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Servant Leadership: Restoring the Jesus Model

By Dr. John Garr


A debilitating leadership vacuum plagues and paralyzes modern society. The abdication of responsibility is obvious in nearly every field of endeavor, from politics, to medicine, to law, to business, andsad to sayto ministry. Where are the statesmen for whom principle and the general welfare are of greater value than electability or political expediency? Where are the medical and legal giants for whom ethics are of greater value than popularity among amoral pressure groups or ill-gotten financial security?

Where are the businessmen to whom commitment to the work ethic and to fairness and honesty is more important than the bottom line? And, by all means, where are the spiritual leaders to whom the salvation and development of the souls of men are more important than position, influence, or financial gain? With such a profound dearth of leadership in modern society, it is the responsibility of the church to lead the way in providing intellectual, moral, and emotional challenge to a society adrift in the rising tide of neo-paganism and amoral humanism that now reigns.

What Is a Leader?
Leadership occurs at any time when a person tries to influence the behavior or actions of an individual or a group. The concept of a leader is that of one who possesses the special natural intuition and the acquired skills to stand out front and point the way for others. Dwight Eisenhower observed that "leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."

Unfortunately, the traditional image of leadership that has pervaded both society and the church is that of an autocratic person controlling and manipulating the actions of others. This view has been practiced throughout the world among virtually all cultures. Jesus rightly evaluated the nature of man when he said, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and that they that are great exercise authority upon them" (Matthew 20:25). Often both followers and leaders prefer this kind of leadership because it relieves the followers of the necessity of thinking for themselves and of taking responsibility for their own actions and it gives leaders virtually unlimited power.

Jesus declared, however, that this type of leadership was not to be exercised within the church. In the subsequent verses of Matthew 20, he said, "But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26-28).

For most of its existence, however, the Christian church has been plagued with abusive, ineffective leadership because it has drawn its paradigms from Gentile culture that has historically been dominated by power-mad autocrats whose egocentricity and even megalomania have driven them to exercise absolute power. Even in the modern world, old patterns continue with a new tyrant rising daily, ruling with terror, torturing and slaughtering his own subjects.

The church, likewise, has been victimized by leaders who demanded absolute authority, ruled with iron fists, and smashed any dissent or dissenters. Beginning with the monarchial bishops of the Eastern church, continuing with the papacy of the Western church, and remaining consistent in much of Protestantism, Christian leadership has been patterned after imperial empires and the arrogated perquisites of secular governments. Jesus rightly said that autocratic dominance is the hallmark of Gentile cultures.

Leadership Lessons from Judaism
Before the time of Christ, Judaism began a great experiment in the democratization of religion. Though he had instituted an official priesthood among them to carry out his prescribed service, it was never his intention to take responsibility for spiritual development and training from the home and from every individual. When the temple and its attendant infrastructure were destroyed in the Babylonian invasion, the people searched for means that would perpetuate their knowledge and worship of God.

The synagogue was born. The synagogue represented the assumption of the biblical roles that God had given to Israel in the first place: a kingdom of priests. Every man could rightly approach the bema of the synagogue to read Torah and Prophets and to expound upon them. Every man became as it were a priest in his home, and the home became the center for spiritual growth. Religious exercise came to be manifest in the context of community.

This synagogal community functioned with a plurality of leaders, with various functions fulfilled by men of different gifting and training. When teaching elders emerged (first called sages, then rabbis), they were considered to be the first among equals in the community and saw themselves as facilitators of the spiritual development of all the members of the community.

When Jesus and the apostles established the church as a reformed Judaism among the many Judaisms of their day, they appropriated the model for community life and worship that they had inherited from their forefathers: the synagogue. They did not look to Gentile models for leadership so that a pyramidal hierarchy was manifest. They continued to function under a plurality of eldership in which decisions were made collectively for business (Acts 6:1-4); theology (Acts 15:6); and recognition of divine appointment (Galatians 2:9).

