Sacrificial Leadership

People tend to confuse power and leadership. And true leadership isn’t in it for the power but for the people. I also believe the paradigm of what is most commonly called “servant leadership” falls short of God’s highest form of leadership. Let me explain what I mean by that.

First, let’s talk about servant leadership. Servant leadership is based primarily on the passage I mentioned in my last post, Matthew 20:20-28, with particular attention on verses 25-28.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, 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.”

It’s easy to see that Jesus calls for a type of leadership that flips its attention from the power of its authority to the people under that authority, which is what we looked at in my last post. As I mentioned, servant leadership ascribes the role of leading to that of one who puts as a priority the service of those under his or her authority rather than the exercise of power.

While this type of leadership is important, I believe it’s a second tier of leadership, not the ultimate type of leadership, that Jesus calls us to. If you read on, you will read the most radical statement possible on leadership, and that is to be a “slave” not a servant. And there is a huge difference.

The word “servant” in the Greek is diakonos. It’s the word we use for the role of “deacon” as set up by the apostles in Acts chapter 6. A deacon is one who is committed to serve and care for the needs of others.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He takes it a step further. He tells us that to be the greatest leader we must be a bond-slave, which in the Greek is the word doulos. A bond-slave is one who is bound to the service of his or her master. Service isn’t voluntary, it is mandatory. It’s the word used by Paul in Philippians 2:5-8:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The word to describe Jesus is that of a bond-slave. He willingly made Himself subject to death, to which He became obedient.

Bond-slaves by definition understand that they are not their own, but are subjects of their master to whom they owe their complete allegiance. Again, service is not optional but mandatory.

The highest form of leadership is not servant leadership. The highest form of leadership is what I call sacrificial leadership. I’m suggesting this level of leadership certainly understands that the role of leadership isn’t about power, control, and how those under their authority can serve their purposes. But it goes beyond that.

First, it does as Christ did and empties oneself. Of what? Of personal glory. Of the privilege of position. Of an agenda that serves oneself. Of an expectation that others will serve you.

Second, it is willing to sacrifice for the benefit of those being led. Not just a little. But at great personal cost.

Sacrificial leadership understands that the highest form of leadership doesn’t just serve those under the leader’s authority but is subject to the needs and success of those for whom they are responsible. It’s a mentality that isn’t just about serving those under their leadership, but rather is willing to sacrifice oneself – even at a very significant cost – to help those under their leadership achieve success.

For Christ, the cost was His life. At any time, He could have bailed out. But He didn’t. Because His purpose in coming to earth was “to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” That is the standard Christ set for the highest form of leadership – sacrificial leadership.

Practically, this means a completely different mindset than even servant leadership. It means that the success of those under your charge is so important to you, that you are willing to sacrifice your time, your personal agenda, the spotlight… whatever it takes. And it means those whom you lead know that their highest good is your greatest priority and they see that demonstrated in what you are willing to sacrifice on their behalf.

That’s true leadership.

More Insights from Rick Dunham: “Confusing POWER with Leadership”

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