MANILA, PHILIPPINES—While trying to read the first chapter of Philippians this morning, I got stuck on verse one, and I was gobsmacked with a leadership lesson that I hope I never forget. I didn’t get to the end of the chapter. In fact, I never got to verse two. I spent my entire devotional time in verse one.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.
Two words arrested my mind: servants and saints.
These two words caused me to repent and to pray for God’s help.
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” Imagine, if you can, Paul and Timothy in our modern ministry world leveraging their position, platform, and popularity into lucrative book deals and prime slots on the conference speaking circuit. Imagine them hiring a marketing company to ensure that each book achieve “best seller” status. Imagine them contracting communications consultants so that their social media platform numbers crushed the industry average. Imagine them with an adoring entourage and security team. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to imagine Paul and Timothy acting like modern celebrity rockstar preachers.
But we have no problem imagining contemporary pastors and ministry leaders acting like rockstars because we’ve witnessed it. There is a one-word reason we can’t imagine Paul and Timothy acting like religious rockstars. That word is “servant.” Paul and Timothy saw themselves as servants, not stars. No parent in their day told their kids, “We are working hard so that one day you will have an opportunity to be a servant.” Servanthood was the last position in life that a parent would want for their kids. Yet that is the position Paul and Timothy used to describe their leadership. They learned this from Jesus and his original disciples.
I have a hunch that Jesus has not changed his view of leadership to accommodate our modern ideas. He still expects his leaders to be have servant attitudes.
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus.” The way Paul and Timothy led was not only shaped by how they self-identified (as servants), it was also shaped by how they identified those they were called to lead. They did not see those they were called to lead as servants, subjects, or sinners. They saw them as saints. When leaders see the people they lead as their servants, they expect service from the very people that they are supposed to serve. This entitled leadership mentality is completely opposite of the servant-leadership mentality that Jesus modeled and taught.
Jesus trained his disciples that to think and act like a leader is to think and act like a “slave” and a “servant” (Mark 10:43-45). When leaders see those they lead as subjects, they tend to act like a lord. Jesus said those far from God “lord it over” those they lead (Mark 10:42). When leaders see those they lead as sinners, they tend to expect little or nothing from them. How does this all change when leaders see and treat those they lead as saints? First of all, a saint has been transformed by the power of the gospel, so a leader should expect the best, not the worst. Secondly, a saint is filled with the Holy Spirit so a leader should trust the Holy Spirit within the person. Finally, seeing people as saints is a reminder of the price God paid to redeem them—therefore, a leader should treat them as people with great value.
No matter if you are leading thousands, hundreds, dozens, or one, try to see yourself as a servant and those you lead as saints. I know it is counterintuitive, but the more you learn to do this, the better you will lead.