Sermon Outline (Adult)
United in Peace, for the World, We Are Called to Be Servant Leaders
By Catherine Gilliard
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
As we make disciples, love mercy and do justice, and serve globally, Jesus calls us to do so as servant leaders. Jesus, the ultimate servant leader, gives this command—both to those that followed him and also to those who were not-yet followers. This scandalous love is at the heart of servant leadership. As the world becomes increasingly complex, increasingly post-Christian, and numb to the things of God, Jesus’s followers are called to display a radical love—a grace-filled, patient, and deeply caring love—to others. We must love each other as Christ has loved us.
Introduction: What Does It Mean to Be Servant Leaders?
Servant leadership means a radical, unconditional love for others. It is not something we do, it is who we are as new creation people. All who are disciples of Jesus have been transformed, trained, and nurtured in extending to others what we have received from the Lord. As disciples, we often define our witness in terms of compassionate acts.
What if we were to seriously consider our call to be servant leaders? Would our motivation and desire need to go deeper than simply making others feel better? Would we be able to give testimony to the heart change that actually takes place when we become servant leaders?
In the first century the concept of God-centered servant leadership included a strong theological emphasis on the poor, tax collectors, sinners, Samaritans, Gentiles, women, and outcasts.
B. Addressing Injustices
Based on your context, open with a story of being a servant leader who addresses injustices. Choose any text the Holy Spirit leads you to. Here are a few examples.
- Social class—When some of the disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest Jesus decided that it was time to teach one more lesson to his beloved disciples. He told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:25-27, NLT).
- Racial injustice—Jesus’s mission to despondent and broken people and his own sufferings solidly connected him with the servant of Isaiah. Jews in the New Testament times avoided attributing the sufferings to Jesus. Jesus created a new way of thinking about ministry and spiritual leadership when he clearly associated himself with the restorative ministry of the Suffering Servant, who served through great sacrifice and death (Isaiah 53:1-9).
- Privilege—What Jesus understood about his own mission he clearly articulated as an attitude for leadership in the church he promised to build. Following an argument among his disciples about greatness in the kingdom, Jesus turned common assumptions and values of leadership upside down through a revolutionary teaching. After arriving at Capernaum, he questioned them: “What were you arguing about on the road?” He then sat down and called the Twelve to him. He spoke with intentionality: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:33-35, NIV).
- “Power over”—“Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant” (Luke 22:26, NLT). This verse shows that greatness in God’s kingdom is contrary to the world’s values because it involves serving rather than being served. Self-serving action has no place in Jesus’s kingdom because according to Jesus, the one who is truly the greatest is the one who serves.
- Racial hatred—If believers do not have compassion for those who hate them, they have gained nothing of the spirit of Christ. “Do good to those who hate you,” Jesus said (Luke 6:27b). “Doing good” goes beyond words and transforms both the person who hates and the one who is hated. Love always searches for ways to do good, realizing that everyone needs to be reached for God. The greatest proof of love is “doing good to those who hate you.”
- People on the margins—Jesus uses the term servant (diakonos) when he communicated with his disciples. They knew the word emphasized the service given on behalf of others. The disciples were puzzled by this crucial lecture on how to climb the leadership ladder. Others serve leaders, they reasoned, but Jesus literally turned this thinking upside down. True leaders are devoted to service that focuses on the needs and personal growth of others. The disciples needed to recognize that kingdom leadership is not about climbing the ladder, but about serving those whom society tries to keep at the bottom.
Describe the motivation of dominant leadership by the world.
- Leadership based on compassionate acts
- Leadership based on self-preservation
- Leadership based on self-escalation
- Leadership based on power over others
Jesus’s description of servant leadership is a very different picture than that of the world. Servant leaders live lives of service and sacrifice. What does servant leadership look like in the twenty-first century?
- Servant leaders are self-sacrificing and self-renouncing rather than self-seeking.
- Servant leaders lead from lived experiences in relationship with others, not from position or pressure.
- Servant leaders exercise authority for progress toward the mission and not for personal gain. They are personally involved in caring for people and their needs, not demanding that their own needs be met.
- Servant leaders equip others for God’s kingdom purposes—they don’t use the gifts of others for personal advancement or gain.
Assurance of God’s Grace
Servant leaders love others as Christ has loved us. Servant leaders display the same grace-filled, patient, and deeply caring love to others we have received from the Lord. Our call to be servant leaders requires a heart change, a transformation that God creates in us so we can extend that grace, patience, and deeply radical love to others.