Paul was a visionary leader who led visionary followers to become visionary leaders. Every biography and encyclopedia article about Paul will celebrate his remarkable leadership abilities. What was his secret? He followed the master’s example. In the opening address to his letter to the Philippians, Paul identifies himself and Timothy in Philippians 1:1 as “servants of Christ Jesus.” Many preachers and commentators fly past these words suggesting that they are just the formal way Paul used in the “from” line of his letters. I think they are worth a little thought. He didn’t identify himself as an elder, deacon, pastor, evangelist, or as an apostle, but he was truly all of these things. He preferred the title “servant.”

Much of the Leadership literature today speaks about “Servant Leadership.” In the 1980s, the term began to show up pretty regularly in a lot of secular literature on the subject of leadership as well. But it has proven to be an extremely difficult concept to bring into the corporate world. It’s even more difficult in the church. Religious organizations apply titles of honor to their leaders, such as Father, Priest, Pastor, Minister, Doctor, and Reverend, to name those that immediately come to mind. We often dress them in special garments that set them apart from others. But Paul would have none of that. Paul’s normal address of himself was simply “Paul.” He often added “a servant of Christ Jesus.” Paul once had all the titles and honors of a Religious leader who could trace his lineage back to Benjamin. But once he encountered the living Christ, he counted all his titles as “rubbish.” He hung all his credentials and accomplishment on that rack as well. In Philippians 3, he listed all his credentials and then said in verse 8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish….” Instead of titles and honors, at every possible point, Paul pointed away from himself toward Jesus Christ. That is the essence of servant leadership.

Jesus is the supreme example, and until one becomes a follower and servant of Jesus, one will never be able to follow the example that is displayed in such a humble act as foot-washing. Liefeld argues, “First, one must come to the cross of Jesus where his love, forgiveness, and servanthood were supremely displayed. It is the cross of Christ and the subsequent bestowal of the Holy Spirit that are going to reveal to the disciples the secret of servant leadership. The pre-requisite for understanding and practicing servant-leadership is the acknowledgment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” After He washed his disciples’ feet, he called them, and He calls us to do the same thing, i.e., serve each other with humility. Jesus calls us all to follow Him. He calls us all to be a servant leaders. No degree is required! No office is necessary!