GTSH1/2 Servanthood: the Essential Kingdom Model

The second topic in Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom  begins by looking at the leader as servant, as modelled by Jesus in the example he set when he washed the disciples feet. We see how that emerges from his character which lives out agape-love . A character that Christians should be living out more and more as we mature in Christ. The topic also reviews the cultural impact of leading in the manner that was taught and modelled by Jesus. We see that it is of the culture of the Kingdom which is radically different to any and every culture found in the world.

The key passages considered in this topic are:

John 13:1-6
Phillipians 2:1-11
1 John 4:7-21

Foot Washing: A Visual Parable of Servanthood in the Kingdom (John 13:1-16)

There is a lot going on in this situation. One of things that Jesus does is to provide a visual parable of Kingdom leadership. This is in the face of the reluctance of the disciples to serve, brought about by their societal and cultural norms.

It was customary for a host to provide a bowl of water and towel by the door so that guests could wash their feet. The washing, which would be carried out by a servant, was necessary because the standard footwear was a very simple open sandal. The roads were not metalled and so were dusty or muddy, making feet dirty. Washing a guest’s feet was a way of refreshing them and making them comfortable.

At the last supper there were no servants to carry out the service of foot  washing. Servants were at the bottom of the social scale, so it was not socially appropriate that any of the Disciples should wash the feet of the others. More than that, humanly, it would be to admit inferiority and that others were superior. (We’ve already seen the repeated issues the disciples had on this score.) Consequently feet were not being washed and it may well have been quite embarrassing.

You must have been in a group situation where some obvious need had not been met and everyone was thinking “ That’s not  been done”; wondering ”Who will do it?”; “Should I do it?” or “It’s not my place to do it.” “It will embarrass our host if we do it.”….

Jesus was the host, he was also their Teacher and Lord, all positions of status and respect from the disciples perspective. In the culture of the day it was unthinkable that one of such status should wash the Disciple’s feet.  But that is what he did. Jesus , the Son of God, the King of Kings, the creator, he who is an exact representation of the father. If it was unthinkable for the host or Lord to so demean themselves, how unthinkable was it that the Son of God should serve in this way. Surely, it was only appropriate on all these human and Godly accounts that he be served?

It wasn’t as if this happened because for a moment Jesus had forgotten who he was. He knew clearly that he was the Son of God,  that he would soon offer himself as a sacrifice on the cross and return to heaven to be at the father’s side.

  • Take a Moment: In your culture:
    • What is the lowest, most menial job?
    • Who is your greatest and most revered person?
    • Imagine for a moment that this person did that job. How shocking would that be?


That was how shocking it was for Jesus to wash the disciple’s feet.

Having washed their feet, Jesus challenged the disciples to do likewise. This was not about washing feet but the Kingdom way of leading. These were not simply followers of Jesus. He was growing them to be leaders of men, not just fishers of men. So, reflecting Paul’s discourse in Philippians 2, he set aside his position and served them as an example that Kingdom leadership is actually about servanthood not position and status.

This challenges the world’s view of power and authority wherever and however it is found. Again Jesus is telling the disciples that it is different in the Kingdom of Heaven and that the world’s outlook on leadership and greatness does not apply. There is no place for the world’s outlook in the Kingdom of God because the “Kingdom’s DNA” is radically different. It’s as modelled by Jesus and is about possessing a Christ-like, Christ-centred character and attitude.

  • Take a Moment: How does Jesus’ example of leadership, that we are instructed by him to follow, challenge what you have learned about leadership?  Why must we be like Jesus?


It’s also helpful to read “The King Who lead with a Towel” articles by Rick Sessoms and Colin Buckland at
Christian-leadership.org

Servanthood, the Essential Kingdom Model (Philippians 2:1-11)

As Paul wrote this passage his goal was for Kingdom relationships to be lived out between believers.

The character of such relationships was concern for others before concern for self. He shows how Jesus Christ models this through his incarnation and sacrifice. He models it because his essential character, even as the Son of God enthroned with God the father, includes servanthood. Remember too, how the writer to the Hebrews declares the Son to be the “exact imprint of [the Father’s] nature” Heb1:3 ESV. He was “the exact representation of [God’s] being” (NIV). Consequently we know that servanthood, as taught and modelled by Jesus, must be a true and exact representation of God’s character.

Paul draws out what this means for every Christian, not least leaders. There is to be equality through such a unity of mind and concern for each other that there is no room for rivalry or conceit. There is no place for claiming superiority of any kind over another. But we are to look to the needs of others, not excluding our genuine needs. It is servitude not service when we serve and our needs are consistently excluded[1].

Generally speaking, the natural man is concerned with his own wants regardless of others. This is the essence of man’s fallen, sinful nature. Now, Paul says, the needs of others are to figure as prominently, if not more so, in our thinking. By implication this requires the same dedicated action on behalf of others as we would give to fulfilling our own requirements.

Paul underwrites this shift in attitude with the character and example of the Son of God.

