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Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology Scholarship: Darryl Jackson’s Challenge of ‘Servant Leaders’ Scholarship

Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology Scholarship: Darryl Jackson’s Challenge of ‘Servant Leaders’ Scholarship

Darrell Jackson, Senior Lecturer in Missiology at Morling College, Sydney, Australia (and former colleague of mine at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague), has published an article in line with my own thinking (albeit independently) on the problems with the language of leadership and servant-leadership that I would like to recommend.  It is entitled, ‘For the Son of Man Did Not Come to Lead, But to be Led: Matthew 20:20-28 and Royal Service.’[1]  The article offers three points that I would like to highlight.

First, Jackson helps us to identify the origin of the ‘servant-leadership’ discussion of Christian ministry.  Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990), a Quaker and a director of management research at AT&T who wrote in the 1960s and 1970s, is apparently the source of the idea of ‘servant-leadership.’  Jackson says that Greenleaf’s ‘understanding of servant leadership emerged intuitively whilst reading the novel Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse in which the leadership of a mythical group of pilgrims is finally revealed to have been in the hands of their servant, Leo. Hesse’s writings were heavily inspired by Buddhism and Greenleaf’s Quaker beliefs readily accommodated insights from Hesse.’

Jackson continues,

The attraction of Greenleaf’s work to practitioners and students of Christian leadership is obvious. He was comfortable with the language of spirituality and faith (albeit in a Quaker accent). Secondly, his attention to the servant nature of leadership resonates with Old Testament passages that make reference to the servant nature of the Messiah as well as to New Testament understandings of the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Thirdly, he was encouraged and invited to address his thinking directly to Christian organisations, including theological colleges and seminaries.’

Eventually, with Bishop Bennett Sims, Greenleaf established the Institute for Servant Leadership in North Carolina.

A second contribution that Jackson makes is his examination of a number of authors who have attempted to interpret Christian ministry in terms of servant leadership.  He examines how they differ and how they attempt to use Scripture for their theories.  Jackson helpfully points out the deficiencies in their hermeneutics and exegesis.

Jackson’s third contribution in his essay is a more focussed study of Mt. 20.20-28 (paralleled in Mk. 10.35-45).  With reference to Warren Carter’s Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001), Jackson examines the meaning of Mt. 20.20-28 as a critique of the power and authority witnessed in the Roman Empire.  This is helpful, although Matthew also articulates the problems of religious leadership in Israel (especially Mt. 23 and in the passion story).  Moreover, John the Baptist’s ministry involved a confrontation with Herod Antipas over divorce and remarriage that ended in John’s death.  Yet Jackson is, in my view, correct in his conclusion that ‘Humility and sacrificial service are not steps to greatness, they are greatness that is the hallmark of the Kingdom of God, of Jesus’ messianic rule.’  Again, Jackson says, ‘In referring to the Gentile rulers’ abuse of power (Mat 20:25), Jesus re-conceives status in the messianic community or kingdom (20:21) as bonded service (20:26).’ Jackson’s challenge of servant-leadership studies leads him to suggest understanding ministry in terms of ‘servantship’.

[1] Darrell Jackson, 'For the Son of Man Did Not Come to Lead but to be Led: Matthew 20:20-28 and Royal Service,' in Servantship: Sixteen Servants on the Four Movements of Radical Servanship,' ed. Graham Hill (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013).