Abraham Lincoln is considered one of our nation’s greatest leaders. As the 16th President of the United States, Lincoln provided an example of servant leadership, particularly in his actions during the Civil War. As president, Lincoln was faced with two difficult tasks, preserving the Union during this conflict that pitted brother against brother, and the emancipating of Southern slaves. It would have been very easy for President Lincoln to let the Union just dissolve, to allow it to split into two separate nations. It would have been just as easy to let slavery remain as it was. But that’s not the kind of leader that Lincoln was. Instead of choosing the easy road, the one that would have made his own life easier, Lincoln chose the hard road. Why? Because Lincoln believed his responsibility as a leader was to do what would be best for the people, best for the nation he served. Lincoln was a servant leader.
The greatest example of servant leadership, of course, is Jesus, who came to serve mankind by laying down his life for us. It would have been easy for Him to choose not to do so. But, Jesus taught that leaders are meant to serve. On the night before He died, He gave an example of this to His disciples when He went around the table and washed the feet of each and every one of them (John 13:1-5). The King of kings, the Son of God, washed the feet of ordinary, sinful men, setting the example for each of us to follow (John 13:12-16). After giving this example of servant leadership, Jesus gave the ultimate example when He went to His death on the cross, choosing our salvation over His own life.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul gives a great explanation of what it means to be a servant leader. A servant leader does nothing out of his own selfish ambition or to make himself look better. Instead, in humility, he looks at those he leads as being more significant than himself (Philippians 2:3). A servant leader puts the interests of others, of the people he leads, ahead of his own personal interests (Philippians 2:4). And, most importantly, a servant leader models the mind of Jesus by not looking at his own power or his own status, but instead serving those who he leads. Jesus was the ultimate example of this (Philippians 2:5-8).
Whether you lead a ministry, pastor a church, supervise people on your job, or lead a family, strive to be a servant leader. As you lead, look to Jesus for the example of what it means to be a true servant leader.