For Our Pastor To Be A True Servant Of God
Five Marks of a Servant Leader
All professing Christians agree that a Christian leader should be a servant leader. Jesus couldn’t be clearer:
“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25–26)
Where there’s not always agreement is how servant leadership should look in a given situation. Sometimes servant leaders wash others’ feet, so to speak (John 13:1–17), but other times they rebuke (Matthew 16:23), and even discipline (Matthew 18:15–20). Sometimes they serve at their own expense (1 Corinthians 9:7), but other times they issue strong imperatives (1 Corinthians 5:2; 11:16).
Wading into Muddy Waters
Other factors muddy the waters even more for us. To begin with, all Christian leaders have indwelling sin, which means even at the height of their maturity, they will still be defective servants. Add to this the fact that most leaders have not yet reached their height of maturity.
Add to this the fact that all Christian followers also have indwelling sin and most haven’t reached our height of maturity either.
Add to this the fact that different temperaments, experiences, giftings, and callings influence both how certain leaders tend to serve, and how certain followers tend to perceive that leadership — a leader’s genuine attempt to serve might be interpreted by a genuine follower as an attempt to “lord it over” them (2 Corinthians 1:24). And then there are wolfish, self-serving leaders who, while deceiving their followers, appear for a time to behave in ways similar to servant leaders.
“A servant leader sacrificially seeks the highest joy of those he serves.” So, determining whether or not a leader is acting from a heart of Christ service requires charitable, patient, humble discernment. It’s not simple. There’s no one-size-fits-all servant leader description.
The needs and contexts in the wider church are vast and varied, and require many different kinds of leaders and gifts. We must guard against our own unique biases when assessing leaders’ hearts.
Each of us is more or less drawn to certain kinds of leaders, but our preferences can be unreliable and even uncharitable standards.
Marks of a Servant Leader
Still, the New Testament instructs us to exercise due diligence in discerning a Christian leader’s fitness (see, for instance, 1 Timothy 3:1–13). What traits do we look for in a leader that suggest his fundamental orientation is Christ servanthood? This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are five fundamental indicators.
1. A servant leader seeks the glory of his Master
And his Master is not his reputation or his ministry constituency; it is God.
Jesus said, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18).
A Christ leader is a bondservant of Christ (Ephesians 6:6), and demonstrates over time that Christ — not public approval, position, or financial security — has his primary loyalty. In this he “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4).
2. A servant leader sacrificially seeks the highest joy of those he serves
This does not conflict with seeking the glory of his Master. Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant . . .
even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26, 28).
Whatever his temperament, gift mix, capacities, or sphere of influence, he will make necessary sacrifices in order to pursue people’s “progress and joy in the faith,” which results in the greater glory of God (Philippians 1:25; 2:9–11).
3. A servant leader will forgo his rights rather than obscure the gospel
“A servant leader’s identity and trust are not in his calling, but in his Christ.”
Paul said it this way: “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
What did this mean for him? It meant sometimes he abstained from certain foods and drinks, or refused financial support from those he served, or worked with his own hands to provide for himself, or went hungry, or dressed poorly, or was beaten, or was homeless, or endured disrespect inside and outside the church (1 Corinthians 4:11–13; 9:4–7). And he decided not to marry (1 Corinthians 9:5).
This all before he was martyred. Paul’s servant bar may have been set extraordinarily high, but all servant leaders will yield their rights if they believe more will be won to Christ as a result.
4. A servant leader is not preoccupied with personal visibility and recognition
John the Baptist, a servant leader sees himself as a “friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29), and is not preoccupied with the visibility of his own role.
He doesn’t view those with less visible roles as less significant, nor does he covet more visible roles as more significant (1 Corinthians 12:12–26).
He seeks to steward the role he’s received as best he can, and gladly leaves the role assignments to God (John 3:27).
5. A servant leader anticipates and graciously accepts the time for his decrease
All leaders serve only for a season. Some seasons are long, some short; some are abundant, some lean; some are recorded and recalled, most are not. But all seasons end. When John the Baptist recognized the ending of his season, he said, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29–30).
Sometimes a leader is the first to recognize his season’s end, sometimes others recognize it first, and sometimes God lets a season end unjustly for purposes a leader can’t understand at the time. But a servant leader graciously yields his role for the good of Christ’s cause, because his identity and trust are not in his calling, but in his Christ.
Be Gracious with Your Leaders
No earthly Christian leader is the perfect incarnation of these five fundamental marks of servanthood. Jesus alone bears that distinction. The vast majority of our leaders are imperfect servants trying to be faithful.
So, some of the greatest gifts we can give our leaders are 1) our explicit encouragement when we see any of these graces in them (loose our tongues), 2) our quiet patience with their stumbling (hold our tongues), and 3) our charitable judgment and gracious feedback regarding decisions that raise questions and concerns (bridle our tongues). And all three can be as easily applied in speaking about our leaders as in speaking to them.
“The vast majority of our leaders are imperfect servants trying to be faithful.”
If a leader needs help recognizing the ending of his season, let his faithful friends bring a loving, gracious, gentle, and patient encouragement, and if necessary, reproof.
But sometimes, Diotrephes (3 John 9), a leader’s sinful defects are too damaging, or Judas (Luke 6:16), they prove to be a wolf.
At that point a gracious response looks appropriate, godly, mature followers taking the servant initiative to rebuke (Matthew 16:23), and even discipline (Matthew 18:15–20).
