Leadership in a Disciple-Making Movement: Part 1: What is Servant Leadership?

servant leadership

The world celebrates strong leaders. Watching the news the other night, I heard a poll referenced. It was about two leaders. The poll asked, “Who is the stronger leader?” The show went on to discuss these two leaders; casting the one considered weaker in a negative light. Is strong, decisive leadership what is always needed? Is that how Jesus taught that we should lead?

When Church Planting Movements (CPMs) were first talked about, I read about the characteristics of a movement. One was that they were led by strong, charismatic leaders with apostolic giftings. This is not completely incorrect. Time and wisdom, however, have changed how we think about that.

Strong leaders are not always good leaders, and good leadership is not always the most charismatic.

C Anderson
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The well-known book on leadership, Good to Great, mentions this fact. The author, Jim Collins, describes what he calls Level 5 leaders. They are those who have a “compelling modesty” and are more committed to the organization’s success than to their own.

In the book’s extensive research, they found that charismatic leaders were good. But they didn’t rise to the same level (what Collins calls great leaders) because their egos got in the way. The same is definitely true in movements.

In my last blog, I mentioned eight important things to consider as we look at the development of leadership in a movement. In this article, we will focus on the first of those eight.

Biblical leaders serve, inspire, and develop others

Consider the call to lead like Jesus. Our Lord inspired His disciples through His life, example, and words. He served and developed them. He believed in them before they believed in themselves and prophetically called them into their destinies.

What Does it Mean to Be a Servant Leader?

Movement leaders who go beyond second or third generations of disciples are those who serve and release others. They are not those who control others or keep the glory for themselves. The word servant leadership has been thrown around for a couple of decades. What does it mean? Especially in the context of a Disciple-Making Movement?

Before His crucifixion, we find the story of Jesus washing His disciple’s feet (John 13). John 13:3-4 says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…”

It is interesting to note John’s reference to power. It is almost as if he is saying, “Jesus knew His power was great, so he decided to show us how to be great too…by humbling himself and taking a servant’s role.” The more power God gives you, the more you will need to choose humility and servanthood. The temptation of power is grand. Jesus acted in the opposite spirit. He chose to go low to go far.

  1. Servant leaders share leadership with others.

They don’t hold onto power but give it away. This takes many forms. Decisions are not made in a top-down, authoritarian style. Even new members of the team or group are valued and listened to. There is room for growth because everyone is given the opportunity to stretch in their giftings.

  1. Servant leaders freely give away power and authority.

Jesus trusted a group of disciples, some of whom had recently betrayed Him, with the greatest message ever. We must be willing to believe in those we lead. We trust them, and we trust the Holy Spirit who lives in them.

That means we allow them to make decisions, even when it means some mistakes. We train and encourage, but let them decide how to apply what we’ve said. This is the beauty of Discovery Bible Study. The leader doesn’t tell them how to obey, they determine that for themselves.

  1. Servant leaders consider other’s interests as more important than their own.

As leaders, especially if we are apostolically gifted, we think we know what should happen. We have strong opinions and can clearly see the outcome we are aiming at. What do we do when others disagree? Do we force them to come on board with threats or manipulation? Or cut them out of the inner circle if they don’t “fall in line” with us?

Wisdom comes with many counselors (Prov. 15:22).

Servant leaders recognize that they have blind spots in their thinking and perspective. They surround themselves with people who are willing (and able) to disagree freely…and they listen to them. While they may not operate by consensus, they seek to hear and consider what others want and think about the issues at hand.

  1. Servant leaders listen and can receive correction or input.

Today, I read a comment on one of my blogs. Someone disagreed with my point of view. How would I respond? The way we respond to criticism, correction, and those who don’t like what we are presenting says a lot about us.

Are we willing to learn and grow? Or do we have to have all the answers, all the time, and never be challenged?

  1. Servant leaders don’t connect their identity to their position.

If we have pioneered a ministry or movement, it can become connected to who we are. If the ministry fails, we have failed. Servant leaders are secure in who they are as sons or daughters of God. That is the source of their identity, not success or failure, fruitfulness, or advancement.

Biblical Leaders Inspire Through Both Words and Lifestyle

One of the things I harp on is how we, as trainers, need to also be practitioners. If we are too busy to share Jesus with others or invite them to study the Bible, we are too busy. Our lives and words are not integrated. We must lead by example.

What do people see you doing? Are you making disciples? Bold in your witness? Faithful in prayer?

Leaders inspire through words. They are “able to teach” (2 Tim. 2:24) and train others. But they teach by what they do, not only by what they say from a pulpit or stage. Or for that matter from a blog or podcast!

Who we are, speaks loudly to those we lead, especially if we are willing to let people into our lives. Being willing to be real and vulnerable, with success and with failure, is critical for leaders. Model humility, vulnerability, and openness as well as courage, faith, passion, and sacrifice.

Develop Sons and Daughters to Surpass You

Movement leaders who see multi-generational growth can move to the background. When those they’ve trained and mentored, their sons and daughters in the faith, surpass them in their capacity or skill, they celebrate. This doesn’t threaten them, it makes them proud!

They freely hand off responsibilities and positions to others they raise up. Recognizing the gifts in those around them, they create space and opportunity for development.

A leader who has staff or workers will always need to stay in charge. A leader who sees those they lead as spiritual sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters, will release and champion them.

One of the greatest joys a leader has is to see a successor raised up and thriving after them.

What can you do to serve, inspire or develop leaders in your church or movement? Let us know in the comments below or on the DMMs Frontier Missions Facebook group.

My next article will discuss leadership titles in movements. Should we call ourselves (or others) things like Pastor, Bishop, Apostle, etc.?


  1. hindongoyimukubwe jeanbosco

    thanks for good meseges we see that tolead means toserv agood leader is someone whoserv athers as jesus did he washed the feet of the disciple

  2. Gerald Sammy Ngumbao

    Thank you for the inspiring insights on Leadership.
    To lead is to equip others to develop sons and daughters to up the responsibility beyond your limits.

  3. Emmanuel A Mbah

    This is my first time here, after reading through your uninspiring articles on leadership, I agree with Gerald Sammy’s comments.

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