Signs of a Servant Leader

Rich Wilkerson Jr.

June 29, 2023
5 min read

If we want to lead, we’ve got to serve.

Rich Wilkerson Jr.

I love revisiting our values. What we value determines what we do, and what we do determines who we become. 

One of our values as a church is that servant leadership is our identity. This idea that it’s our identity goes so much deeper than just showing up for a meeting or simply being part of a community. To say it’s our identity is saying that it’s who we are. Our identity is servant first, and the way we lead is from a posture of serving. 

Mark 10 gives us a great picture of this. James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, ask Jesus if they can sit at his right and left in glory. This is a big request! 

Let me say that there’s nothing wrong with desiring to be great — it’s actually a God-given desire. We have spiritual, God-DNA inside of us. We were created to make an impact. The greatness, dreams, and plans God puts in our hearts are to offer him glory and be part of his larger story. 

Jesus never attacks the desire to be great, he just reroutes the path of how we get to greatness. His response to James and John appears to be an oxymoron — two concepts that sound like they contradict each other, but it’s the path that Jesus lays out for the disciples. If we want to lead, we’ve got to serve.

Read below for four signs of a servant leader.

1. Servant leadership does not despise small beginnings. 

The way we handle the small stuff is a great indicator of whether or not we’re servant leaders.

Over the years, I’ve learned that many don’t have a skill problem, we have a stewardship problem. We wait for a fully grown tree when we haven’t properly planted the little seed. 

As our churches, businesses, and organizations grow, be wary of people who only show up for the big moments. Look for the people on your team who know how to steward the small thing. Those people that handle their team and their responsibilities with love and care when no one is looking. 

I look at how our church has grown over the last seven years. Thousands of people gathering for church on the weekends, three locations around the city, teams filled with servant leaders volunteering their time and talent. But I think back to those early days when our church started small. Only a handful of us would get together in a coffee shop on Saturdays to figure out what church on Sunday would be. It didn’t matter if two people showed up or two thousand showed up; we treated it with the same level of care.  

Servant leaders are able to see the big story but can zero in on the small tasks they are asked to steward. As we steward the small beginning, God turns it into something big. 

2. Servant leadership is content being hidden.

It’s so important to see that servant leadership is content being hidden.

I’ve used the analogy many times, but it always speaks to me. I firmly believe that every human being needs to be needed and known. But there’s a deep revelation that we all need to catch and carry in our souls — we are needed and known in heaven. God sees what others ignore.

Jesus healed ten men with leprosy and only one man came back to say thank you. It tells me that as we pour into our teams and ministries, most of what we do will probably go unnoticed. 

The more content we are in being hidden, the more opportunities will find us. God can find us. If God can find Abraham at 75 years old and turn him into the father of nations, he can find us. If God can find Gideon hiding in a wine press and turn him into a mighty warrior who defeated the Midianite army that outnumbered the sand on the seashore, he can find us.

The path up is down. Servant leaders regularly decide and define who we are aiming to impress. We have to get down to our motivations and intentions. We want to be content being hidden, with a heart that is willing to sacrifice and find joy in following Jesus into glory.

3. Servant leadership functions faithfully.

We are not looking for perfect leaders. We’re looking for faithful leaders.

Feelings come and go. Emotions are great indicators but terrible leaders — this is why God warns us not to be led by our feelings. 

Servant leadership aims to function faithfully. Servant leaders are behind the mission and vision, committed to serving and doing our part. Committed to showing up week in and week out. Committed to the mundane tasks. Committed to shepherding the people on our teams. 

When we fall, we faithfully get back up. When we make a mistake, we faithfully right our wrong. When we offend someone, we faithfully apologize. When we’ve been offended, we faithfully forgive. 

At our church, we like to throw staying parties. We celebrate when we hear stories of people who have been faithfully serving for one year, two years, five years. We honor the commitment to being in this thing heart and soul. 

There is power in our consistency. Servant leadership functions faithfully.

4. Servant leadership builds unity.

Servant leadership is about other people. When we make it about ourselves, it’s going to hurt other people. But when we serve each other, it builds unity. It builds camaraderie and love.  That’s what Jesus was after — it’s what he was pushing us towards.

Our teams don’t need to be impressed by us, they want to be encouraged by us.

These are signs of a servant leader. This is what God has called us to, and he gave us Jesus as an example. 

Like we often do, James and John make their request, and Jesus tells them they don’t know the fullness of what they’re asking. But as we’re trying to figure out that thing on the inside of us, that deep desire to make an impact and do something that matters, Jesus gives a path to that inkling in our hearts. 

It won’t come from more money, more Instagram followers, or more popularity. The answer is an oxymoron. It’s the path with more resistance and obstacles, but if we want to go up, we have to go down. If we want to be great, we have to serve. It’s who we are — we’re servant leaders.

If you want to put your servant leadership into action, mark your calendar for next June. Come serve with us at VOUSCon 2024! There’s a team for you. It won’t be the same without you.

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