The Practices of Jesus’ Leadership

“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

Matthew 20:26

In our article last month, we considered four essential personal qualities for the leader who would lead like Jesus: humility, courage, integrity and justice. This month, we look more deeply at each quality to discover the practices that form–and extend– servant leadership.

Humble Worship: Lordship in heart

The leader who bears much fruit must abide in God’s presence. As Jesus told his disciples, “A branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine. I am the vine. You are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Worship is the joyful expression of thanksgiving that one’s strength is not in oneself, but in the Lord.  This leader is ever mindful of Jesus’ invitation to abide daily—to dwell, rest and bask—in God’s love. The leader rejoices to say with John the Baptist, “He must become greater. I must become less.” How is your heart in worship? Are you finding strength in God’s presence?

Courageous Truth Telling: Lordship in action

A leader’s trust is as good as his or her word. Courageous leaders can be trusted because they are ready to admit failure and sin when they are wrong, and graciously, but directly speaking the truth in love when another is wrong. Time and again throughout the Gospels, we find social outcasts, prostitutes and tax-collectors flocking to Jesus’ side! People who know their inadequacy know two remarkable truths about Jesus. First, they know that Jesus does not approve of their behavior or affirm this sin.  But second, they know Jesus loves them unconditionally. Most of us lean toward one end of this spectrum rather than the other.  Some of us may be truthful, but not very loving.  Others of us may be loving, but not very truthful. Jesus models a servant leadership that is “full of grace and truth.” What do you need to ask God for and begin practicing in your ministry?

Communal Integrity: Lordship in community

Once, I thought being truthful was the most important characteristic for earning trust. Then I discovered that never lying does not, by itself, engender trust. Without love, your vision, ideas and teaching, however truthful, will become what Paul calls a “resounding gong or clanging cymbal.” Truth can only be heard when people are confident that you have their best interests in mind, that your truthfulness streams from a heart of genuine love. The servant leader must not lie, but your speech must be guided by three factors: Is it truthful? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Do those you serve and work alongside have the confidence that you are saying and doing only what is best for them, and not for yourself, or your reputation?

Righteous Outreach: Lordship in society

As we discovered last month, justice embodies the mission and ministry of Jesus. Righteousness is not about being right, but about being in right relationship with God and others. Jesus demonstrates this by constantly being found practicing hospitality with the stranger, the weak and disenfranchised. Jesus accepted hospitality from others, such as dining with tax-collectors and Pharisees. Jesus extended hospitality by feeding the thousands in crowds as well as making breakfast for his disciples. The early Christians were known for their fellowship and “table service” where believer and stranger might experience grace and work out justice. It is easy to get so caught up in doing good things for the needy and poor that we fail to share ourselves. When was the last time you shared a meal with a stranger simply for the love of the stranger?


There are many practices of servant leadership, many more than can be mentioned in a short article like this.  However, open any page of the Gospels and you are likely to find Jesus giving glory to His Father, speaking the truth in love to followers, serving the good, and healing others or sharing a meal with strangers. Servant leadership is marked by these core practices because these practices make Jesus visible.

–Jim Van Yperen