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The Characteristics of a Servant Leader

I hope in the Lord Jesus soon to send Timothy to you, that I may find out how things are going with you and take heart. I have no one with a mind equal to his, for he is the kind of man who will genuinely care for your affairs; for all men are concerned with their own interests, and not with the interests of Jesus Christ. You know his tried and tested character, and you know that, as a child serves a father, so he has shared my service in the work of the gospel. So then, I hope to send him, as soon as I see how things go with me. But I am confident in the Lord that I myself too will soon come to you. (Philippians 2:19-24)

Paul's Confidence In Timothy

In the previous section of this chapter (v. 11-18), Paul focused on the Christian characteristics he prayerfully exhorted the Philippians to cultivate. In this section, however, he is focusing on the characteristics of a servant leader, as exemplified by Timothy. Timothy was born in Lystra in Asian Minor to a Jewish mother who had become a Christian believer, and a Greek father. Paul met him during his second missionary journey and quickly developed a special relationship where he became Paul’s companion, mentee, co-worker, and son in the ministry.

Paul was particularly impressed with Timothy’s godly ethos. Timothy was a servant leader whom Paul trusted wholeheartedly. He was not only a friend and co-laborer of Paul; he was also an emissary who carried Paul’s letters to different churches while the apostle was in Prison. Whenever Paul wished for information from some Church or wished to send advice or encouragement or rebuke and could not go himself, it was Timothy whom he sent. So Timothy was sent to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:6); to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11); to Philippi. Timothy would also give Paul updates about the wellbeing of churches of concern to Paul. Thus, in verse 19, Paul says that he was planning to send timothy to them soon so he can find out how things are going in the church at Philippi.

In verse 20, Paul boasted about Timothy's astuteness and vented that Timothy is that kind of man who will genuinely care for their affairs. What stood out in Timothy more than anything else was his unwavering commitment to advance the cause of Jesus Christ. Thus, in verse 21, he lauds Timothy’s dedication to the gospel.

In verse 22, Paul appeals to the Philippian's past experiences with Timothy, who has proven both his loyalty to Paul and his integrity as a servant leader. He gleefully characterizes his relationship with Timothy as a father-son relationship. Paul is seemingly excited to send Timothy to the saints in Philippi to check on them. Though he is confident that he will visit soon, he nevertheless vouchsafes that a visit from Timothy is tantamount to a visit from himself.


Whereas we tend to emphasize the characteristics of an effective leader, much more needs to be learned about the characteristics of a servant leader. In traditional leadership models, power flows from the top down. In the Servant leadership model, the team's personal development and performance are more important than the success of the person at the top.

In an essay written in 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf highlights the characteristics of a servant leader. Greenleaf is recognized as the originator of the phrase “servant leadership.” According to Greenleaf, a servant leader emphasizes the servant aspect of his or her identity more so than the leadership. The servant-leader places emphasis on serving the needs of others, as he or she focuses primarily on the growth and wellbeing of others.

A set of ten characteristics of the servant-leader has been extracted from Greenleaf’s writing. 1- Empathy A servant leader can recognize and understand the feelings and emotions that are experienced by their team. Such a leader will care for other people and will deeply experience emotions that match what others are feeling. Since they understand others so profoundly, their actions are motivated by a genuine desire to help others. 2. Listening Servant leaders can get a complete understanding of all interpersonal situations that they are dealing with. They use active listening to resolve conflicts, counsel others, and to impart training. 3. Awareness Servant leaders are completely aware of their strengths, weaknesses, values, emotions, and feelings. This self-awareness allows the servant leader to understand personal biases and set them aside while making decisions. 4. Healing Servant-leaders recognize that they have an opportunity to help make whole those with whom they come in contact. They take an active role in promoting the mental and emotional strength of those in their organizations. 5. Conceptualization A servant leader can conceptualize or imagine future possibilities and reconcile them with current realities. This ability helps the leader visualize a bright future and take the necessary steps to get there.

6. Persuasive servant-leaders rely on persuasion rather than on one’s positional authority in making decisions within an organization. The servant-leader seeks to convince others rather than coerce compliance. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups. 7. Stewardship A servant leader acts as a steward for the organization’s resources. They assume complete responsibility for planning and managing all available resources for the betterment and prosperity of the organization, employees, and stakeholders. 8. Foresight Everything is connected – the past, the present, and the future. Servant leaders have an intuitive ability to predict what is likely to happen in the future, based on the past and the present. This foresight enables these leaders to plan ahead. 9. Community building Under a servant leader, people come together for a common purpose. They can create a feeling of belonging to something bigger than each individual and foster team spirit and a sense of community. Servant leaders also genuinely care for this community that they create. 10. Committed to the growth of others A servant leader takes it upon themselves to develop others. They are likely to help employees chart out a clear career path and provide them with resources to progress from one level to the next. Jesus is the first person to have presented the model of servant-leadership in the New Testament for his followers to adopt. His ministry was defined by his ability to be a servant leader whose passion for sinners' salvation and his compassion for the loss are unrivaled. Those who seek to be his disciple must prioritize service to others and his kingdom over any accomplishment or recognition.


Blessed Lord, please give us a Servant-Leader's heart so we can serve your people with the love of Christ.

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