• Dr. Lee Brand

Are you leading by one of two flawed leadership styles–or by the flawless example of Jesus Christ?

Since accepting my call to preach at the age of 17, I knew God would use me in some way to lead His people. The call to preach for me was also a call to lead. Though I knew what I was called to do, I had my share of struggles with how I would do what He called me to do. My early years as a Christian were spent without someone to disciple me in a strong, structured way. I often just gleaned from the people I saw around me. In my late teenage years, I began taking time to survey the leadership styles of the pastors I knew. Typically, the pastors I knew espoused one of two leadership styles.

THE FIRST LEADERSHIP STYLE I noted was the peace-at-any-cost pacifist leader. It really did not matter what the people wanted, what thepastor wanted, nor what the Lord wanted. The goal of this type of leader was to keep the peace. No pursuit was higher and no goal more noble than the people having some semblance of peace. At times, I would watch such leaders compromise on clear biblical teaching all for the purpose of helping the people achieve some measure of peace, even if it was a contrived peace.

THE SECOND LEADERSHIP STYLE often modeled before me was the my-way-or-no-way leader. In this dynamic, the people’s desires and the Lord’s direction are welcomed if they coincide with the thoughts of the leader. This leadership style stirs contention and can employ guilt as a weapon to move the people into the leader’s direction and way of thinking. Those who oppose the leader’s direction are labeled godless troublemakers, and they are pushed off of the team. This leader wants complete loyalty no matter the purity or impurity of his motives.

THE DEFICIENCIES OF THE LEADERSHIP STYLES I had observed lie at their core. Peace-at-any-cost and my-way-or-no-way leaders build their approaches to leadership on themselves. The first serves his desire for peace while the second leader serves his desire for success or prominence. In either case, they are self-serving. These are not the types of leadership that bring glory to Christ nor are they representative of His leadership style. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). He spent His earthly ministry in pursuit of the Father’s will and accomplishing the Father’s work.

JESUS COMMITTED HIMSELF to this mission so fully that Paul described Christ in the following way, “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:6-11).

As I prayed and thought through my own philosophy of leadership, I came back to my original issue of how I would lead. During my seminary days, I was assigned two textbooks that helped crystallize my thoughts and opened my understanding of servant leadership. Gene Wilkes in Jesus on Leadership: Discovering the Secrets of Servant Leadership from the Life of Christ defines servant leadership as “passionate service to the mission and to those who join the leader on that mission.” This simple definition drew from the ideas expressed by Paul about Jesus. Further, this definition blossomed from the life and leadership of Jesus Himself. This definition opened my eyes and heart to a new world regarding leadership.

Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges in Lead Like Jesus: Lessons from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Time aided my understanding of the personal areas that needed to be affected by the servant leadership model. They explained servant leadership as a matter of the heart, head, hands, and habits. Being a God- honoring leader means being a servant leader, and being a servant leader is a pursuit that engulfs all areas of life.

THE CONCEPT OF SERVANT LEADERSHIP works out in a person’s life in three ways. First, servant leadership, as defined by Wilkes, shows us what to serve. We are to serve the mission. The mission of Christ has always been to bring lost people to salvation and to bring saved people to maturity in Him. This mission is the mission of the servant leader.

No matter what other things may motivate the leader, his primary motivation must be God being glorified through the accomplishment of His will. Jesus told the first disciples, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). We have been sent in the same way as Christ: to carry out the Father’s mission. Second, servant leadership directs us in who to serve. We have been called to serve the Lord by serving the people who are laboring with us on His mission. Knowing we have been called to serve God’s people helps us keep a proper perspective. The influence God graciously gives to the leader is not to be wielded for the benefit of the leader. Christ’s blessing of influence is to be used to serve others. This is reflected by the Lord when He said, “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). Jesus came as God in the flesh not for personal benefit but for the good of fallen humanity. When Jesus came to the earth His life and sacrifice were not offered as a means of helping Him. He did so to help people, and the leader who would follow Jesus’ example must be willing to do the same.

Third, the servant leadership model helps us navigate why we serve. Leadership that reflects the heart and mind of Christ does not seek personal gain or self-aggrandizement. Servant leadership seeks only the glory of God. If God is glorified, all of the sacrifice, self-denial, and personal discomfort are more than worth it. Servant leadership forces the leader to focus on the glorious future around the throne of God. This leadership model helps keep the leader from getting too high in the good times or sinking too low in the bad times.

Praise God for giving us the perfect leadership model in the servant leadership style of the Lord Jesus Christ. He flawlessly demonstrated how, who, and why to lead, and He did it for all the world to see. As grateful as I am for the lessons I learned while studying at Mid-America, I am thankful to have learned about Jesus’ servant leadership. I have spent my days trying to be a servant leader, and I hope you will mimic the Lord in this aspect of your life as well. May the Lord use you to help others pursue His mission, promote the well-being of those you serve, and press for His glory in all that you do.


This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 Mid-America Messenger. Read this article in the magazine here.