Most of the article is derived from a talk prepared and delivered to Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child Int’l global leaders earlier this year.

You’ll be glad to know I feel immensely qualified to write on servant leadership as I have my doctorate in servant leadership with an emphasis on humility. Okay, that’s not true. 

When you think of a servant leader in the Bible who do you think of? What behaviors come to mind? When I hear the words servant leadership, I immediately see Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Or I hear Jesus’ words in Luke 22 as he settles the, Who is the best apostle on the planet dispute by saying, the greatest among you will be your servant. 

 Two things worth noting: One, Jesus didn’t rebuke the apostles for their desire to be great. Jesus is okay with the contest but tells them how to compete. Two, although Jesus entire life’s purpose was to serve, we don’t see many acts like the washing of the feet. Here’s what we see Jesus doing: teaching with authority, rebuking, casting out demons, developing the apostles, healing people, debating with Jewish leaders, performing miracles, sharing the gospel, selecting and empowering others. That’s what our model of servant leadership, Jesus, did! So any discussion of servant leadership must address that. 


It’s not posturing as a servant leader.

It’s not wearing a t-shirt that says I am incredibly humble and a great servant leader. It’s not reading a book on servant leadership.

It’s not telling others our organization has a servant leadership approach. It’s not getting certified as a servant leader. It’s not an upside-down org chart. If you have a chart like that, I get what you are trying to do, but as a consultant to the body of Christ for 32 yrs, it has little effect on real behavior. Like fasting being a servant leader is something we do without a sign board.

It’s not deferring to everyone’s opinion. Many years ago, a client hired us to lead their organization toward a High Impact volunteer model. The implementation team consisted of 5 people. In every meeting my opinion was sought. However, the point person also pursued the thoughts of every team member, though not one possessed more than a paltry amount of experience. The group consensus frequently resulted in a direction I knew wouldn’t work. If a surgeon asks me for the best way to conduct a heart procedure, I won’t be going back. Knowing when and when not to collaborate is a key to leading well.

It’s not abdicating greater responsibilities so we can show others we are servants. While true servants should never be “above” any task, biblical Christian leaders must be experts at triage. Serving together may be a great team builder but it must be weighed against lost opportunity. Often the decisiveness of servant leaders is misunderstood as heavy handed, arrogant, or uncaring. The best leaders are willing to live with the consequences of poor optics while obsessing about what Jesus desires


A bondservant of God. All true servant leadership is first sifted by this one remarkable criterion. To be a servant leader, a leader must first be a bondservant of the living God. In Numbers 12:6 God says to Moses’ elder siblings, Aaron and Miriam, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses.” Notice God doesn’t say your brother Moses but rather My servant. In 2 Samuel 7:8 The Lord calls David “My servant”. The Hebrew word for servant or bondservant in both passages is ebed.

James, the Lord’s brother identifies himself as …a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Jas. 1:1). Paul, in I Corinthians 9:19 says, though I am free, I have made myself a bondservant to all. The Greek word for bondservant is doulos. The Greeks despised the word because they prized their independence. Both ebed and doulos mean giving up one’s own autonomy and subordinating one’s will to that of another.

All of these great biblical servant leaders have done just that. If I have any hopes of being the servant leader that Jesus desires, I must settle this matter. I must give up my autonomy and surrender to His will. But have I done that fully? Are there areas of my life that are not surrendered to the Lord Jesus? I’ll never win the servant leadership contest that Jesus speaks of and can’t even get in contention until I’ve fully surrendered my autonomy to Him. 

Watch for Servant Leadership Part 2, where we will dig more into what servant leadership is. 

by Al Newell

© Newell and Associatesl 2024


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