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If Servanthood is the Antidote, What is the Problem?

When it comes to leadership, Jesus made it clear that Christian leaders are not meant to lord it over the people they lead, but rather to be servant leaders. 

Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as 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 a slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).’” 

So, what is the problem? The problem is a leadership style that controls and exercises power over people for the leader’s benefit instead of laying down their life to empower their followers. The opposite of servant leadership style that empowers is a selfish leadership style that subjugates people and encourages dependency. This is “Control-over power” (controllers) as opposed to “Influence-with power (empowerers).”

In short, the problem of selfish leadership style is a question of control versus empowerment.

During my early years in leadership, I was leading a Youth with a Mission (YWAM) ministry location in Bogotá, Colombia. One day, the location manager disagreed with a decision I had made because it was causing a strain on some of the staff. I was trying to control the behavior of the manager, and instead of trying to fully understand his objections to my decision, I pulled rank and said, “You’ll do it because I am the leader and I say so!” 

What did that reveal about my attitude towards my power and authority? It seems my view was that those I lead exist to carry out my desires regardless of their own needs and the demands it places on them. What those I lead think and feel is irrelevant because they exist to serve me. I have all the power and my subjects are powerless. I control them.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that my view of leadership did not fit the view that Jesus modeled and taught. 

Many pastors feel they have control over their congregation. They forget that the sheep belong to Jesus and are not their sheep. So many times, I’ve heard a pastor say, “They are stealing my sheep.” No, they are the Lord’s sheep, and they are tired of being controlled and seen as incapable of spiritual ministry. So, they seek true leaders who will trust them and develop their potential. 

Some characteristics of controlling leaders:

They don’t lead by example.

They treat followers as pawns.

They insist on their own opinion and don’t actively listen to others. 

It’s either my way or the highway. No freedom is given to the subordinates to try their ideas. 

They don’t believe their followers have important ideas.

They intimidate to coerce conformity.

They dominate in meetings.

They consider different opinions as insubordination.

They get angry when others don’t follow their advice.

They don’t see themselves as controlling. 

Some phrases that indicate controlling-power:

“I didn’t ask for your opinion. Just get on and do it.”

“Don’t ask questions, just get it done.”

“I didn’t hire you to think, just to work.”

“I’ve done this for years, just take my word for it.”

“Let’s not waste time discussing this.”

Why do leaders practice control? 

They received wrong modeling.

Fear and insecurity; they are not sure what to do. 

Selfishness; it’s all about them.

Pride and ego; they want to look good. 

Overestimating their own importance thus undervaluing those they lead.

Failure to trust others or not knowing how to deal with others’ errors. 

It’s all right to control the results, but not the people and their ingenuity and creativity. The leader should define the desired outcomes and quality of results, but give freedom to the workers to consider the “how.” That way the worker will grow through trial and error. 

A big misbelief some leaders have is, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” If you follow that belief, then you will probably be overworked, overwhelmed and overstressed. What lies behind this is that you are overestimating your own importance. When you do that, you will undervalue those around you. When you don’t value, trust and empower the leaders around you then they probably will not stay. Even if they do, they will not grow. 

You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both. 

When it comes to delegating, trusting and empowering, the thing is to give them the opportunity to grow. The win isn’t just accomplishment, but in having that person be developed. The best leaders do not delegate tasks, but give authority. When you delegate tasks, you create followers. When you delegate authority you create leaders.[1]

Some thoughts for application:

How do you view your leadership? Are you in your position to exercise power over people or to empower people for ministry? 

Do you see those you lead as a means to an end or as a resource to develop? 

Do you delegate tasks or authority with freedom to experiment?

What characteristics of controlling leaders do you see in your leadership?

Why do you act this way? (Ask Holy Spirit to show you why.)

Remember: You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both.


Gary McKinney

Gary was born and raised in upstate New York, USA and became a Spanish citizen in 2005. Since 1974, he has lived in Spain while serving in various YWAM roles, primarily in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. Currently Gary is YWAM Base Director in Madrid and member of the National Leadership Team in Spain. He’s the Supervisor of the Leadership Development Courses in Spain and Latin America. His passion includes training Christian leaders to achieve maximum effectiveness.

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