What does servant leadership look like in relation to honouring your elders?

A thought provoking question was posed to me this week. Through the example of Jesus, we see a leader who didn’t lead by being served but rather by serving others.

Yet, we also read Bible verses that exhort us to honour our elders and give them the respect they are due – which many times translates into serving them.

What is the balance for a Christian leader? It is an interesting concept… especially in the African context where so many spiritual leaders are being honoured to extreme measures. It certainly is a far cry from the example of Jesus who was content to kneel down and wash his disciples’ feet and carry his own cross up the hill of Calvary! What does the Bible say about this issue? I will quote a couple of verses, then we will pick them apart to analyse the content for the answers we seek.

Let’s first look at 1 Peter 5:1-6 “I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you… I appeal to you to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve.  Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock…In the same way you younger people must submit yourselves to your elders. And all of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another; for the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but shows favour to the humble.” Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time.

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26–28)

A servant leader is one who gives of himself to help others become more like Christ. Probably the easiest example to help paint the picture of what a Biblical servant leader should look like is a parent. A parent has a goal to help their children become all they can be. Their sincere love for their child drives them to give selflessly time and time again getting no appreciation in return.

Love drives them - not an incessant need to be noticed, paid, or appreciated. The parent will stay up late, give their time and money without expecting anything in return, and serve even when he/she doesn’t feel like it and gets nothing in return. Not surprisingly, our Heavenly Father displays this type of tireless, selfless unconditional love through the physical life of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Is this the type of leaders we see in the church? Christ-like leaders who as scripture says “don’t rule over the flock”… or leaders who don’t show up to be served but rather to serve others or… leaders who “put on the apron of humility?” Many will run to preach, but how many will run to set the chairs up before the service when no one is there to see? Who will volunteer to sweep the church hall when no one is there to clap? Who goes to visit and pray with the person who doesn’t have money or power to offer? How many continue to serve when no one says thank you?”

The picture of a church leader in the Bible is clear. Servanthood, selflessness, humility are key! Now, how does that play into the role of elders who are leaders? The Bible is clear we should honor our elders. That is a choice we make to treat those who lead us with respect and make leading our churches a pleasure and not a burden.  I believe when we treat our leaders with selfless respect that God is pleased. However, we should be very careful to watch that we don’t give excessive worship and attention to an earthly leader and consequently take away the attention only Jesus deserves!

Likewise, I believe if a leader desires the blessings of God, he would read and know that humility is key, surrendering their “rights as an elder” is paramount, and putting others needs in front of theirs is Biblical. Therefore, although the people might want to shower him/her with attention and acts of service, he/she would be uncomfortable if he was not equally finding ways to serve others around him/her. And for the people to not allow him that right to serve and to make himself last would be to deny him the right for God to lift him up.

Bottom line – honour your elders. Give them the best seat, the biggest plate of food, and take care of their needs joyfully. But elders, don’t hold so tightly to your “title” that you rob yourself of the gift of selflessly serving others. No matter your age or your church position, our attitude must be like Christ, who did nothing out of selfish ambition, but in humility considered others better than himself (Philippians 2: 3-4). In the same chapter, we see another depiction of our ultimate role model when we read that Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing and took the very nature of a servant. Just because you deserve the honour, doesn’t mean you always have to accept it. You can take the nature of a servant just like your Saviour did 2, 000 years ago when he modelled the type of life we should live.

Send more questions or make comments about this article to  HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected][email protected] or write me through my Facebook page – Mom to Mom: Parenting Consultations and read next week to find answers.

Ashley Thaba is a popular author, life coach, and motivational speaker. She also facilitates corporate team building and wellness activities. You can view some of her work on her YouTube channel: Ashley Thaba.

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