Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Servant Leadership - Part 1

The following several posts are a paper I wrote a few years ago titled “Servant Leadership in the New Testament Church.” It addresses problems and paradigms of leadership in the church today and offers a course correction.


Leadership is a hot topic in the church today. After decades of declines in membership, giving, and missional vitality many in the church today are searching for ways to inspire the remaining flock and to attract new members to its doors. Unfortunately, the models for leadership adopted by the church have come from the world and dominant culture. They are grounded in the logic of the market. Consequently, they are characterized by division of labor, domination, and authority that foster passivity in the laity and elitism among the clergy. In adapting its organizational structures and understanding of power and authority to the market logic, the North American church has become a reflection of the world it has been called to serve and transform. In fact, just the reverse has occurred. The church has been made into the image of the market.

What is the market logic? It is the organizing principle of the modern world. The market logic places all faith and trust for the provision of human need and desire in the forces of supply and demand. In the market logic everything is for sale. Everything, even life and health, is a commodity. The worth of human life is determined by the individual ability to acquire and accumulate wealth. Those who are limited in their ability to acquire and accumulate are forced to the margins and become the objects of charity.

The North American church has unquestioningly accepted and adopted the market logic. This acceptance is seen in the way the church has organized itself. It is especially apparent when we look at the church’s life and ministry. Church membership is regarded as a relationship with an institution in which the member expects to receive services (entertainment/worship, moral education of children, social standing, etc.) in exchange for a nominal sum of money placed in the offering plate on the Sunday services they attend at their convenience. Participation on church committees and social functions passes for discipleship. The clergy are regarded as the hired experts who are responsible for carrying out the church’s ministry: visiting the sick and elderly, teaching the children, planning and leading worship, performing weddings, and burying the dead. There is a very clear division of labor in the church. The clergy are service providers who do the work of the church on behalf of the laity who are the recipients (customers) of the product (ministry). This outcome has been fostered by the church’s adoption of market driven organizing principles employed by corporations and the world of business. Pastors increasingly see themselves as managers and CEOs while laity regard themselves as consumers of religious and social services.

It is no wonder that the North American church has experienced a steady decline in membership and vitality in the Twentieth century. The church has reduced itself to a religious social club that “proclaims a gospel without demands and makes demands without gospel.”[i] It understands its need for leadership. But it all too often looks to the market for answers. Where and to whom can the church turn for help if not to the market?

The Bible is where the church will find itself. In the Bible the church will discover its true identity and mission. It will also find an understanding of power, authority and leadership that will renew and revitalize its life. More specifically, in the Bible the church will find in the life and teaching of Jesus and the early church a means for re-orienting its life and ministry away from the market and toward the God who is the author if its life and mission.

This paper will examine the approach to authority, power and leadership that was revealed in the life, teaching, and death of Jesus Christ. He set the course to be followed by his disciples. We will look at Jesus’ understanding of his identity and mission in and for the world. It is the contention of this paper that Jesus has established the paradigm for the church’s employment of authority, power and leadership. Jesus, not the market or the world, is where the church must look to learn about true leadership and power.

[i] Orlando E. Costas, Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1982), p. 79-80.


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