The 7 Characteristics of Servant Leadership

I think it is so important for the church to understand the real meaning of servant leadership. So important. 

“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 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 20:25-28).”

“‘But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted'” (Matthew 23:8-12).

A servant leader:

  1. Puts the needs of the followers first — not themselves or the preservation of their own power. (This, counterintuitively, results in more influence.)
  2. Transfers as much authority as possible to the followers, enabling them to make their own decisions in as many areas as is possible. Other words for this are empowerment and decentralization. These are not just popular buzzwords. They are essential concepts for the proper functioning of society and any organization.
  3. Seeks the growth of their followers to their maximum potential. This is another reason that top-down oriented leadership is not right or helpful: it stunts the growth of followers by making most of their decisions for them.
  4. Recognizes that they are accountable to those they lead. This is an implication of the equality of all people. Without this accountability, leaders are by definition in a special “higher class” than the followers, which is unbiblical, wrong, and prideful at its very root. We see a very good, albeit imperfect, example of this in modern democracy. The leaders in government are ultimately accountable to the people, and the best governmental leaders see themselves as public servants in the fullest sense.
  5. Seeks to lead chiefly through influence and persuasion, not authority or coercion (threat of punishment or bad consequences for not doing what the leader wants). Note that this requires that the servant leader read and study, for their is no other way to have the knowledge needed to operate according to persuasion. Often when people lead by coercion, they are taking the easy way and trying to make up for the fact that they lack true knowledge, and thus real influence.
  6. Recognizes that their authority is limited. No individual ever has total authority over another. That is by definition a form of dictatorship, even if the “leader” who thinks he has such authority has good intent. This, again, stems from the fact that we are all in the image of God and thus ontologically equal. Ontological equality does not necessarily negate functional differences, but it must be reflected in the way those functional differences operate (such as through accountability to the led, principle 4, and recognizing the limited scope of authority, this principle).
  7. Has a concern for the poor and marginalized. Concern for the poor is a fundamental biblical responsibility, and the servant leader recognizes that this is not to be forgotten in the way they go about anything, including the way they lead.

What Christians Can Learn from Secular Business Thinking: My Article in Christianity Today

As a companion piece with the article on Jon Acuff, I wrote an article for Christianity Today on why Christians need to be learning from secular business thinkers.

More and more Christians have been learning from secular business thinkers over the last few years. I think this is a really good thing. What I seek to do in the article is lay out a brief case for why this is a good thing — something you don’t hear articulated much.

I also highlight two of the most important trends in the best business thinking that we can especially learn from as Christians.

Some Christians are hesitant to learn from business thinking. I think in most of those situations what is happening is that bad business thinking is being confused for the whole of business thinking. 

In other words, there is certainly bad business thinking out there. Some Christians have rightly critiqued that and said “this doesn’t belong in the church.” I agree — it doesn’t. But not all business thinking is like that. There is also good business thinking that is based in principles of character and respect for the individual. This business thinking is something we can — and must — learn from.

Often, those who have critiqued bad business thinking haven’t realized that they’ve only encountered one strain of business thinking. By then implying that all business thinking is like that, they close us off from learning the lessons that we really do need to learn and apply in the church.

We need to move past that and redeem good business thinking. Even more, when we do that we can also stop giving bad business practices a “pass” by saying “that’s just business.” No, it’s not. Business is required to seek the good of the other person just as much as every other area of life. That is the guiding principle of all good business thinking, and that’s why we can indeed learn from it in the church.

So take a look, and if you have any thoughts, let me know what you think.


Jon Acuff in Christianity Today

Kate Shellnutt has written an excellent piece on Jon Acuff at Christianity Today.

I love what Jon is doing. He is writing some of the best books right now on the world of work. He understands the nature of the new economy and the best of current business thinking. And, he is very funny.

Here’s a good snapshot from the article:

[Jon] tells readers they don’t have to settle for a job they dread and offers practical steps to find passion in their daily work. His taglines include “Punch Fear in the Face” and “Build a Better Monday.” He wants people to actually enjoy their jobs, for the sake of themselves, their employers, and their witness in the world of business.

