I recently read an article by Pastor Douglas Wilson criticizing the usage of the term servant leadership. Of course, that wasn’t the main point of the article, and I recognize that he wasn’t criticizing the spirit of servant leadership. The main point of the article was to defend the necessity of being masculine without permission. In the spirit of pastor Wilson’s article, I want to defend servant leadership without permission. I will do it with all due respect.
I would define servant leadership as an imitation of Christ who was a servant. And a leader. I really appreciate Pastor Wilson’s definition of masculinity: “masculinity is the glad assumption of the sacrificial responsibilities that God assigned to men.” Now, the main place where we can understand better what it meant for Christ to be a servant leader is in the book of Mark and in Phillipians 2. Mark 10:45 reads: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Apostle Paul recognizes this pattern in Phil. 2:8 “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Here is my argument. The term ‘masculinity’ is not used in the Book of Mark, the term ‘servant’ is. I’m not even sure if the term ‘masculinity’ is used very much in the Bible. We hear about being a man, but our cultural fascination with ‘masculinity’ is a bit strange. To say the least. Now, to not use the term ‘servant leadership’ any more, is to ‘dumb down’ all the glory of the Book of Mark. Of course Jesus had a back bone, and yes, he was being a servant leader without any permission at all. Even his disciples totally misunderstood what it looked like, hence, His reason for explaining it so thoroughly in Mark 10. Jesus cast out demons, healed the sick, rebuked the Pharisees, took a whip to those who turned the temple of God into a den of thieves. He was a leader. He was a servant. He was the Son of God. He was the Servant King.
We see the pattern of this Servant King in the lives of men who follow Him. Men (as well as women) are called to take up their cross and follow Christ. The “masculine” men of this world can turn this joyful life of service into a pale, vapid, and sickly image if they want (ask Nietszche for his thoughts). But James says to count it all joy (James 1). And of course Jesus commanded it. He also exemplified it. And if Christians call it vapid, then they are confused.
Jesus sent out His disciples to be servants. He also sent out His disciples to be leaders. He never sent them out to be masculine. Yes, male leadership is an important and necessary principle to be drawn from Scripture. And yes, there are male roles: i.e. servant leadership. And yes, homosexuality is sin (I Cor. 6:9) as well all the deviations of character (and of course actions) and sexuality that lead to it.
Yes, Timothy was called to be tough: definitely spiritually (2 Tim. 2:3-5). But of course, we are not disembodied spirits and so spiritual toughness is connected to emotional, mental, and physical toughness. This does not mean that a man who cries or an academic type cannot be a leader. Having emotions disciplined by the Word is manly. Having massive academic abilities disciplined by the Word is manly. Read Paul’s writing. While physical discipline is of some gain for Timothy, the spiritual disciplines are the most valuable (I Tim. 4:8). This means that a man with brawn and bluster and no discipline is a hollow shell of worldly glory that reeks of dead flesh.
If someone mocks you for being a “servant leader,” don’t back down. Use the term. Without permission. Be a servant without permission. Be a leader without permission. Be proud of it. Be joyful. Cultivate discipline in all areas of life, but keep Christ right at the center or it is all worthless anyways. Service means humility, not the false ‘servant leadership’ which seeks to get accolades from women and some men. Be a man and act like a man (2 Sam. 10:12, I Cor. 6:10), which means Christ calls you and me to serve. And He calls us to lead. And He calls us to stand firm.