As we might expect, the New Testament concepts of leadership are radically different from those so often visible in the worlds of politics or business (and, most tragically, sometimes in the church). The word most frequently used to describe leaders or leadership (proistemi) means to be set over or to direct – and carries within it the integral idea of ‘giving care and attention’; to attend to something with care and diligence, to be a protector or guardian. Whichever way we look at it, the kind of leadership the Lord wants in and through His church is a leadership that really cares for those it is leading. This kind of leadership is an expression of God’s grace (Romans 12:6) and should be undertaken with great diligence and zeal! (12:8). Why? Because the church deserves our very best – the Lord really cares that His people are not left “as sheep without a shepherd” (Number 27:17, Matthew 9:36).
At the heart of this type of leadership are two core characteristics – servanthood and stewardship. So, what do we mean by these two words? Firstly, servanthood is an attitude of humility that is the bedrock of leadership character, and is the foundation of all leadership and ministry for the Lord; and it is the epitome of the very attitude of Christ – “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28). Meanwhile, stewardship is the understanding that everything we have is on loan, entrusted to us by God. Good stewardship is the key to growth, and again is exactly the way Jesus handled His own task and commission – “All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father” (Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22). All God-pleasing biblical ministry is characterised by these two attributes. So, let’s dig a bit deeper…
The word used extensively for “ministry” in the NT is diakonia, which simply means ‘service’. A minister in any sense (and a deacon in particular), is nothing more – and nothing less – than a servant. Think about the two great New Testament apostles, Peter and Paul: whatever their gifting, responsibilities and achievements, they saw themselves first and foremost simply as “servants of Christ” (notice how they introduce themselves at 2 Peter 1:1 and Romans 1:1 respectively) – and they considered it the greatest privilege! They were servants, just like the greatest Old Testament leaders who preceded them – eg Moses (Josh 1:1, Heb 3:5), Joshua (Josh 24:29), David (Ps 78:70-71) and others.
When Jesus’s disciples were found to be arguing about which of them was the “greatest”, Jesus explained that if we want true greatness we must learn what it means to be a “servant” (Mark 9:33-35). As we’ve noted, servanthood is revealed to us most perfectly in Christ Himself – the Greatest who ever lived! Describing the way Jesus became a servant-slave to humanity, Paul reminds us: “Make your own attitude (or “mindset”) that of Christ Jesus, who existing in the form of God did not consider equality with God something to be used for his own advantage (or “to be grasped”). Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a slave… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-9).
Jesus sets us the example of how to embrace servanthood, and we see that it involves: letting go of anything we’re holding too tightly; emptying ourselves of every attitude or priority that fills us but can never fulfil us; humbling ourselves by dealing with all pride; bringing all things into obedience under Him; and being willing to die the many little (internal) deaths that come from a life of servanthood. These may include, for example: going the extra mile when you’re tired; celebrating another’s success when you feel you deserve the credit; choosing patience when you feel overlooked; turning the other cheek when you feel injured or insulted, standing aside to let others shine and succeed; absorbing another’s pain when you’re also hurting; or choosing silence when you long to defend yourself against criticism… Of course, this may not be easy – but when we embrace these things are free and liberated and discover true greatness!
Psalm 24:1 declares that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” – and as such all that we have is on loan from God; we’re called to be faithful stewards, entrusted with our gifts, tasks, responsibilities and spheres of leadership and influence. And Jesus said that much would be asked of those to whom much had been entrusted (Luke 12:48).
The concept of entrustment is seen throughout the New Testament – but in particular it’s worth noting the way Paul speaks of both his own ministry and the gifts and leadership responsibilities of others (eg 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 1 Timothy 1:11-12, 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14). Perhaps nothing expresses it more powerfully that his words to the Corinthians: “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
And of course Jesus Himself spoke about the need to be found trustworthy in taking care of our gifts and talents. In Luke 16:10-12 He made clear that our faithfulness in handling smaller things would lead to being entrusted with bigger things, and our faithfulness in handling worldly wealth to being entrusted with “true riches,” and that our faithfulness in caring for delegated things would lead to being entrusted with our own things. These are really vital principles: we must take great care of what we’ve been entrusted with now, and if we are faithful we can expect to see growth; which is exactly what we see in the parables of the talents (Matthew 25:14ff, Luke 19:12ff). Spend some time appreciating the small things and material things and delegated things you’ve been entrusted with – and determine to take care of them as faithfully as you can!…
Servanthood and stewardship go hand-in-hand. And I think all other God-pleasing leadership attitudes and attributes (integrity, care, bravery, clarity, diligence, zeal…) will inevitably flow from this twin heartbeat. May a powerful generation of servant-leaders arise, knowing they’ve been entrusted with much and proving faithful in all these things…