Servanthood: Jesus’ Countercultural Call to Christian Leaders -- By: John C. Hutchison

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:661 (Jan 2009)
Article: Servanthood: Jesus’ Countercultural Call to Christian Leaders
Author: John C. Hutchison


Servanthood: Jesus’ Countercultural Call to Christian Leaders

John C. Hutchison

John C. Hutchison is Professor of Bible Exposition, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California.

Many books have been written on the subject of leadership, by Christian leaders and by secular leaders in corporate business. Few topics have created as much discussion and debate in both contexts as the concept of servant leadership. Since Jesus and essentially every New Testament writer inextricably associated Christian leaders with servanthood, one would expect to find this subject discussed in Christian literature.1 One of the most widely read books on the subject, however, is a collection of essays published in 1977 by Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.2 Greenleaf, a retired AT&T executive, never claimed that his book is religious in nature. Yet he presented a new paradigm for business managers, one that has gained followers in the past thirty years. As the title implies, Greenleaf wrote that service and an attitude of

servanthood should be a distinguishing characteristic of corporate leaders. He observed that when leaders begin by viewing themselves as servants, they create stronger corporations and produce serving institutions, and they also find greater personal joy in their leadership roles.

Greenleaf’s concept of leadership was formally expressed in his writings beginning with “The Leader as Servant,” an essay first published in 1970. Though he deserves much credit for his application of this concept among corporate leaders, it did not originate with him. He mentions a number of writers who inspired his development of this model of leadership, but he never mentions Jesus Christ.

This concept presented by Jesus over two thousand years ago has been seen through modern eyes as an unusual approach. In real life it is rarely practiced. History has shown that left to themselves, most leaders do not follow the principles of servant leadership. This article seeks to investigate the original cultural and historical setting of Jesus’ teachings on the subject. Through an exposition of Mark 10:35-45 (with additional insights from Matthew 20:20-28 and Luke 22:24-30), one can see how difficult it would have been for Jesus’ original followers to accept servanthood as a prerequisite for positions of power and leadership in th...

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