronts your life 2018)
And he magnificently adds:
“In a single sentence uttered by Jesus it is shown the model of his leadership: ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Matthew 20:28). His life of service so honored the Father that, in Philippians 2:9-11, the apostle Paul says that the Father gave him a name above all names ‘ so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’” (Núñez, Jesus, the man who challenged the world and confronts your life 2018)
Extraordinarily, the Lord of lords humbled himself as a servant, left his throne in heaven, stripped Himself of His royalty and still did not spare being equal to God; and He came to earth with only one purpose, to reconcile the sinner with God, giving His life as a ransom for many; He humbled Himself to the utmost and was obedient to the point of death on the cross! He died so that through His death we sinners may have life and life to the full!
 Anthony D´Souza, Developing the Leader within You (Singapore: Haggai Centre for Advanced Leadership Studies, 1994), 4-5.
 Robert K. Greenleaf, “The Servant as Leader,” https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/
 Anthony D´Souza, Empowering Leadership (Singapore: Haggai Institute, 2001), ix-xi.
 Anthony D´Souza, Empowering Leadership (Singapore: Haggai Institute, 2001), x.
 Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader (Westfiel, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, 2008), 29.
 Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader (Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, 2008), 29.
 Miguel Núñez, Jesús, el hombre que desafió al mundo y confronta tu vida (Nashville, NT: B&H Publishing Group, 2018), 37.
 Miguel Núñez, Jesús, el hombre que desafió al mundo y confronta tu vida (Nashville, NT: B&H Publishing Group, 2018), 38.