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Every great leader is a humble servant, but also a strong, confident leader. But this strange mixture of humble confidence comes from a source that is deeper than most realize.

One of the great leadership passages in the Bible is the historical account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. After this breathtaking model of servanthood, He framed the leadership lesson:

“You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:13-15 NASB).

In his landmark business book Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team did a twenty-year study on how good companies became great companies. They identified five primary, undeniable characteristics that were true of each great business they studied. Every company, without exception, was led by a recognizably humble servant-leader who possessed an unswerving devotion to the mission.

The Security That Leads to Servanthood

A leader’s greatest enemy is his own insecurity. It can drive him or her to lead in ways that damage those they lead, as well as abort the ultimate mission.

How can this be overcome? One bit of travelogue in this account gives us the answer:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself (John 13:3-4).

This stunning picture unfolded right at the disciples’ feet. They watched the most important man in human history take the most menial posture and do the most menial task as He washed the filthy feet of those He was leading. It was completely opposite of what most leaders would have done.

The secret of Jesus’ humble, confident leadership was that He knew something many leaders never learn:

  1. The Father had given all things to Him.
  2. He had come from God and was going back to God.

Why did this self-awareness make such a difference?

Humble Christian leaders know their POSSESSIONS are secure.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands … (v. 3).

If you know you have all you need, you are not searching or grasping for anything. Many Christian leaders do not understand their position in Christ. They don’t understand that, as a child of the King, they can live as “having nothing yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

If you don’t know this, you spend your life trying to get more. More money, more position, more prestige, more reputation. An insecure leader is driven by this. He is not about to wash the feet of others or give away any of his leadership, for fear it will damage his rise to the top—that he’ll lose something.

But a secure leader knows he already has all he needs and more. He can share responsibilities generously because he is connected to an inexhaustible Source. His possessions and position are never in jeopardy.

Humble Christian leaders know their POSITION is secure.

Jesus, knowing … that He had come forth from God and was going back to God … (v. 3).

Jesus knew that His earthly job was momentary. His ultimate “employer” was the Father, and His ultimate home was an eternal heaven. Therefore, He did not live to please men. His one goal was to please the Father and accomplish the mission. When that was done, He was headed home.

Most leaders’ main goal is to gain the approval of men. This drives their decisions and determines their behaviors. The desire for approval is an insatiable appetite.

Although others may not be able to articulate what this is in their leaders, they feel the effects of such insecurity. They know their leader must be coddled and pumped up at all costs. They know they cannot ask hard questions or do serious, truthful evaluation because of the fragility of their leader.

And the company or ministry is forever limited by this insecurity. The growth of the enterprise is capped by the leadership lid at the top.

Becoming a great leader is vitally important. Everyone leads someone.

In our brief opportunity on this earth, it is vital that we lead others in ways that will not only model spiritual leadership, but will move the great mission forward. But you will never lead others well if you don’t realize deeply who you are, where you’re going, and what you have in Jesus Christ.