By Kevin McDonald

How should a ministry leader lead his people? John Maxwell says, “everything rises and falls on leadership.” I’ve been in ministry for about eight years and have found this statement to be true. I have also found that servant leadership can help instill life and vibrancy in the local church.

Examples of Poor Leadership
When I was 22, I took a job in local government in West Tennessee. My boss at the time was very difficult. In fact, the entire office was afraid of her. She hardly interacted with the staff, didn’t take any feedback into consideration in decision making, and was a micromanger. I remember thinking, “If I ever get to become a boss someday, I’m going to be the opposite of her.” I thought there was no way I would ever be like her, but about six months later, I was promoted. I was instantly in charge of numerous employees, who all looked to me for leadership. I was thrust into the position while very young and, unfortunately, was clueless on what to do. I tried to lead by power and authority, but failed in more ways than I care to say.

Searching for Answers
Wanting to become a good boss, I asked myself the obvious questions. What makes a great leader? What qualities does it require? Who are some successful leaders can I can imitate? After struggling with this for years, I ran across this amazing concept called “servant leadership.” I had never heard this term before, but the more I read about it, the more I fell in love with it. The more I fell in love with it, the more I wanted to study it and put it into practice.

Examples of Servant Leadership
Many important and successful leaders practiced servant leadership, including Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Servant leaders are rare, though. Most leaders today are concerned with personal gain, not about impacting the lives of others. They would rather gain power than empower others. They’re more interested in making money than making a difference. This is self-seeking leadership.

I found a great definition of servant leadership on the website The site states that “servant leaders place the interests and needs of their followers ahead of their own self-interests and needs. Generally, they value the development of their followers, building their communities, acting authentically, and sharing power.”

The best example of a servant leader is Jesus. Matthew 20:28 summarizes his sacrificial attitude: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus modeled this mindset when He washed the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. When I decided to follow the greatest leader ever, it changed my ministry, which led to vibrancy in the church.

“True leadership must be for the benefit
of the followers, not to enrich the leader.”
—John Maxwell

The Qualities of Servant Leadership
What are the qualities of servant leadership? I’ve researched and identified 12 qualities of a servant leader from the Old and New Testament and from the life of Jesus in the gospels.

Servant leaders are those who:

  • Show humility (Philippians 2:7).
  • Serve (Mark 10:43).
  • Listen (Mark 10:46-50).
  • Encourage (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • Support rather than dictate (Philippians 2:4).
  • Persuade and lead by example rather than demand (1st Corinthians 2:4).
  • Are generous (1st Timothy 6:18-19).
  • Are relational (Galatians 3:28).
  • Think of others rather than themselves (Luke 23:34).
  • Are committed to helping others grow and mature (Colossians 2:6-7).
  • Empower and equip others (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  • Live with vision (Proverbs 29:18).

Create a Contagious Leadership
I have personally seen the benefits of implementing servant leadership. When you start practicing servanthood, it becomes a normal part of life. Serving our congregation and our communities is what we are called to do by Jesus. When leaders start serving, then this lifestyle becomes contagious and the congregation begins to serve too. Serving churches typically become active, vibrant churches.

I encourage you to integrate these qualities into your leadership. Why not learn from the greatest leader ever? Jesus lived this style of leadership and left us an incredible example to follow.

Kevin McDonald is a lead pastor Gateway Church of the Nazarene, Murrieta, Calif. He has planted 15 new churches and travels the country speaking and teaching on church planting and church renewal.