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Servant Leadership: From a Biblical Perspective

Servant Leadership: From a Biblical Perspective

Greenleaf (1996) stated, “The servant-leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first” (p.1). Being a servant leader is not one of the traditional ways of leading in today’s society but it is one of the oldest; it dates back to the Old Testament. Jesus explained to his followers that their practice of leadership was to be distinctly different than the self-seeking, self-serving, and domineering style of leadership often found in the world. According to Greenleaf (1996) to be a servant leader one must have certain characteristics and those include, “listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community” (p.4). Servant leaders must also be open to learning instead of just leading. Greenleaf (1996) stated, “For building strength, there is a large difference between “knowing” a lot and being “open” to knowledge” (p.53). Servant leaders must remember not to lead first but serve first.

Serving First

Servant leaders are servant first and leaders later (Greenleaf, 1996). Certain individuals have an internal need to serve, which means that it is a natural or a conscious choice that those same individuals yearn to lead. According to Blanchard & Hodges, “A driven person thinks that they own their relationships, they own their possession, and they own their positions; a called person on the other hand believes everything is on loan. We are either a slave to sin or a servant to Jesus Christ (as cited by Fischer, 2012). A servant leader is led by a higher calling (i.e., God), while a traditional leader hopes to lead for power and to gain material wealth. People interact with one another and speak for the record with great candor about their thoughts, attitudes, and motives as they contemplate the use of power, or their protection from its use, and they react to the consequences of its use (Greenleaf, 1996). And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (Matthew 20:27, KJV). A servant leader must possess a variety of attributes to serve those who need and would benefit from its guidance the most. Attributes like: empathy, foresight, stewardship, listening and persuasion are needed to inspire followers or subordinates.


Being a servant leader is not an easy task and with that comes challenges. Some of the challenges of practically practicing servant leadership are the emotional drain, physically exhausting work, lacking the strength required to make a choice and remembering to put your relationship with God first over all others. There are also many things that could stifle servant leadership which include the need for recognition and career advancement.

Man Centered vs. God-Centered

A man-centered approach to servant leadership involves mankind being the object of service instead of Christ being the object of service. The best way Christians can serve others is by using a God-centered approach. To be a Christian is not just doing the right thing it is acknowledging that we need a savior Jesus Christ (Fischer, 2010). Using a man-centered approach a leader will focus more on personal gain than focusing on what God wants which will affect everyone that is managed. If you do not really love Jesus, then you will not truly love the people you lead (Blanchard & Hodges, 2006, p. 166). Christians rooted in the Biblical worldview, must understand that the Greatest Commandment outlines the order of our service – that order being God first, then others (Duby, 2009, p. 2). Jesus answered:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6).

Any leader who has faith in Jesus would lead as he did, which was by serving God first then others. A God-centered approach to servant leadership leads as Jesus did and must acknowledge God as the center.  We must be able to serve others from a leadership position and know that leadership and service are not separate. And when people refuse to have God as their center, they tend to lose the essential quality of serving others. A good servant leader will need knowledge on how to serve using a God-centered approach and wisdom that exceeds people that are being lead.

Servant Leadership within Organizations

The key element of servant leadership is that the leader must be able to humble them so that for their co-workers and members of their organizations would want to follow their behavior and make positive changes in the workplace. Servant leaders are skilled in the art of serving the needs and wants of the organization and the individuals within the organization.

Servant Leader Key Role

A key role of a servant leader is to bring out the very best quality lying dormant within organizational members and people in general. Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch (Matthew 15:14, KJV). Selflessness service builds an environment that is created out of trust and cohesiveness; moreover, creating high levels of morale within each organizations member will result in the member’s commitment to the organization. Servant leadership is not effortless or is it a swift solution. It is a transformational stage or long term approach to life if implemented correctly, servant leadership has the potential to provide a productive and positive working atmosphere and an altruism society. When an individual has come to turns with their life’s purpose and why they exist; their goal in life is to reflect Gods love and learning humility. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13, KJV). Living in a society or working in an organization that is focused on self-serving needs and wants fails to meet God’s plan for every man to go forward and cultivate the earth.

Biblical Foundation

As I stated earlier servant leadership dates back to the Old Testament. Duby (2009) stated, “The Greatest Commandment, which outlines the order of our service, serves as the foundation for demonstrating Biblical servant leadership” (p.3). The biblical servant first embodies a deep and intense feeling of serving God. Jesus was a clear example of how to be a leader while also putting God first then serving your followers. Dr. Duby (2009) stated, “One cannot truly understand service to others unless they first demonstrate the love demanded by the Greatest Commandment” (p.9). Jesus clearly expressed servant leadership with his disciples by serving God first, then his disciples. He led by example by the washing of his disciples’ feet:

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth; no servant is greater than his master. Nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13: 1-17)

