You Can’t Have Leadership Without Service

January 22, 2013

This post was adapted from my book Authority: The Leader’s Call to Serve.

Leadership doesn’t exist without service. Understanding how to lead through service is imperative for your family, team, or organization. If you’re a leader (of anything) or an aspiring leader, the path to maturing as a leader is service. It is counter-intuitive to our romanticized view of leadership, but it’s the truth. A leader may be in charge of something on paper, but that doesn’t mean their leadership is fruitful.

We’ve all heard the term servant-leadership, but what does it mean? Paul (of the Bible) describes it as the “stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you.” He echoes this again: “For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed”. Paul understands that God’s grace, afforded to him as an apostle, was given for the benefit of others. His leadership was about service, using what he had been given for the benefit of others.  


This applies to marketplace leadership as well. One of the primary tasks of a leader in any organization is to empower the people in the organization and provide them with vision. Leadership means taking other people under your care and serving them so that they can go do greater things than you. Jesus himself models this for us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”.

Whether you start at the bottom or the top of the org-chart, you’re still called to serve. Leaders equip their people by serving them. This doesn’t mean that the primary leader must personally know everyone in the organization. But there must be a cascading chain of relationship, vision, and authority, stemming from the personal investment of the primary leader and the senior team of an organization.

Even more poignant is the picture of Jesus as our suffering servant. The greatest leader who ever lived didn’t simply bark out orders. Jesus humbled himself and became a servant. He washed his disciples’ dirty feet, embraced the outcasts, and befriended the lowest of the low. It culminated in his suffering and death on a cross. Today, he reigns in perfect authority over all things, but he took the route of the worst and most grievous service role anyone has ever known.

God made his leadership about sacrificial service. What keeps us from making ours the same? What person or issue today needs you to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty?

Find out more about Authority: The Leader’s Call to Serve.


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