The greatest of apostolic leaders viewed themselves not as "lords over God’s heritage," but as "slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ" and "servants" of the people. All the gifts of the Spirit that operated powerfully through them were given "to the profit of every man" (I Corinthians 12:7) and to "build up the body of Messiah until all come to maturity and the full knowledge of the Son of God" (Ephesians 4:11-13). No Caesars or Hitlers, these apostles! No politico-religious potentates, these overseers! No personal kingdom builders, these shepherds!

The earliest church knew nothing of leadership styles in its later Gentile counterpart, escaping the tyranny of the dictatorial bureaucrats who came to dominate Gentile Chris-tendom. This was part of the price that the Gentile church paid for abandoning its Hebraic foundations in favor of Greek philosophy and Roman organizational structure. The low point of this pattern for leadership was achieved in the Dark Ages of the tenth and eleventh centuries when Christendom sank into spiritual bankruptcy, moral debauchery, and intellectual stagnation.

The entire church was commissioned to preach the gospel, build the Kingdom of God, and join in corporate worship of the King of kings. Each member was encouraged to develop his own gifting to full flower. Everyone in the community was to be submitted to one another in the fear of God. Each believer was to assume responsibility for his own spiritual growth by engaging the Eternal God in a very personal relationship in which he could receive divine guidance for himself. He assumed control for his life, took responsibility for his own growth, and thereby came to maturity in Christ.

Modern Applications of Ancient Principles
Truly effective leadership in the church today will return to the model which Jesus and the apostles appropriated from their Hebraic tradition. It is that which is revealed throughout the Word of God: a person with a service mentality whose goal is to be a facilitator or one who equips and serves others so that they may fulfill their callings and ambitions for God. Church growth researcher George Barna notes that "the leaders of successful churches unanimously concurred that one of their most important roles was that of being a ministry cheerleader." Kenneth Gangel says, "The Christian leader understands that he functions in order to facilitate the ministry of others."

This philosophy of service must be ingrained into the consciousness of a Christian leader if he is to be effective. Robert Greenleaf declares that servanthood is the first qualification for leadership. He suggests that leaders should be servants before they become leaders. Deitrich Bonhoffer said of Christian leadership’s servanthood role:

The church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. The question of trust which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by extraordinary talent which he possesses. Pastoral authority can only be attained by the servant of Jesus Christ who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.

Jesus’ exhortation to servanthood clearly establishes the ground rules and gives a true and proper paradigm for Christian leadership. Gangel says that "spiritual leadership as ministry is not giving orders but nurturing the people of God."

How does a Christian leader hope to achieve the scriptural ideal in his life and ministry while confronting the real, the human tendency toward self interest? The answer is to seek, achieve, and maintain true spirituality. The problem with improper leadership both from the perspective of the leader and of the follower is carnality. A Christian minister must maintain true spirituality, a spirituality that is a manifestation of maturity. Only with true maturity of personality and genuine spiritual relationship with God through Jesus Christ can a leader in the church truly be a servant.

Competencies of Leaders
There are three general abilities which leaders need to possess: diagnosing ability, adapting ability, and communicating ability. These three competencies are underscored in Holy Scripture. First, a leader must be discerning, wise as a serpent yet harmless as a dove, not a novice but of full age so that by experience he is able to discern both good and evil (Matthew 120:16; Hebrews 5:14). Discerning of spirits is one of the nine manifestations of the Holy Spirit enumerated in I Corinthians 12.

It involves a God-given spiritual ability to perceive the spirits and motivations of people so that the leader can minister to the needs which arise out of those spirits and motivations. George Barna has noted that "the gift of discernment may be one of the more valuable gifts provided to pastors of leading churches." A leader who has no discernment is destined to be as complete a failure as a physician without diagnosing ability.

Second, a leader must be adaptable, not by adapting followers to himself, but by adapting himself to the needs of the people and to the situation which he is trying to influence. It was Paul who became "all things to all men," not vice versa (I Corinthians 9:21, 22). Adaptability is the foundation of Jesus’ unique statement that "wisdom is justified of all her children " (Matthew 11:19).