Covenantal Perspective

A biblical, covenantal perspective informs our understanding of servant leadership by being based in mutual respect for others and being free from abuse of power. All Christians are called to be servants, not just the leaders. Duby (2009) stated, “For Christians, the issue is not service, but who is to be the foremost recipient of our service as stewards of God” (p.6). Servant leaders of the church see everyone as equals and they treat everyone with kindness. They know they have been put in a position of leadership and they seek to serve others. They involve themselves into the community and into the lives of those following them. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Christian servant leaders serve God through leading others so they together can accomplish a task for God’s glory. On several occasions Jesus ordered his believers to go out in their communities and witness to those individuals who were non-believers; Jesus Christ is a prime example of servant leadership. One of the greatest challenges in seeking to lead like Jesus is the intimacy it requires (Blanchard & Hodges, 2005). Fear is the underlying issue that causes anxiety when trying to connect with others on an intimate level. Biblical foundation is Jesus Christ and his ability to save us and free us from sin (Fischer, 2012). One particular scripture comes to mind when describing the biblical foundation of servant leadership: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4, KJV). Simply put, the word (the Bible) is the truth and the light; you will face challenges in your life but the goal (God’s gift to believers) is internal salvation and entrance into paradise. He must become greater; I must become less (John 3:30, NIV).

Building Knowledge

Servant leaders must take time to build knowledge not only for themselves but to help others in acquiring knowledge. If in a management position one has to make time to engage employees, to communicate with them, the things that are going on in the company and to share the things they need to know about to give them a big picture (Fischer, 2010). This requires coaching and teaching employees just like Jesus once did. Jesus spent the entirety of his public ministry teaching and showing the way of the kingdom while living the righteousness of God (Duby, 2009, p. 6).

Scripture about Knowledge and Wisdom

Scripture is one way of knowing how to use servant leadership according to God. Scripture is the holy Word from the holy God, delivered by holy men, to teach holy truths and to make people holy (Blanchard & Hodges, 2006, p. 166). Knowledge begins with God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7). Wisdom may be more difficult to gain since it is gained through experience. Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city (Ecclesiastes 7:19). To strengthen wisdom a leader must choose who they come in contact with. He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm (Proverbs 13:20).


When we accept God into our lives, we are shedding ourselves from our old ways and in a sense we are reborn. Meaning, we have decided to walk a path of righteousness; we have asked God to renew our minds and hearts and he delivers us from our sins (through repentance). Servant leadership is not an option; it is a mandate (Fischer, 2012). The scripture depicts people who served as servants to God; servant leadership is the result that developed out of the teachings of God. Greenleaf’s servant leadership was established on key ideas: 1. the servant leader is a servant first; “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11, KJV), 2. Authentic leaders are chosen by followers (i.e., board elections or church members voting on the new pastor) and 3. Servant leadership contains elements of Eastern thought, with an emphasis on reflection. To do anything reflectively demands that one be alone with one’s thoughts and accept the presence of a deeper self with which one may have only tenuous communication (Greenleaf, 1996). Servant leadership is one piece of the puzzle in effective leadership (Fischer, 2010). This is why a good servant leader needs God, knowledge on how to serve, and wisdom to lead.


Blanchard, K. & Hodges, P. (2006). Lead like Jesus: Lessons from the greatest leadership role model of all time. United States: W. Publishing Group.

Duby, D. G. (2009). The Greatest commandment: The foundation for Biblical servant leadership. Liberty University.

Fischer, K. (Creator). Liberty University (Poster). (2010). Presentation: Biblical leadership [Video].

Greenleaf, R. K. (1996). On becoming a servant leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.

Teachers Comment Below:


As I looked over the Group Discussion Boards to download your papers, I saw (as you can imagine) a number of different group dynamics. Group work, I know, can present a number of benefits to individuals involved with the team, from complementing skill sets to learning from diverse experiences. But I also know that group work, especially virtual group work, can present a number of challenges as well—different time zones, unfamiliar group mates, communication difficulties, etc. Yet the reality of virtual team work is likely to increase. Friedman (2005), the author of The World is Flat, states:

Today, your first management job out of business school could be melding the specialties of a knowledge team that is one-third in India, one-third in China, and a sixth each in Palo Alto and Boston. That takes a very special kind of skill, and it is going to be much in demand in the flat world. (p. 356)

Thus, our hope is that even virtual group work will begin to hone that “very special kind of skill.” I appreciate your work toward this team project, and hope that the experience, in spite of the challenges, has proved helpful. Your paper presents some really good points of discussion for servant leadership, and related several key concepts from our studies, including leading like Jesus, the great commandment, and covenant. While Greenleaf is mentioned several times, the first part of the paper should provide a synthesis and overview of the deficiencies in Greenleaf’s ideas and perspectives from a biblical perspective. Thus, it is important to provide clear contrasts between the problematic areas of Greenleaf’s perspective and the specific scriptures that counter these ideas. Many ideas were presented without these connections, so keep this in mind. Part two did include some relevant scripture for the discussion. Also, provide a good edit for maximum effect. Please let me know if you have any questions on the comments above. And thank you for your work, team.