Guest post today from David Toth.
Using the Gospels and focusing on Jesus Christ’s words in particular, I find one defining aspect that separates Biblical servanthood from other perspectives on servanthood. That one aspect is sacrifice. Jesus said:
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many [emphasis added].” (Matt. 20:25-28)
Jesus uses himself as the example of one who serves by giving himself. There is no higher sacrifice than to give oneself. Therein lies the key to a biblical style of leadership and discipleship. One may have a fairly good handle on the competencies required but biblical servant leadership does not take place until the leader is giving himself/herself to others sacrificially, for the benefit of others and for the benefit of the mission.
Taking the sacrificial attitude of Jesus Christ is an intensely personal and painful step. It is also the step to freedom and joy. Apart from two thousand and some years, there is little difference between the world’s expression of leadership then and now. Mostly, it flows from an organization, a position, a person, where authority and power are used to promote one’s personal and/or corporate agenda with no or little concern for how others are used or worse, abused. Even in faith communities (local churches and Para-church organizations) the situation is not very different. Leaders in these organizations view themselves as servant leaders mostly because they try to be nice but within controlled contexts and/or during allotted time slots and while using legalistic standards for accountability.
Biblical sacrifice calls for one to “give his life” for the benefit of others. Quite frankly, this is a personal struggle. I enjoy using my marginal time for my personal pursuits. Using a portion of that time for others, a sacrificial portion that painfully detracts from pursuing personal pleasure, is not easy. Jesus, known as the suffering servant, showed the way by giving himself for others. This is how the Gospel gets into the picture. The cross was the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but it was neither surprising nor unexpected. He started out giving himself to others without regard for other pursuits, then his sacrificial attitude and lifestyle reached a crescendo at Calvary.
As we engage in leadership development and discipleship, how is Jesus’ sacrificial attitude expressed in our lifestyle? Do we give ourselves sacrificially to others for their benefit? Do we find joy seeing others grow and go beyond us? When someone experiences true sacrificial leadership and/or disciple making, transformation takes place more quickly and deeply. And that brings great joy to us, to our disciples, and to the Father!