Disciple-Making, Servant Leadership
Each week, our church blog will feature a reflection from one of our members on the sermon from the previous Sunday. In this inaugural post, Ben Johnson reflects on the virtues of servant leadership from a sermon preached by Matt Wireman on 2 Corinthians 11.
As our pastor spoke on 2 Corinthians 11 and the failure of Christian leadership this past Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about the different Christian leaders and ministry models I’ve encountered throughout my years in the church. Every Christian has those role models of the faith who’ve helped grow them closer to Christ, either by an intentional relationship or just by the example of their lives. At the same time, I know few Christians who have not been disappointed, hurt, or abandoned by a leader in the church.
Leadership in the church is a tricky area because, in theory, the leader of the church is Jesus Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he writes that Christ is “the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18). Yet, Christ is not present, at least not physically, with His people. We abide in Him through the Holy Spirit, and trust that our elders are listening to the Spirit as He guides them in leadership. However, humans are sinful, and people in ministerial roles are no different; in fact, they often face greater temptations because of their work.
As a church grows and people’s lives are changed through sanctification, it is hard for leaders not to think that they had some part to play. They begin to ponder dynamic ways to communicate on Sunday mornings, what type of programs would appeal to more people, what kind of music would entice the masses, and which hot-button topics would drive the most traffic to their church. They make church about entertainment and experiences and lose sight of the main goal of the church: discipleship.
How did Christ gain prominence? By discipling twelve men. Yes, Christ taught insightful sermons and performed incredible miracles, but Christianity spread through the men Christ spent time with. His apostles had the ability to build the church because they had been equipped and discipled by Christ. The job of a Christian leader is not to gain a cult of personality; it’s to grow and equip disciples to spread the message of Christ to a hopeless and broken world.
When I reflect on the leaders in my life who have had the biggest impact, the ones who have helped me grow in my understanding of Christ, they all share one common factor: they were servants. I’ve had multiple men and women influence me from multiple denominations with various theological convictions, but the one thing they all have in common is that they serve others. A true leader of the church is someone who will put others above himself, who will lay aside the concerns of his life to help others.
These people do not have a throng of followers and they do not pack auditoriums. They do not look to have influence on social media, nor do they care about relevance. They are men and women who are devoted to Christ and His mission. The night before Christ was crucified, he washed his apostles’ feet and told them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Christ taught that a leader is not a person who looks to have power and influence but is a person who serves others.
Leadership in the Shadow of the Cross
Servant leaders are not popular. People flock to leaders who are proud and who boast about their great accomplishments. People want to be on the winning side. Christ was not on a winning side, at least not by the world’s standards. His movement was squashed, and He was crucified. All His apostles were put to death except one, who only had to spend the rest of his life in exile. Humans want to win, but a follower of Christ is called to lose.
Yet, anyone who has spent time around a servant leader knows the power that lies within a life lived in the shadow of the cross. Servants of Christ have the power to serve sacrificially because they know that God sustains them. They give abundantly because they know how much has been given to them. And they love wholeheartedly because of the love that they have found in Christ. Anyone who has stumbled upon a community that practices this type of self-sacrificial love knows how powerful it is. I would not be the person I am today without men who intentionally spent time with me and showed me the power found in living as a follower of Christ.
I know many people who have good theology; I know very few who serve and love others well. Considering 2 Corinthians 11, my prayer for myself this week is that as I seek to be more like Christ, I will submit myself to the service of others. Whether that be through taking time out of a busy workday to listen to a coworker who needs to talk, spending time with a church member who needs a friend, or helping a person in need even if it is an inconvenience to myself, I pray that the Spirit will mold me more into Christ by making me into a person who is willing to serve others. May that be the prayer for our church as well as we strive to obey Christ’s command to make disciples for Him.
Ben Johnson is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing an MA in theology with a concentration in Church Planting. He is originally from Huntsville, AL, and is a graduate of Samford University. He and his wife reside in Greenville, SC.