What did Jesus teach His disciples about leadership? We know the answer. He taught them to lead by being servants, not as those who had power, position, or were seeking a following. “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:8–11).

Jesus teaches us that the greatest among Christians is a servant. Is that how we lead today in the Western Church? Well, we say we do, by virtue of the fact that pastors and leaders give themselves sacrificially for the church and the staff, by teaching, counseling, working hard, and building teams and programs. However, that isn’t what Jesus meant when He talked about servant leadership. He was clear. Let’s look at what He said in Matthew 20:25-28.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

What should catch our attention in this portion of Jesus’ teaching is that the Gentile rulers “exercise authority over them,” but “it shall not be so among you.”

It shall not be so among you. What am I, as a pastor or leader, to do with that? How could I possibly run a church without exercising authority over people? We run our churches as “the rulers of the Gentiles do.” However, Jesus said, plainly, “It shall not be so among you.” Why do we ignore Him in this?

But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus have authority? Of course He did. He had spiritual authority.

Was the spiritual authority Jesus had in the lives of the disciples effective? Again, it certainly didn’t eliminate problems. None of Jesus’ disciples seemed to get the full picture of His life and work while He was on earth. They all fled when He was arrested. Judas betrayed Him. So here’s a question: Why didn’t Jesus, using His authority, “fire” Judas? Is the answer because He knew Judas was necessary in order for all things to be fulfilled? Certainly. But let’s look a little deeper. Jesus was willing to die in order for all things to be fulfilled, which means He was willing to have everything fall apart, at least temporarily. We don’t think that way. We do all we can within our organizations to keep everything from falling apart. It’s the nature of the system to do so. Look again with me at what Jesus said to His disciples about leadership. “…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus said He did not come to be served, but to serve, to give His life. In Jesus’ way of thinking, leading by serving included dying for others, which meant He would be absent after His death. He did not have an organization to protect or an establishment, the survival of which He had to insure the existence, in an earthly way. He had men. He had His Holy Spirit. Somehow, contrary to what we might think or do, He thought that this was sufficient. This is how He led.

May I say that again in another way? Jesus didn’t seem to think it was paramount to have a defined, organized structure to leave behind after He ascended. Paramount? He didn’t do that at all.

We do not follow Him. We lead, not as Jesus told us to, but as the “Gentiles” do.

What I’m going to ask next is a question we steadfastly ignore. If our method of leadership is the one we should follow and adhere to, why didn’t God Himself use it in the leadership ministry of Jesus? Here is the second question we ignore. If our method of leadership is the one we should follow and adhere to, why didn’t the early Church use it?

We should be brutally honest here. What we do is not biblical. True evangelical Christianity in the United States has, correctly and honorably, held to the Scripture as the inspired word of God, the very words of God Himself, written to us. Why, then, it must be asked, have we not followed Scripture concerning how we lead the Church?