I’ve also written a companion piece on why Christians need to learn from secular business thinkers.

Check out the full article on what Jon is doing. And if you don’t have it already, Jon’s latest book, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuckis very much worth checking out as well.

The Successful Virtual Office


Melanie Pinola at Lifehacker has written a brief, helpful, new book entitled The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes. As a part of series of 30-minute guides, this book seeks to “help telecommuters, consultants, freelancers, small business owners, independent professionals, and other types of remote workers set up and maintain a high-performance virtual office.”

And here’s a fun fact: In her book, she also quotes from my e-book How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem

If you need help with your own virtual office, or if you are interested in learning about available tools that might help you in this area, check out Melanie’s book. She has been gracious enough to offer some complimentary PDF copies of her book to readers of What’s Best Next. Send an email to contact [at] and explain why this book might help you. The first ten folks to email will win a copy. Enjoy!

Do All of God’s Blessings Really Come to Us on the Basis of the Infinite Merit of Christ?

In his excellent book The Gospel for Real LifeJerry Bridges writes:

We need to learn and remind ourselves every day that God’s favor — His blessings and answers to prayer — come to us not on the basis of our works, but on the basis of the infinite merit of Jesus Christ.

Is this right?

What about, for example, James 4:6, where we read that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”? In that passage it looks like God is giving his blessing in response to a work (or, most specifically in this case, a character quality).

Likewise, in Philippians 4:9, Paul says that if we practice the things we have learned and received and heard and seen in him, then “the God of peace will be with you.” So it looks like there are places where God’s blessings and even presence are in response to our works.

How should we understand this?

One common response is based on a misunderstanding of the biblical meaning of “works.” Some people seem to think that whenever the Bible speaks of “works,” it is speaking of something that is actually bad. “Works” is taken to mean external actions done without the right heart; things that are done to put God in our debt. So when we say that God’s blessings don’t come on the basis of our “works,” they say “of course.”

But that is not the biblical meaning of works. Certainly there is such a thing as bad works. But works themselves are not by definition something bad. A Christian can and should do good works.

“Works” is not a catch-all term in the Bible for things done to earn God’s favor. Neither are works merely the external components of an action. In the Bible, works are simply things we do, which can be done for the glory of God or for evil purposes. Further, the term “works” includes the internal motivation, and is not just about the external behavior. If a work is done for the glory of God, then it is a good work and not to be disparaged.

Hence, it would be fully acceptable in the James 4 passage to refer to humility as a “work.” It is chiefly an internal work, but since works are not bad things in the Bible, we are not disparaging humility if we call it a work. “Work” simply means any human action or disposition of our character. Humility is a disposition of the heart, a character quality, and thus can be subsumed under the category of “works.”

Hence, when we say that God’s blessings don’t come to us on the ground of our works, we don’t simply mean the “bad” works that are done in a legalistic spirit. We mean the good ones. Further, we don’t simply mean the external components of the action. We include the internal heart motivation. God’s blessing does not come to us on the basis of even our good works, including the good internal motivation to love others and honor God.

Another response would be to say that God never rewards our works with blessing. This would also be a misunderstanding, because all over the Bible we see God acting in response to our works. The James 4 passage is a key example, and there are many others.

So how should we understand God’s blessing in relation to our works?

The answer comes from understanding, first of all, the doctrine of justification. When it comes to how we are set right with God forever (justification), our works play no role whatsoever. Literally none. I’m not just speaking of works done in a legalistic spirit here, or just of the works done before we become Christians, but of all works whatsoever. The good works we do that are rightly motivated and done after we become Christians are just as excluded from the means by which we are set right with God as legalistically motivated works are. We are truly and fully justified by faith alone. 

Some try to say that we are not justified on the basis of our works, but we are justified by means of our works. That is, these people try to make our good works function as the way we receive the work of Christ. They say Christ’s work is the foundation, not our works, but then in order to gain access to that foundation which Christ laid, we need to do good works. Good works are a means, though not the basis, of our entering a right relationship with God.

That is also wrong and very bad. Our good works are excluded in all possible ways in our justification. They are not the basis or the means through which we become right with God.

To make things more complicated, they sometimes say that this is not actually justification by works, because these are truly good works they are speaking of that are the means of our justification, done in God’s power from good motivation, rather than the desire to put God in our debt.

But as we saw, it is a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching to limit “works” simply to things done to put God in our debt. In the Bible, “works” include any human action, including truly good things we do from a humble spirit. When the Bible excludes “works” from justification, it is truly excluding all our works — even (especially!) the good ones.

Now, once we are Christians and we do good works and display godly character qualities such as humility, how does God respond to them? We know, per the above paragraphs, that our works and character are not the basis or means by which are right with God.

But as James shows us (and many other passages), God does have a positive response to our good works and growth in character. That is, he blesses them. How, then, can we say like Jerry Bridges does in the quote above that even those blessings come on the basis of Christ’s work, rather our works? For if God “gives grace to the humble,” it certainly sounds as if that particular blessing of grace is a response to our humility. Such that if we hadn’t expressed humility, we wouldn’t have received that act of grace.

The answer is this: God’s act of grace in James 4 is indeed in response to our humility. It is unmerited, conditional grace. Yet even that act of humility itself was won for us by Christ.

Hence, the act of grace in response to humility is given on the basis of Christ’s work because that humility is only there in the first place because of Christ’s work. God is, as Augustine said, crowning his own gifts.

So we see that God is able to respond to our works with blessing, while those blessings are given ultimately on the basis of Christ’s works and not our works.

Note, however, that this only works in the realm of sanctification. As we saw, this is not how justification works. God does not give us good works that he then blesses with the gift of justification. Justification is entirely, as we saw above, “apart from works” (Romans 4) and thus considers us exclusively as ungodly (Romans 4:5).

Having been justified, though, we are now in a right relationship with God. God thus can and does bless the works that we do in a multitude of ways, just as a father will reward many of the good things his children does because he wants to testify to the approval and delight he takes in what they are doing.

Another way to say this would be to say that just as we are accepted in Christ, so also our works are accepted in Christ. So when God rewards our works, even those rewards (along with the works itself that he is rewarding) are coming on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection.


Kindle Version of What’s Best Next $1.99 Today Only

Zondervan has put What’s Best Next on sale today only for $1.99 as part of their e-book flash sale this week (see the other books in the sale as well).

If you haven’t picked it up yet, now is a great time! And either way, this sale is a great opportunity to spread the word further.

In honor of this sale, I’ve also reduced the price on my ebook How to Set Up Your Desk to $0.99. (Note: if the price on that isn’t active yet, it should be live soon.)

Zondervan 24-Hour Ebook Flash Sale

Zondervan is doing an incredible ebook flash sale this week. Each day, one ebook will be on sale for $1.99.

What’s Best Next will be on sale Thursday.

The other books are

  • Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (for $2.99; all others are $1.99) on Monday
  • Tim Challies’ The Next Story (revised) on Tuesday
  • Mike Horton’s Ordinary on Wednesday
  • What’s Best Next on Thursday
  • Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s A God-Sized Vision on Friday
  • Timothy Paul Jones and Daniel Montgomery’s Proof: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace on Saturday

Here’s the link to the sale, and spread the word!

Why Plant Churches?

A fantastic and extremely helpful article by Tim Keller that everyone needs to read.

Here’s the start:

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city.

Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.

The normal response to discussions about church planting is something like this:

A. ‘We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we go off building any new ones.”

B. ‘Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The churchgoing public is a ‘shrinking pie’. A new church here will just take people from churches already hurting and weaken everyone.’

C. ‘Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the ones we have that are just keeping their nose above water. We need better churches, not more churches.’

These statements appear to be ‘common sense’ to many people, but they rest on several wrong assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask ‘Why is church planting so crucially important?’ Because–