THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON SERVANT LEADERSHIP
Today’s readings: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; 9-13
The term “servant leadership” is an oxymoron,
that is, the two words are seemingly contradictory to each
other. A leader is someone who is up there while a servant
is someone who is down there. A leader has power, position
and authority while a servant has none of those. A leader
is the first while a servant is the last. This is the challenge
to those who serve as leaders. They do need to be leaders,
for that is what they have been tasked to do, but they do
so with the hearts of servants.
how does it work? Paul talked about his own ministry among
the Thessalonians. We pick up other oxymorons (oxymora) as
Paul says, “although we were able to impose our weight
as apostles of Christ. Rather, we were gentle among you, as
a nursing mother cares for her children.” (v.7). Imposing
but gentle? Yes, a servant leader is authoritative but not
authoritarian. He is decisive in saying and teaching what
is right and true but not overbearing. He stands on the reality
that he is commissioned by Christ but handles his task as
lovingly as a mother who is commissioned to care for her children,
who are God’s children.
Paul also says he was “exhorting and encouraging you
and insisting that you conduct yourselves as worthy of the
God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (v.12).
Encouraging but insisting? Yes, this time “as a father
treats his children” (v.11b). Just like the vivid picture
of a mother, now we have the vivid picture of a father. The
servant leader insists on what is right and true, and teaches
clearly and guides those under his care accordingly, but he
does so with love, with care, with compassion, with understanding.
He encourages them and is aware of Paul’s admonition:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but
bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.”
In this passage, Paul speaks a lot more about servant leadership.
What is a true servant leader?
(or she) is confident in his calling. “But as we were
judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the gospel, that
is how we speak” (v.4a). God entrusts His designated
servant leader with His work. He simply responds to the
has no personal agenda, and certainly is not out for personal
gain. He does not seek to ingratiate himself in order to
win favors. “Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with
flattering speech, as you know, or with a pretext for greed”
speaks the truth and proclaims the purity of the gospel.
He does not maneuver to get his way. He does not lie or
deceive. “Our exhortation was not from delusion or
impure motives, nor did it work through deception.”
strives to be blameless, as he speaks and acts with dedication,
devotion and justice. “You are witnesses, and so is
God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved
toward you believers.” (v.10).
looks on his work not just as a task to be accomplished,
noble as such task is. Rather, by the grace of God, he sincerely
loves those under his care. He serves them with his all.
“With such affection for you, we were determined to
share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very
selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”
realizes that to serve others as leaders is not an easy
task, but will actually entail suffering and struggle. “Rather,
after we had suffered and been insolently treated, as you
know, in Philippi, we drew courage through our God to speak
to you the gospel of God with much struggle.” (v.2).
Keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus, he continues to be encouraged
to endure and persevere.
works hard 24/7. “You recall, brothers, our toil and
drudgery. Working night and day ....” (v.9a). He holds
his people in his heart not only during the times they are
together, but at all times.
knows he stands in the place of God and gives all the glory
to God. As Paul says, “nor did we seek praise from
human beings, either from you or from others.” (v.6).
He does not look to human acclaim. Paul says they act “not
as trying to please human beings, but rather God”
(v.4b). At times the servant leader may end up displeasing
people, because he speaks the truth of God’s ways.
the appreciation of those he serves is heart-warming, he
just is looking to God for affirmation and not necessarily
to those whom he is serving. So Paul is confident in saying
things like, “we were judged worthy by God”
(v.4a), we please “God, who judges our hearts”
(v.4c), “God is witness” (v.5b), “You
are witnesses, and so is God” (v.10a). He seeks to
please no one but God.
is eternally grateful to God for the privilege given to
him to stand in His place in caring for His flock. “And
for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly”
What is the wonderful result of authentic servant leadership?
People’s lives change for the better, because those
we serve and lead see Christ in us, and they know that we
speak and act on God’s behalf. Thus, “in receiving
the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human
word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at
work in you who believe.” (v.13b).