Servant Leadership in Times Like These

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Most whose lives are transformed by the saving work of Jesus the Messiah want to use the best of their time, talents, and abilities to advance His purposes. Our understanding of the path to such service, however, is highly influenced by the prevailing wisdom of our culture. According to popular leadership teachings, we must use the majority of our talents in order to attain star power and success. Daily we are confronted with media-made celebrities who purport to have found fulfillment by discovering and utilizing their giftedness. As a result, many Christians believe that if they could just find that place of service where their gifts are acknowledged and talents fully utilized, they too could be fulfilled and great in the Kingdom.

This personal fulfillment formula, however, stands in stark contrast to the servant leadership models most frequently noted in Scripture. God took delight in using the foolish and the weak to confound the wise and the strong (1 Cor. 1:27). Moses found that his inadequacies were the means for accomplishing God’s greatest purposes (Ex. 3 & 4). The psalmist was content to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord (Psalm 84:10).

John the Baptist knew that he had to decrease so that Jesus might increase (Mark 1:7).
Peter realized that only after his own resources of strength, freedom, and determination were exhausted could he travel the highway to his ultimate destiny (John 21:18–19).
Paul, whose resume begins with a chief of sinners’ confession (1 Tim. 1:15), knew that his weakness was perfected in Jesus’ strength—that earthen vessels hold life’s greatest treasure so others will realize that the power and the glory are God’s alone (2 Cor. 4:7).

Paul’s words challenge us with the promise that we, too, will receive the crown if we run and complete the race not in our own strength, but relying on the One who declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). All who cross the finish line receive the victor’s crown and the Father’s “Well done!”

No portion of Scripture has provided me with deeper insights into the mind, heart, and will of servant leadership than Phil. 2:1–11. While reveling in this Pauline hymn, I believe the Holy Spirit asked me a sobering question: “Whose needs are you meeting as you lead—your own or those of the ones I entrust to you?”

The opening stanzas of Philippians 2 confront the motivations of the heart, emphasizing the “why and who” of serving, rather than the “what, when, where, and how.” Those who desire to serve like Jesus must unite around a commitment to humility, self-denial, and other-centeredness. Actions and attitudes, for those who would be like Jesus, must be without selfish ambition and prideful arrogance.

While much of our effort is motivated and evaluated by what we get from the experience, our Lord was driven by the desire to be what we needed so that our greatest good might be apprehended. Laying aside His glory and privileges, He humbly moved from Creator to the created, taking on our state in order to identify with those He came to lead. He came to serve and save and not be served or saved (Matt. 20:28). The Son identified with what we were, so that we could become all that the Father intended—heirs and joint heirs with Him for eternity (Rom. 8:17).

I believe we could be on the verge of one of the greatest moves of the Holy Spirit since the Day of Pentecost. And those who will take up the call to a Jesus model of servant leadership will be ready for whatever that move demands. Are you willing to serve whomever and wherever with whatever God entrusts to you? If so, let me suggest some steps that could make you available for such a calling.

Explore and give thanks for the unique person God is making you. Take advantage of the many strength-finder tools and wise counselors available to help you better understand your giftedness. However, do not be afraid to uncover your limitations—His strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Surrender the hurts and disappointments of not being fully utilized or recognized.  Use these inactive times to celebrate God’s work in you, examine your driving motivations, and support His work in others.

Look for opportunities to serve where needs are greatest even if you do not possess the skills and talents normally required. Get outside of your cultural and performance comfort zones. Mother Teresa had one thing to give—compassion—for those who needed it most.

Soak up the character of Jesus. Spend time in Philippians 2, the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–12) and the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16–26). What we do has its greatest value when it plays a primary role in conforming us into the image of Christ.

If Jesus is the gold standard for servant leadership, then we will obey Him by serving faithfully those He has entrusted to us. Often we will work within the strengths He has provided. Like Moses, the skills and experiences symbolized by the shepherd’s staff can become the “rod of God,” rescuing the lost and delivering the bound. However, we must not be surprised or unprepared when the Master asks us to minister out of frailty and discomfort. Being forced to cast down our rods of ability and stability periodically ensures that we are operating not by our own power and might, but by the Spirit’s (Zech 4:6).

And be prepared to be set aside from time to time. The stops, as well as the steps of the righteous, are ordered of the Lord (Isa. 40:31, Psalm 37:23–24). For it is primarily when we have nothing left but Jesus that He becomes everything. When Jesus is our only thing, as well as our everything, the excellence of the power is seen by all to be of Him and not of us. In the end, the only star will be Christ Jesus the Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Such is the servant leadership needed for times like these.


Dr. David Gyertson served as president of three Christian institutions: Regent University, Asbury University, and Taylor University. Currently he is Associate Provost and Dean of the Beeson International Center for Biblical Preaching and Church Leadership as well as Professor of Leadership Formation and Renewal at Asbury Theological Seminary.


  1. Very, very timely — not just for me but for all who seek to understand “calling” and “ministry” — not to be confused with a job, which we also (most of us) need. 😉 This is truth and light, in the inimitable Gyertson style. Thank you. Jane