the weblog of Alan Knox

Leaders and Servants…

Posted by on Feb 9, 2007 in elders, service | 13 comments

Since grace at “Emerging Grace” has been discussing “Leadership“, I have started thinking about leadership again. Specifically, I have been meditating on Jesus words to his disciples concerning “leaders” among his followers. Consider this passage:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV; see also Mark 10:42-45)

Luke uses different verbs to communicate the same message in a similar passage:

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-26 ESV)

What does Jesus mean in this passage? Whatever he meant, he understood that he was speaking contrary to way people normally think about leadership. According to Jesus, the leader of a group of believers is the one who serves. Now, this order is very important. It seems at times that we get this backwards. We think that a true servant is the one who leads. Thus, we equate service with leadership. Who is the biggest servant? We would normally answer: The one who is leading us.

(This raises the question: If this understanding is correct, then what kind of “service” do those who do not “lead” provide? It must be a lesser kind of “service”. Thus, we make that which is not service to be called service, and that which is service to be called “not service” or “lesser service”.)

This is the opposite of what Jesus meant. If he were asked, who is the biggest leader? He would answer: the one who is serving most. It seems that Jesus would say, “Do you want to know who to follow? Look around you. Who is serving the most? Follow that person. And, you can think of me as an example. I have demonstrated this by being the servant of all. I did not come to be served, but to serve. Go and do likewise. Serve. And follow those who are serving.”

Jesus did not mean that the greatest service is leadership. He meant that the greatest leadership is service.

Is this the way we recognize leaders? Or, do we consider leadership skills, decision-making ability, educational background, communication skills, personality traits, charisma, etc.? When have we asked ourselves, “Who should we follow?”, and then answered, “Look how much that person serves others. Let’s follow that person.”

But, this is exactly what Jesus was telling us to do. Do you want to lead? Then serve. Do you want to know who to follow? Then look for one who is serving.

Let’s stop equating leadership with service, and let’s start following those who serve others.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-9-2007

    Thank you for this post this morning. I will be thinking of it throughout the day. I know initially drawn to those who “stand out” as leaders, but realize that those among us who serve are the true leaders. This is true even among the women of our church. I want to learn from the women around me who are servants. I confess that I have been frustrated in the past by the silence of a lot of the women I am around, but now realize that their service quite often speaks louder than words.

  2. 2-9-2007


    Thanks again for the comment. I’d love to hear what conclusions you come to after thinking about this throughout the day. By the way, I see you as one of those servants that you mentioned.


  3. 2-9-2007

    This is brilliant!
    I wish I had written it. :)

    Bottom line, follow those who serve, not those who lead. You can bet I’ll be quoting you.

  4. 2-9-2007


    Don’t quote me; quote Jesus. He’s the one with authority.


  5. 2-12-2007

    I agree that this is brilliant. And it helps me some with a question I had as I read grace’s excellent posts. How does the principle of authority work its way in and through Christ’s principles of leadership???

    I’m just trying to figure out why it has taken me so long to find your and grace’s blogs. :)

  6. 2-12-2007


    Welcome to my blog. Authority is an issue that is always raised in the context of leadership. It is rarely raised in the context of service. I tend to lean toward Jesus’ call to service.


  7. 2-12-2007

    I am agreeing, but also asking then how does it work in that context? Is it simply that with the authority that God may give to an individual that it is authority that comes with the responsibility to serve (and not to lead in the human understanding of that term)? Is that how it interacts with these Kingdom principles?

  8. 2-12-2007


    What kind of authority are you talking about? Authority to do what?


  9. 2-12-2007

    I don’t know, thus the question. I suppose a good answer would be to look to Matthew 28, where Jesus says all authority is given to me… and then he tells us to go and make disciples. And, then, agreeing with what you have written, making disciples is about teaching others to follow Jesus, and to do so it isn’t so much about human concepts of leadership but about Jesus’ call to serve. So, we make disciples, with his authority, by serving. That is my initial thought with all of these thoughts (yours and Grace’s and the scriptures discussed and the comments therein) in mind.

  10. 2-12-2007


    I think your last comment is a great way to wrap everything together. Authority is given to Christ. Christ calls us to serve, and he can do that since he has authority. One of the way we serve is by making disciples.


  11. 2-12-2007

    sounds like a great post. :)

  12. 2-21-2007

    We are preaching this in our small house church network in Norway, too. I love to see it clearly expressed by others. This I think is what the Spirit is telling the Church these days!

  13. 2-21-2007


    Welcome to my blog and thank you for the comment. I would love to hear more about what God is doing there.