John the Baptist used one strategy for ministry while Jesus used a completely different method, and, though both were equally vilified by the Pharisees, Jesus declared that the end result in changed lives justified the difference in methodology. The underlying principles of divine truth are eternal and immutable; however, the application of those truths changes with the unfolding plan of salvation. Robert Young says, "Flexibility helps undergird the enabler philosophy. The feeling conveyed by the enabler philosophy will build . . . the desire to accomplish God’s will and purpose . . . and will draw [people] together in a positive commitment to each other and to the church."

Finally, a leader must possess communication skills. A Christian leader communicates by living the life, preaching the Word, and learning every technique of communication possible so that he can influence the conduct and actions of his followers for their improvement and maturity.

The Exercise of Power
M. F. Rogers has defined power as "the potential for influence." Amitai Etzioni has outlined two types of power: position power and personal power. Individuals who derive power from their position in an organization are said to have position power . Leaders who derive their power from the honor and respect that their followers give to them are considered to have personal power.

Position power tends to be delegated down through an organization while personal power is generated upward by follower acceptance. Position power uses the motive of fear and is determined by the extent to which the leader is able to bring to bear rewards and punishments to followers. Personal power, on the other hand, is motivated by love and is determined by the extent to which followers respect their leaders.

Until the 1960’s, many Christian institutions functioned largely under the pyramidal, hierarchial leadership of position power. The assumption was that people did not want to think for themselves; therefore, stringent rules and standards for conduct were set so that organizations and leaders became the consciences of the people. Ministers were threatened, coerced, and forced into cooperation with the threat of punishment, demotion, or removal of status. There was very little room for creative thought; therefore, growth of movements in concept development was very slow.

Leaders also exercised rigid, autocratic control over the people in their charge. This style of leadership produced resentment, splintering, and fragmentation of organizations. B. L. Montgomery says of this style of leadership: "Leadership which is evil, while it may succeed temporarily, always carries with it the seeds of its own destruction."

The Jesus model demands that leadership be motivated by love and manifest through the vehicle of service. Leaders must develop personal power by gaining the confidence, trust, and commitment of his followers. They must be servants of the Lord who are "gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves (II Timothy 2:24, 25).

Equipping as Facilitators
The responsibility for making people winners rests on the shoulders of the leaders. This process requires a lot of hard work. Andrew Carnegie said, "When you work with people, it is a lot like mining for gold . . . you must literally move tons of dirt to find a single ounce of gold. However, you do not look for the dirtyou look for the gold!" Kenneth Blanchard says, "Everyone is a potential winner. Some people are disguised as losers. Don’t let their appearance fool you."

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." Every person is looking for a leader who is so burdened with the servant mentality of wanting to equip others for success that he is willing to spend the time necessary to fulfill himself for that role.

Time for Restoration
Millions in the church today are certain that something is missing, and they are searching for it. Membership in traditional systems-based institutions dominated by self-serving bureaucrats is declining daily, as thousands leave organized religion. We must not, however, simply react to perceived evils; we must be proactive and apperceptive by returning to the biblical models that were the foundation of the church. We must reclaim the Jewish roots of our Christian faith both for doctrine and polity in the body of Messiah.

We must restore the "Jesus model" for leadership so that once again the church may flourish in true spirituality and godly lifesytles. We must look "unto the rock whence we are hewn," to the biblical Judaism in which Jesus and the apostles manifest their faith and devotion to God. As we restore biblical leadership we can fully to restore the church and in preparation for the Messianic Age (Acts 3:21).


Dr. John D. Garr, founder and president of Restoration Foundation, has pioneered research, writing, and teaching on the Hebrew foundations of Christian faith for more than thirty years. His international ministry has enlightened believers of numerous communions, teaching them the historical and theological emergence of Christianity from the matrix of biblical Judaism. John, his wife Pat, and their sons, John, Timothy, and Stephen, are working to promote Restoration Foundation. Dr. Garr's web site is:



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