Servant Leadership – Defined by Jesus

Ryan washed Mary's feet last weekend at the Walk through Holy Week

Today has me thinking about Servant Leadership!

The term Servant Leader was popularized by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s. His work in this field is tremendous and continues to be a gift to organizations today. Greenleaf defined the servant leader –

 “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

 He also wrote:

 ” This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”

 Before Robert Greenleaf, there was a man named Jesus! He was a leader. He was the quintessential servant Leader. He faced unbelievable odds as Leader of a new and growing movement. Other leaders of the day were threatened by Him. Leaders in that day used fear to maintain their power and authority. This Leader was different. This Leader spent his short tenure in the public eye embracing time with people; not just any people, but the people who had no one else to call friend. This Leader took risks. But, you might say, all kinds of leaders take risks. You would be right. But this Leader took risk not for personal gain but to advance the cause of another person. This Leader called out the old order which benefited the privileged few and raised up the case for a new Kingdom where those who were before left to rot and fend for themselves, would now be the forerunners of a new dawn. While other leaders took swords, this leader took bread. While other leaders spilled blood, this Leader offered His own blood.  While other leaders demanded followers lift the load, this Leader asked no one to take his load. While other leaders demanded to be honoured, this Leader humbled Himself, even to death. While other leaders called for their robes, this Leader disrobed, took a towel and washed his follower’s feet. After offering the example this Leader said:

“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This quintessential Servant leader set the example that Greenleaf wrote so much about. He offered a leadership which was service first. Leaders of today should take notice, particularly those of us who lead in the church; Jesus by this very act makes clear that he could expect nothing of His followers if he was unprepared to do it Himself. Sitting in a room with those who would lead after his departure, Jesus breaks bread, He washes feet, and he reminds them that their leadership in the church must be marked by humility and service.   

How will they know who we are? They will see it in our acts of love, of service and of kindness. How shall we respond? 

2 thoughts on “Servant Leadership – Defined by Jesus

Add yours

  1. Hi Kevin
    Yet again you make me think. I’ve previously blogged about servant leadership, specifically the idea of implementing servant leadership in the corporate environment. You can see my post here:
    There is much to admire in the concept of servant leadership, but I sometimes wonder if servant leadership can be misused in the hands of those who wish to oppress others. Many of my more feminist friends are profoundly uncomfortable with the linkage of leadership to servitude.

    Yet I have to say that understanding leadership from the context of sacrifice and the role of supporting others, while subordinating one’s own need to be “out front” fits with my perspective on the importance of humility in leadership. But I begin to ramble.

    Keep writing your musings. They get me thinking.


  2. This is the first time I have heard the term “servant-leadership” but I can relate to it from my place of work. There are those leaders who choose to set themselves ABOVE others; those who love the ‘VIP” status. Then there are those who bear the title of leader, but they treat others as equals, and valued members of a team. I think what the former group fails to realize is that simply holding a title does not bring respect. Respect is earned. And how can one not respect a servant-leader?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: