Contemporary Examples of Servant Leadership


If asked to name example of contemporary servant leadership, you would probably name Mother Theresa, Nelson Madiba Mandela, Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, a Martin Luther King Jr., and Dietrich Bonheoffer. Notice that not all of these are of the Christian faith.

Example 1 Portland, Oregon

When I was working with the local leaders for transformation in my own city, there were certain key people – bold visionaries – that were dreaming, calling the city to prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire city. the pastors together for prayer. These “John Knoxers” as we called them, were not pastors themselves. Instead, they felt called to serve the pastors; that is, to serve the city through the pastors. This “John Knoxer” has been identified with certain city leaders in other cities and countries from a quote by John Knox. Imprisoned during the late 1540’s for supporting the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, Knox prayed daily, “Lord, give me Scotland, or I die”. By the time he died in 1572, Scotland had been transformed and the Scottish Parliament had adopted the Reformation doctrines. Some of the first missionaries to America were from Scotland. Oh, that God would grant us what John Knox saw.

Some of our own Portland city churches were strong and growing, some were dying. Some churches were lost to any real spiritual calling. To see the coming of the Holy Spirit, we would have to get all of these churches working together, with churches that were growing helping the struggling churches.

As I read the first chapters Revelation and the letters to those early churches, I saw a collection of churches much like the churches of my city. Some were strong, others weak and dying. Some had lost their moorings and following false prophets. One statement, however, was said by the Lord to every single church.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

It didn’t matter if the church was alive or dead spiritually; God was speaking to each. It was never an issue of whether or not God was speaking to that church. It was always a hearing problem. We realized, then, that God was speaking to each church in our city. It didn’t matter where the church was spiritually. If the church was failing, it was always a hearing problem.

As I worked with these John Knoxers in my city, their organizational model was that of a servant leadership. These John Knoxers served the pastors, they said. The pastors, in turn, were serving God. If the pastors did not hear and move, these John Knoxers could do nothing but pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. These leaders were servants to the pastors. The pastors, in turn, were servants of the Lord. As for myself, I was a servant to God and these John Knoxers and I was soon taking ownership in Knox’s vision myself. Nothing would happen unless the pastors heard and acted. Then we could serve them.

In one case an inner city pastor was leading and paid by a major parachurch organization. As the larger parachurch organization fell on hard times and had to cut the inner city pastor’s salary off, it was one of the megachurches in the city that picked up the salary of this pastor and enabled him to continue with his inner city pastoring. The transformation of the city is too much for one church to attempt. The churches must carry the vision together into the process, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit to anoint all of them.
As the Holy Spirit began to move in the city, the city became a magnet that drew other pastors across the world in to see what we were doing. I remember one major conference where leading pastors were coming in from all over the country to see what God was doing in our city. There were various sessions and workshops and it was really exciting to feel the energy as everything was going on with a vision we all shared. As one of these John Knoxers was leaving a session where he had spoken, I asked him a key question.

“These pastors that have come in – some of them are from megachurches. They often have big egos. Their objective is often to build up their own “kingdom”. How did you explain to them what is going on here with our servant leadership model?”

“Well, Carl,” he said, “I told them what I do is go around the city looking for small fires. Then I push the fires together and pour gasoline on them.”

I couldn’t have defined this servant leadership model any better than that.

Example 2: Seoul, South Korea

I remember back in 1995 some the city leaders had been invited to meet together to begin planning for city transformation. It was a very exciting group; but Jim Montgomery, the leader of DAWN (Disciplining a Whole Nation) could not meet with us due to a personal problem in his family. Several people from DAWN, however, did attend. As we began planning and committing resources and strategies, The DAWN people were right there committing their organization and resources without ever having to run to a phone and call Jim.

Later, as I rode back to the hotel on a city bus with a DAWN board member, I commented to him about this example of servant leadership and how it impressed me. I don’t often see it in Christian organizations. He affiirmed what I saw - their servant leadership.

Even later, I talked with another leader about what I had seen.

“Yes,”this leader told me, “what you saw is the way we work. If a visitor comes in and asks for the top man, Jim will probably point to one of the others and keep working.

Earlier, at this same conference, I had seen another leader in another Christian organization speaking and delegating menial tasks to others that worked with him. That's more like the Old Testamant model where Joshua served Moses or Elisha's servant served Elisha. Which organization would you rather work for?


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Copyright 2005-2009, Carl Townsend