No Rights Yet Recognizes Authority
“No rights, recognizes authority, works hard, and doesn’t expect recognition.” 
What a list! These are phrases from Jon Byler’s book, The Heart of Christian Leadership, describing the characteristics of a servant. As I read those phrases, I felt a sense of conviction. Do I really understand what servant leadership is?
In Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus made a clear distinction between the world’s view of leadership and His requirements for leadership: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, whoever wants to be first, must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And just like that, Jesus took the words “great” and “first” and placed them in the same category as slave and servant!
Jesus wanted to make sure His followers were clear that whoever wanted to rule, must understand that a servant mentality was required, not an “I’m the boss” mentality. The world’s leadership view must be set aside completely and replaced with His view. And that brings me back to Jon Byler’s book. Out of the four characteristics, two stood out in my mind: recognizes authority and has no rights. Two characteristics that test the strings of love and obedience in the body of Christ.
A servant is under authority and recognizes that the position held is solely for the purpose of carrying out his master’s will. A servant’s plans are not his own; his ideas and efforts are strictly aligned with his master’s. Having a servant’s heart in leadership is recognizing that we, too, are under our Heavenly Father’s authority and under church leadership authority. A servant’s heart has a well-defined sense of submission to: His word, His kingdom and His will. Why? Simply because the authority is recognized as belonging to God first. If His word is truly our authority, the rest is viable.
Yet, we struggle. Just like the disciples struggled and became indignant when the mother of Zebedee’s sons asked Jesus for high positions in His kingdom for her sons.
Our all-knowing Savior made it simple for them and for us: if we wish to lead and be “great” or “first” we must become a servant. A servant, a slave. He used an image so powerful that there was no question what it meant: submission. That simple truth opens the path to servant leadership. Selfless work becomes the norm as the only desire is to do the Master’s will.
If authority is a struggle in leadership, we must ask the difficult question: whose authority are we really under and whose desire are we seeking?
“A servant doesn’t demand his rights, he has none.” 
When I read this particular characteristic, I had to truly meditate on this. In our culture, from childhood it is ingrained in us that we have rights. We have a right to free speech, a right to worship, a right to bear arms, a right to assemble, a right to vote and so on. That is why when we grasp Jesus’ standard of servant leadership, setting rights aside truthfully poses a heart challenge.
But Jesus’ words place the focus back on the essence of service, “He came not to be served but to serve.” Matthew 20:28. Our Savior laid aside His glory, hHs privilege, and His throne to serve humanity. A servant leader will have to come to terms with the reality that if Jesus gave up His rights for us, we too, will be called to relinquish our rights. There will be moments as servant leaders that we may have to give up our right to defend our point for the sake of peace. We will be called to let love triumph over the right to prove our idea or plan is best. In the name of unity, we will be called to forsake our right to an opinion.
Servant leaders look to Christ for perception; only then can we surrender our rights.
And that’s because rights take on another meaning under the light of Christ’s servanthood: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” Isaiah 53:7-8.
We enjoy the gift of salvation, purpose, and a living hope because Jesus willingly set aside His rights for us and humbly submitted to His Father’s will.
Do I really understand what servant leadership is? I’m learning! And every day I am given a new opportunity to love, to submit, and to obey.
 John Byler, The Heart of Christian Leadership, LeadersServe, 2010