Godly Servant Leadership
Far too many ministry leaders fail, fall, or forsake their calling in ministry due to burnout, ego, or a lapse of common sense. In every case, the root of such collapse is a spirit of selfish entitlement—the idea that somehow, some way, they could proceed with exception or immunity. Our beloved friend and colleague Dr. Howard Hendricks often quipped, “Spiritual failure is never a blowout, but always the result of a slow leak.” Intermittent private compromises always precede a more publicized collapse.
Spiritual failure is never a blowout, but always the result of a slow leak.
Dr. Howard Hendricks
In their book Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership: How to Make a Difference Regardless of Your Title, Role, or Authority (2021), James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner explore the idea that leadership is not defined by rank or authority but is achieved through everyday behaviors and actions. In the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul creatively warns against two pitfalls of failure and commends three patterns of everyday faithfulness that befit a godly servant leader. What occasioned this portion of the letter were the spurious attacks against Paul’s message and motives in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1–15). His defense tells what he and his ministry partners didn’t do, as well as what they did do, to make sure the gospel remained central.
The pitfalls of failure that Paul successfully avoided were the loss of truth and the loss of integrity. Truth is lost whenever erroneous speculation, impure motives, or intentional deceit become the methods used to manipulate others in the ministry (1 Thess 2:3). Integrity is lost when flattery, greed, and ego motivate the ministry (1 Thess 2:5–6).
By contrast, in 1 Thessalonians 2:7–12, Paul illustrates his approach of ministry among the Thessalonians with three everyday examples. All three endure as great models for God’s understanding of godly servant leadership. The first model is that of a nursing mother who lovingly and tenderly cares for her baby (1 Thess 2:7–8). She delights in showing her affection with great sensitivity and personal sacrifice. Paul says that he and his companions shared not only the truth of the gospel but also their very lives with the Thessalonians. With mother-like love, godly servant leaders are people of compassion who provide an atmosphere of nurture.
The second model pictures the efforts and ethics of a faithful worker (1 Thess 2:9–10). Paul and his team worked long, strenuous hours so that the Thessalonians would not be disadvantaged in any way. Their service was above reproach as they demonstrated the integrity of a holy, righteous lifestyle. Like faithful workers on the job, godly servant leaders build trust through the credibility of their efforts and ethics.
The third model of godly leadership is that of a guiding father (1 Thess 2:11–12). His intentionality is evident in the time he spends with each of his children and in his passion to see them walk in faithfulness to God’s calling. With an eye on God’s kingdom and glory, the good father’s commitment is seen in his constant encouragement, consolation, and challenges. Like this conscientious and committed father, godly servant leaders cast a vision of hope for the future that challenges the next generation to live up to God’s calling in the present.
When, like Paul, we adopt the godly servant leadership values of compassion, credibility, and a commitment borne of genuine love and loyalty to God’s Word, those who follow are encouraged to grow, trust, and share in the vision of pursuing God’s kingdom and glory.
About the Contributors
Mark L. Bailey
Dr. Bailey assumed the role of DTS Chancellor after serving for 19 years as the Seminary’s fifth President, and continues his role as Sr. Professor in the Bible Exposition department. In addition to his years at Dallas Theological Seminary, he has pastored various churches in Arizona and Texas. He was a seminar instructor for Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for twenty years and is in demand for Bible conferences and other preaching engagements all over the country and world. His overseas ministries have included Venezuela, Argentina, Hungary, and China. He is also a regular tour leader in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Rome. His board service includes Bible Study Fellowship, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, and Word of Life.