Servant Leadership: Mission’s Crucial Export

Servant Leadership: Mission’s Crucial Export

Author - Stephen McQuoid, General Director GLO Europe

Author Bio:

Stephen McQuoid is the General Director of GLO Europe and has a passion for reaching secular Europeans with the gospel. He is also an elder at Liberty Community Church in Bellshill and combines this with an itinerant teaching and training ministry both in the UK and abroad. He is married with three children.

Some words can provoke a reaction. I have sometimes spiced up a conversation with friends by dropping in a word that I know will be contentious. These days one such word is ‘Christian’. Sadly, for some people the word Christian carries with it a fairly negative connotation. Christians are perceived by them to be intolerant, narrow minded and the kind of people who force their agenda on others. Of course, there could be a grain of truth in this, but largely in my experience it is an image that is very far of the mark.

In reality, many Christians, while not claiming to be perfect, are nevertheless people whose lives are a good example of love and care for others. Moreover, much can be said about the benefits that Christianity has brought to society. Of course, the best thing about the Christian faith is the person that all true Christians follow, Jesus Christ. His example sets the standards that that all Christians are to emulate. One of the most significant of these is the concept of servant leadership which Jesus beautifully exemplified. This is something which is both refreshing and countercultural, all at the same time.

One of the most inspiring stories in the life of Jesus is where he modelled servant leadership and it is told by John in chapter 13. This was a seminal moment in the life of Jesus not least because within hours of this event, his life would come to a violent end. Jesus knew (v.1) that the time had come for his death and subsequent return to the Father. He organised for a Passover celebration with his disciples so that he could demonstrate the extent of his love for them.

Jewish culture required that these men, who had just walked in the dusty heat through ancient roads, should have their feet washed, both to clean and refresh them. This was an unpleasant task that would normally have been done by a slave or perhaps the children of the house. On this occasion none were available, so each disciple wondered if the ignominious role would fall to them. We know that they often argued amongst themselves about which of them was the most important. Such one-upmanship is not uncommon when a dozen grown men get together and give vent to their competitive and selfish instincts. None moved because none of them wanted to be the servant of the others.

The stony silence was broken (v.4) when Jesus himself got up, stripped himself in front of them, wrapped a towel around his waist and began to wash their feet. Had any of us been there, I am sure we could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. A question that could have arisen might have been, ‘Has Jesus taken leave of his senses?’  However, John assures us that Jesus knew exactly who he was (v.3). He knew he had come from God, that God had given him all power and that he was returning to God. In other words, he was aware of who he was, the eternal Son of God, yet was willing to embrace this menial task.

For the disciples it was a shameful learning experience and one which, Peter in particular, found difficult to handle. They should have been the ones prepared to take up the towel, but their pride got in the way. Jesus’ words to them spoke volumes about what Christian leadership should be about. He said in verse 14, ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet’. This was, at one and the same time, a powerful rebuke and a profound lesson. A rebuke because they all lacked the humility to be servants. A lesson because Jesus was demonstrating in a very tangible way that true Christian leadership has, at its very heart, the idea of being a servant.

This is a lesson that we dare not forget in churches today. There are plenty of people who want to be leaders. They want their voice to be heard, to have their opinions count.  There are men and women in church life who want to give orders, to decide how the church should be run and what its priorities should be. Many want to shape church in their own image and ensure that church, with all its various programmes, meets their personal needs.

…Jesus was demonstrating in a very tangible way that true Christian leadership has, at its very heart, the idea of being a servant.

Of course, good leaders should have a clear vision about where the church is going and what it should be doing. They should have the determination to make things happen and the leadership skill to motivate and involve others. This, however, is not enough. Unless they are servants, they are not living out leadership the way Jesus modeled it. It is this servant-heartedness that makes Christian leadership so distinctive and appealing. However, it is becoming increasingly rare! Many leaders are happy to climb into the pulpit and have an audience. Preaching is important, but without a servant heart the preacher is nothing but a loudmouth. Other leaders want to apply their management principles, utilize strategic plans and develop models that enable the church to work with efficiency. All good, but without a servant’s heart such leaders are no better that armchair generals who ignore the very character of Jesus in the way that they lead.

Service, of course, is hard. It requires humility, the ability to value and esteem others, it requires the repression of our ego and a willingness to laying aside our rights. Many Christian leaders do not want to do this, not because they cannot see its importance, but rather they do not have the spiritual depth to really follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It is far easier to push your way to the front by using your gifts and strength of personality. Much more difficult to take up the towel and attend to the needs of others. To show you love them by many simple acts of service that will never be noticed by anyone, except God himself. But it is this kind servant leadership that will build a church, train new disciples and demonstrate Christlikeness in the every day.

It is also this kind of leadership that we need to export to the world.  Across the globe there are many examples of leadership, few of which resemble Christlikeness.  Many countries are ruled by ‘strong men’ (or women) who use their force of personality to control.  Others are led by people who manipulate and play games in order to get their own way.  These leadership styles can sadly creep into the church.  An important part of mission is to export true Christian leadership. A leadership that serves, that humbly gives of itself for the benefit of others.  For if we can take this kind of leadership with us in mission we will never be accused of mission colonialism or arrogance, rather we will be seen as Christ-like servants of the people who demonstrate the attributes of the great leader, who showed his greatness by taking up the towel – and the cross!

Welcome to the joint blog of Echoes International and GLO. Sharing the thoughts and experiences from experts in mission across the world, we aim to examine the issues facing mission today, and challenge existing views about cross-cultural mission.

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