Servant Leadership: Pathways
“Pathways: Following Biblical Patterns” (SL#52)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1:2 - Following Biblical Patterns
From my Journey: When I was pastor of Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, I preached a sermon series from 1 John entitled “Walking Today With Jesus.” The theme sermon was “Walking As Jesus Walked,” from the text, l John 2:5-6: “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”--1 John 2:5-6
The Monday following that sermon, Dr. T. B. Maston, a member of that congregation and a distinguished biblical ethicist, asked me to come by to see him. I was glad to do so since he was also one of my all-time favorite seminary professors, then retired. After referring encouragingly to my sermon effort on 1 John 2:5-6, he reflected on the biblical text with a quiet passion: “Pastor, in recent years, I have come more and more to hold that passage before me as a pattern for my life. There is no greater challenge to me than to walk as Jesus walked.” It was a sacred moment. I thought then, as I do no, how this must explain Bro. Maston’s devotion to Christ and His church, as well as the impact of his brilliant scholarship. (By the way, within the membership of the Gambrell Street congregation, he did not want any of us to be addressed as “Doctor.”)
“Walk as Jesus Walked” is the challenge for servant
leaders today! Servant leadership is the biblical pattern for all of us in Christian
ministry. If we are to be consistently faithful, if we are to plunge to the
depths and explore the heights in service to Christ and to others, we must walk
that pathway with Jesus!
1. Putting Yourself on the Pathway
These studies seek to provide you with fresh images for consistent, effective leadership. The Psalmist, in one of our favorite of all the Psalms, testified to God's guidance for His path: “He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake” (--Psalm 23:3). The above graphic, although it fails in its simplicity, seeks to portray that your servant leadership is a journey: with a beginning and a destination, with short-term markers along the way, and with many ups and down.
Our purpose is to facilitate your putting yourself in the picture. Biblical, language, and application sources express insights for the experience:
- “Path” (NT Greek--trochia), the track of a wheel; hence--a wheeltrack, course, or way upon which one can advance quickly and in the right direction: “'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”--Heb. 12:13
- “Way” (Greek--hodos) literally as a place; way, road, highway, a prepared way; or figuratively on the way as a journey. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”--John 14:6
About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions.--Acts 26:13
- “Pathway” comes to us from 15th-century Old English, a noun meaning: a path, course, footpath, a trodden path designed for a particular use. That literal meaning provides a picture of our following where Jesus walked as the Savior and as a servant leader.
- “Pattern” is derived from the 14th-century English word, “patron,” which comes from the Medieval Latin patronus; its meaning then prefigures for us a great truth: Jesus is an original form or model proposed for imitation, an exemplar, a person worthy of imitation, a representative example.
- Does Christ and biblical teachings form a “bundle of nerve fibers” coursing through your whole spiritual journey?
- In your life and leadership, is Christ the course you follow, the route you take, the favorite path you walk?
- Have you found, or are you pursuing, a pattern after which to design your life and leadership?
- What are you including in your leadership pattern: what ideals? styles? characteristics? relationships? consistent priorities?
- Do these consistently represent biblical patterns? Does your “talking the talk” square with your “walking the walk”?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. --Hebrews 12:1-2
Reflections with Anticipation - Meeting the servant challenge cannot be done hurriedly or one time for all times. Some of us have tried. Years ago a businessman flew to England for a week-long conference. In the opening session, the leader asked (as usual), “What would you like to get out of this conference?” Misunderstanding a “what” for a “when,” that same conferee readily volunteered, “Oh, about noon tomorrow?” To London for a one-day conference? Now that's a trip. But, I’ll risk it anyway: “What challenge do you want and need to receive from your study of servant leadership pathways?”
2. The Challenge: Lifetime Practices
The real challenge of this article for most of us is to put servant leadership into our daily pathway and practice. It is a challenge to unlearn some things and to move ahead into “a more excellent pathway.” We should, all of us together, consistently practice servant leadership as a lifetime journey. Jesus did, and He taught us to do so:
For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.--Luke 22:27
The graphic below seeks to picture servant leadership in five components, from the large frame of serving in Christ’s power (1.) to the more specific of doing each task efficiently (5.). This seems to me to be a holistic way of viewing our challenge. This pattern seeks to provide guidance for the “what” and “how” of a pattern of servant leaders today. For a full presentation of this graph, see SL#62 and #63.
3. Steps Along the Pathway
In succeeding articles of this series, you will be challenged as a Christian leader to follow the pathway of Christ, to explore multiple messages and examples, and to apply the biblical patterns of servant leadership to your own life and journey. Again, the obvious truth is that you must learn leadership for yourself; but the articles will seek to provide resources helpful for your journey:
- “Jesus, the Ideal Servant Leader” - To follow Jesus as the ideal servant leader is to know how He led and to discover and follow His perfect pattern for today.
- “Discipleship: Lead by Following” - To link your discipleship as a follower of Christ to your leadership as His servant.
- “Servant First, Then Leader” - To explore a word study of biblical language of “servant first, then leader.” Take time to review this study of biblical terms related to “servant” and “leader”; it really does matter when you adapt and apply this to your chosen course of action.
- “Gifted for Christian Service” - Every follower of Christ is equipped with spiritual gifts for discovery and practice in lifelong service and leadership.
- “Spiritual Gifts for Servant Leaders Today” - Ten specific spiritual gifts are related and applied to the practice of servant leadership.
- “Choosing Your Old Testament Champions” - To learn from the variety of leadership styles among biblical champions.
- “Choosing Your New Testament Champions” - To learn from a selection of leadership styles among biblical champions.
- “Learning From Others on the Journey” - To develop yourself and others from insights of contemporary servant leaders.
Early in my Christian experience and ministry, I became acquainted with the devotional novel, In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon. Throughout the story, characters from all walks of life were confronted with the question, “What would Jesus do?” Responding to that challenge actually changed the course of people in a small city. More recently, youth of today have abbreviated this concept to a popular bracelet, “WWJD?”
Though seemingly over-simplistic, that is the central thesis of these articles. Other concepts and characters fill in the context and put flesh on the forms. The critical undercurrent, however, is “What did Jesus do then?” And, “What would He do now as a servant leader today?” 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
For Reflection, Application: Wherever you begin with your
interest, you may want to review the set of Pathways articles. If so,
when you conclude, why not take time to create personal and professional travel
plans; just map your own pathway toward biblical patterns of servant leadership.
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© 2006 servantleaderstoday.com; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership