Bible Study (Adult)

United in peace, for the world, we are called to be servant leaders.


Servant leadership is a term that emerges from Scripture with roots in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word eved was originally applied to a slave but came to mean “a trusted servant.” This term was often applied to those who did work for a ruler or for God. Kings and prophets were often called “servants of the Lord” (2 Samuel 3:18; Isaiah 20:3; Ezekiel 34:23, 24).

Servant leaders, through serving God, serve others. Servant leaders serve God through serving others? Servant leaders have a consuming desire to live their essential service to God through ministry to the world around them (Isaiah 52:7-11). Servant leaders anchor themselves in service to God and then stand ready to serve and lead others when called.

The term “servant leader” was popularized by Robert K. Greenleaf, who founded the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in 1964. Contemporary writers have produced a body of literature embracing servant leadership as a means for renewing institutions and creating a more just, caring, and compassionate society.

Servant leadership is characterized by authentic service that prioritizes the enrichment and enhancement of those being served. Servant leaders focus on the needs and growth of those being led, not the needs of those who are leading.

Bible Study (Teaching / Discussion)
As disciples, we are called to make Christ known through servant leadership. The call for leaders to be ones who serve was a teaching moment for Jesus’s disciples. Only hours before his crucifixion (John 13), Jesus washed their feet (the act of a servant). This event reflected the full extent of Jesus’s love for them. By being the servant-leader Jesus allowed the disciples to experience the meaning of Christian love and ministry. What they experienced was a call of service to others. It was an example for them and all those who follow in their footsteps. Serving is not just another way to lead. It is the embodiment of leadership according to Jesus.

If we are to become servant leaders of one another, commissioned to do Christ’s work together, what do these Scriptures teach us about the character that needs to be formed in us?

  • “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10, NIV).
  • “Stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13, NIV).
  • “Accept one another” (Romans 15:7, NIV).
  • “Have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25, NIV).
  • “Serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13, NIV).
  • “Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2, NIV).
  • “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32, NIV).
  • “Encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16, NIV).
  • “Pray for each other” (James 5:16, NIV).
  • “Have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7, NIV).

Discussion Questions

  1. How did Jesus model being a servant leader? What does it look like to lead alongside of and not over others?
  2. In our increasingly complex, post-Christian world, why do you think servant leaders are rare?
  3. Why do you think servant leaders are not highly valued in the church/ in our culture?

Application Points
In the church we are involved in one another’s lives. Church is not a place where we come once a week, and have no other involvement with those in the fellowship community.

Servant leaders desire to enrich and enhance the lives of those in our faith community through unselfish, sacrificial servanthood. This model of leadership is expressed through authentic humility that serves others and leads in powerful ways until hearts are changed and others become servant leaders as well.

Leadership models that are oriented toward “power over” and “control of” are problematic in the church. Power-oriented leadership demonstrates posturing, protectionism, cynicism, and adversarial patterns that contribute to a low-trust ministry environment in which leadership effectiveness is marginalized. As we practice servant leadership, we discover the overwhelming joy of developing and equipping the diversity that exists within the body of Christ around the world.

  • Discussion question: In Luke 4 Jesus stands up in the synagogue at Nazareth and reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 to inaugurate his ministry. What ideas connected to servant leadership do you see here?

The New Testament indicates that Jesus’s servant teaching caught fire with his disciples. The Book of Acts reveals a caring church in which leaders and followers expressed a mutual and active servanthood toward one another (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37).

  • Discussion question: The leadership in the early church chose to follow Jesus’s example. What would it look like for our church to serve with deep humility, a sense of sacrificial service to others, and a willingness to suffer hardship?

The servant leader first serves and is available and willing to create and implement ministries that actively respond to the deep and significant needs of the culture. Servant leaders authentically serve in a manner that pleases God.

Often ignoring the inherent power of a position, servant leaders focus on demonstrating a genuine concern for people through tenderly serving them, modeling the spirit and attitudes of Christ. Servant leaders are caring shepherds who lovingly protect and nurture those under their care. And if required, they would bleed and die for the welfare of their flock (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Servant leaders refuse to rest on the inherent power of a position. They do not hold back gifted people because of a spirit of insecurity. Servant leaders are inspired by the vision of creating other servant leaders. They are dedicated to equipping and liberating others to fulfill God’s purposes in their lives and find meaningful Christian ministry through servanthood.

Prayer: Lord, we ask you to change our hearts. Transform us into servant leaders. Inspire us to empower others to be servant leaders. Anoint the work of our ministry until we are a community of servant leaders. Mold us, Lord, to give to others all that we have received from you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Community Commitments
Those who practice servant leadership discover the overwhelming joy of developing and equipping the diversity that exists within the body of Christ. The early church had an attitude of servanthood in leadership that made it an amazing community. Against the norms of the culture, the church became a place where social and class barriers were condemned and people were taught to love and serve one another in equality (James 2:5-9, 14-18; Romans 12:7-10). The disenfranchised and deprived found a home in the church. The practical needs of all the people mandated a sensitive and caring approach from leadership (Acts 6).

  • What can our church learn from these texts?
  • What would it take for our hearts to be changed to implement these practices?