First we see that Jesus does not hang on to position and status, even though it is legitimately held. After all it was he who had the power and authority to create the world and the universe and all that it contains including thrones, dominions rulers and authorities.  (Colossians 1:5) and now he is before all things and he sustains creation by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). He is the “first born” over all creation, the head of the church and in everything he is pre-eminent and all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him (Colossians 1: 17-19)

He let this go and became a servant because his goal was the benefit of others, namely their redemption and reconciliation to God. He took on human form in order to achieve this higher, Kingdom purpose, humbling himself to undergo the cross.  Ponder that for a moment. Here was God, who was all the things listed above and more. He did not just become human, which was an infinite reduction in his circumstance, but voluntarily subjected himself to the worst that man could do to him, so that others might reap the benefit.

The Son of God not only served man but also God by serving a higher purpose, specifically God’s redemptive plan. So, he humbled himself towards God and deliberately chose to be obedient to the Father so that he fulfilled his role in God’s purposes.

What a model for all Christians! Its application to leadership is enormous. It requires that we do not engage the power of our position to lord it over others and exercise authority over them. Had Christ done that he could have avoided all of this humiliation and agony by simply leaving everyone justly condemned to hell. It means that as leaders we must serve others, enabling those that we lead to be able to glorify God in their service of him; in other words to fulfil their potential as they in turn serve. Command is insufficient; it is simply the exercise of power and authority. The pre-eminence of selfish ambition is obstructive and has no place.  Engaging, equipping and empowering those individuals who we lead are the necessary elements to enable the fulfilment of their potential in line with the higher purpose to which they are called.  This is servant leadership.

This approach can be looked at as a management tool to get others to achieve the results required of the leader;  in secular terms this is what servant leadership is about.  In Kingdom terms it is about a servanthood that fulfils the character of Christ as it works out in how we lead others.

So, in Christian terms leaders should lead in this way because this is the character of Christ in whom we abide and who abides in us. For the leader who is a Christian it is not matter of technique but of mature, Christ-centred Christian character. It’s simply how a follower of Jesus who leads others should be.

  • Take a Moment: From Philippians 2, What do you learn about how you should be and not be as a leader? Why should this be? What changes do you need to make?


Agape, the Motivating Force (1 John 4:7-21)

What motivated the son of God to make this sacrifice, to be the Servant King?

Two core characteristics of God’s character in this respect are righteousness and agape-love.  God’s righteousness requires a just and appropriate penalty for sin. His righteousness could be satisfied simply through the eternal damnation of the sinner in hell.

However, God is more than just righteous. He is also the God of agape-love. As an outworking of his agape-love character he provided a way that his requirement for justice could be satisfied and that sinners could be redeemed and reconciled to him. In Romans 3 Paul tells us that the cross satisfied God’s requirement for justice. John (1 John 4) tells us that it was done because of God’s agape-love.

“[Agape-love] whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse of the feelings, it does not always run with natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all and works no ill to any; love seeks the opportunity to do good to all men, and especially those who are of the household of faith.” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words).

In summary, Agape-love results from choice and is concerned for the welfare and benefit of others. It is this love that is an essential element of God’s character and which motivates the Son of God’s service. In this respect it is the character that Jesus sought to grow in those embryonic leaders we call “the Disciples” and shows itself in all the illustrations that he gave to them concerning greatness and leadership. Servanthood emerges from the outworking of agape-love.

  • Take a Moment:  Why should agape-love be the Christian’s  nature and how should it show itself in terms of leadership?


The practice of agape-love is to be a key characteristic of leaders who are centred upon Christ, bringing about a focus upon others and their needs as opposed to self. God is its source and it is the core of the Christian’s character and so should be the core of the Christian leader’s character. As such it is to be the motivating force behind all we do as leaders.

Cultures Clash

As we have looked at the various incidents and Bible passages that concern being a Christ-centred leader of people, it is clear that Kingdom leadership emerges from a  servant heart and that it turns the world’s conventional wisdom on leadership upside down. It challenges how we look at leadership regardless of our national culture, social culture and organisational culture. Consequently it challenges how we should be as a Christian leader because the Kingdom is not of the world.

Jesus taught that greatness and leadership in the Kingdom required the humility of child. Even if in the world’s eyes they are of little consequence

He taught that greatness and leadership in the Kingdom was about serving others and that those who served are amongst the greatest in the Kingdom, whereas in the world servants are least and there to do as they are commended.

Power and status are important to the world’s leaders whatever their nationality and culture and Jesus told the Disciples it was not be like that with them. This leads to the leader being served by those they lead whereas in the Kingdom it is the leader who serves.

When modelled on the character of Christ, leadership in the Kingdom is diametrically opposed to the character of leadership in the world, wherever in the world it is found.



[1] The servant heart is to be a normal aspect of a Christian’s character, therefore as one seeks to meet another’s need, others would also be concerned for the one serving.

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