Bible Leadership Vocabulary Part 2Leadership as servanthood

In my last post, I cited Oswald Sanders’ classic Spiritual Leadership in which he observes that common Hebrew and Greek language leadership terms are rarely used to describe leaders among God’s people. Instead, a biblical conception of leadership revolves around three primary metaphors. In the previous post, we examined the steward metaphor. The sacred obligation of a steward is to exercise oversight of another’s beloved or belongings, do the other’s bidding, act on the other’s behalf, and accrue to the other’s benefit. To be a leader is, first, to be a servant of the LORD. In this post and the next, we turn to a second major biblical leadership metaphor: servant.

The other side of servanthood

Analysis of biblical references to God’s leaders as servants reveals not only the idea of stewardship but also a second distinct cluster of meaning. Scripture strongly repudiates an aristocratic notion of leadership together with all of its accompanying manifestations and abuses. In his extensive biblical theology of leadership, my former colleague Donald Howell writes,

Formal leadership in the secular or religious world is always a moral test. To be placed in a position of influence over others often means the enjoyment of higher monetary remuneration, social prestige, the admiration of one’s peers, and the internal satisfaction of having achieved vocational success. The rewards of prominence are why leadership positions are eagerly pursued and jealously guarded. However, elevation brings with it heightened opportunities for the vices of greed, arrogance, and vanity to creep in and overtake one’s soul.

Beware the seductions of status

Leadership that befits the character and calling of God steadfastly resists the trappings and temptations associated with elevated status. In fact, the Bible turns the association between leadership and status entirely upside down. Scripture calls leaders to a humble demeanor, a lowly posture toward those over whom the leader has been given charge. Jesus declared war on the religious leadership status quo of His day. He railed against contemptible Pharisaical practices of insistence upon special titles, symbols, and rituals that perpetuate social distance and command subordinates’ deference (see Mt. 23). To be continued …

*Note: This post is excerpted from my 2013 book, The Leader’s Palette: Seven Primary Colors

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