We’ll know we’ve reached that point because, after a season of observation, it will become clear that these five marks are conspicuously missing in that leader.
Bible Verses & Quotes about Preaching, Pastors, and Preaching the Word
Leadership Resources | 12:27 pm
Leadership Resources is passionate about preaching and teaching the Word of God. We train pastors in the US and around the world in biblical exposition with the goal to equip pastors and church leaders to preach the Word of God with the heart of God.
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Bible Verses about Preaching
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:1-2
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:13 NIV
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Colossians 1:28-29
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Corinthians 4:5
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“…for the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra 7:9-10 ESV
“But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:26-27
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130
Quotes about Preaching and Sermons
“Preaching is truth mediated through personality.”
― Phillips Brooks
“A prepared heart is much better than a prepared sermon. A prepared heart will make a prepared sermon.”
― E.M. Bounds
“I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”
― Richard Baxter
“Where the Word of God is rightly handled, the voice of God is heard.” —David Jackman (see context)
“The work of preaching is the highest and greatest and most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.” Martyn Lloyd Jones
“Too many of our sermons share the recipe, or the menu, but not the meal; and our people go away hungry.” Warren Wiersbe
“The heart of Christian worship is the authentic preaching of the Word of God.” —Albert Mohler
“Authentic gospel preaching always engages people with eternal issues.”
― Colin S. Smith
“Some preachers use the Bible the way a drunk uses a lamppost—more for support than for illumination.” David Helm
“Preaching Christ does not mean merely to preach his doctrines, but to preach him as the object of supreme love and confidence.” —Charles Hodge
“The authority of preaching is not heightened but lost if the preacher forsakes his place behind the Book.” —Edmund P. Clowney
“If I had only one sermon to preach it would be a sermon against pride.”
― G.K. Chesterton
“The preaching that this world needs most is the sermons in shoes that are walking with Jesus Christ.”
— D.L. Moody
“Called to preach!…commissioned of God to teach the word! A herald of the great King! A witness of the eternal gospel! Could any work be more high and holy? To this supreme task God sent his only begotten Son.”
“My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart, and to heal the broken one.”
— John Newton
“To attain simplicity in preaching is of the utmost importance to every minister who wishes to be useful to souls.”
— J.C. Ryle
Quotes about Preaching the Word / Preaching Christ
“To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching.”
― Martin Luther
“There is no long-range effective teaching of the Bible that is not accompanied by long hours of ongoing study of the Bible.” ―D.A. Carson
“A failure to preach Scripture redirects people from a God-centered perspective to a man-centered perspective. It tends to undermine confidence… in Scripture.”
― John MacArthur
“It matters to God what is preached. And it matters to Him how it is preached. No man is free to preach whatever and however he so chooses.”
― Steven J. Lawson
“A man who first tried to guess ‘what the public wants,’ and then preached that as Christianity because the public wants it, would be a pretty mixture of fool and knave.”
― C.S. Lewis
“Unfortunately, preachers who distort God’s Word are all too common today. Sometimes this springs from a sincere desire to soften hard hearts, but hearts aren’t changed by compromise.”
― Alistair Begg
Once the necessity and the fruitfulness of the method is recognized, however, no worthy workman in the Word can refuse the effort it requires. He is called as a scribe of the kingdom to bring forth treasures new and old, and any labor that issues in a fuller preaching of Christ has its reward.
― Edmund Clowney
“No sermon is of any value, or ly to be useful, which has not the three R’s in it; ruin by the fall, redemption by Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. My aim in every sermon, is loudly to call Sinners, to quicken saints, and to be made a blessing to all.”
— John C. Ryland
“The more fully that the gospel is preached, in the grand old apostolic way, the more ly is it to accomplish the results which it did in the apostolic days.”
― Horatius Bonar
“To those who preach: A sermon without Jesus is a hospital without medicine. Sin is the deadly disease, Christ the only cure.” —Steven Lawson
Bonus Resource: 6 Characteristics of Apostolic Preaching in the Book of Acts
“When we preach or teach the Scriptures, we open the door for the Holy Spirit to do His work. God has not promised to bless oratory or clever preaching. He has promised to bless His Word.”
― Billy Graham
“If I only had one more sermon to preach before I died, it would be about my Lord Jesus Christ. And I think that when we get to the end of our ministry, one of our regrets will be that we did not preach more of Him. I am sure no minister will ever repent of having preached Him too much.”
― Charles Spurgeon
“The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil. The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake.”
― Charles Spurgeon
“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.”
― Charles Spurgeon
“All Christian preaching should be the exposition and application of biblical texts. Our authority as preachers sent by God rises and falls with our manifest allegiance to the text of Scripture.”
― John Piper
Quotes about Pastors/Preachers
“We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer.”
― Paul David Tripp
“Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God; such alone will shake the gates of hell.”
― John Wesley
“A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin.”
― Robert Murray McCheyne
“A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”
― John Owen
“With their doctrine they build, and with their lives they destroy.”
“Your task, O preacher, is to make sure that you are faithful to the text, that you are faithful to the proclamation of that gospel, that you are faithful to set forth the whole counsel of God, and then step back and let it happen.”
― R.C. Sproul
Leadership Resources International seeks to train pastors and church leaders in the US and worldwide to study the Word of God in depth using a variety of hermeneutical principles. Learn more about our Training National Trainers Program or how you can help the worldwide spread of God’s Word!
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