LEADERSHIP RESEARCH PAPER INSTRUCTIONS
Part 1 – Literature Review
• In this portion of the paper, you will conduct a literature review of the major studies of servant leadership. Note that every line in a literature review must be properly cited.
• You must cite 15 scholarly, peer-reviewed journals in addition to referencing all of the required reading.
• Based upon this literature review, you must develop the major criteria of servant leadership behavior.
• Though this is an individual assignment, you must include as part of your criteria a brief summary from your team’s Biblical Integration Project.
• This part is to be 2–3 pages, 12 pt. Times New Roman font, double-spaced, and in current APA format.
Part 2 – Leadership Interview
• You will interview an established servant leader.
• Interview your chosen leader based upon the following criteria:
o The leader must be from a large organization (e.g. Fortune 1000 company, national non-profit organization, branch of the armed services, or a mega-church with membership over 10,000).
o The selected leaders must have both rank (e.g. business: a division head or vice president; military: full colonel or navy captain (O-6 or above); ministry: executive or senior pastor of a mega-church) and command (e.g., he must have managerial authority. A high ranking accountant does not qualify. However, the director of the accounting department for the whole company may qualify).
o The selected interviewee may be active or retired.
o NOTE: for the purpose of diversity, Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church leaders are not eligible.
• You will develop your own set of questions for the interviewee based upon the literature review and whatever else you feel is appropriate from what you have learned in this course.
• Tips for the interview process:
o Identify yourself as a graduate student doing research and make it clear that you will take no more than 30 minutes of the executive’s time.
o Explain that you are in a leadership class and that you are learning about servant leadership.
o Tell your interviewee that you have identified him/her as a servant leader and that you want to find out a real executive’s perspective of servant leadership. Have a good reason (e.g. personal knowledge, an article you have read, testimony of subordinates, etc.).
o Be sure that you can contact your interviewee again if you need to ask follow-up questions or to thank the interviewee for his or her time.
• Provide a summary of the leader’s answers.
• Develop criteria which describe the leader’s perspective on servant leadership behavior.
• This part is to be 2–3 pages, 12 pt. Times New Roman font, and double-spaced.
Part 3 – Comparison/Contrast
• How does the leader’s criteria for servant leadership behavior compare to the criteria you discovered from the servant leadership academic research?
• How does it compare to the things you have learned about servant leadership from the group discussions?
• This part is to be 3–4 pages, 12 pt. Times New Roman font, and double-spaced.
• Total of 7–10 pages, not including the title page, abstract page, and reference page.
• Use of 15 scholarly sources plus the required reading and presentations.
• Appropriate use of citations to avoid plagiarism.
• Font is 12 pt. Times New Roman, double-spaced.
• Current APA format.
Submit the Leadership Research Paper through SafeAssign by 11:59 p.m. (ET) on Sunday of Module/Week 7.
The Greatest 1
Running head: THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT
The Greatest Commandment: The Foundation for Biblical Servant Leadership
Dr. David G. Duby
The Greatest 2
The Greatest Commandment: The Foundation for Biblical Servant Leadership
“The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that
one wants to serve, to serve first.” (Greenleaf, 1977, p. 13).
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to
give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NASB).
In 1977, Robert Greenleaf published his reflections on his journey into the nature
of power and greatness. Greenleaf’s reflections presented a rather optimistic model of
leadership that he believed could be achieved—that leaders, through their service, could
legitimize their power and help build a serving society. Yet to do so, leaders had to model
principles that, at least at the outset, seemed counterintuitive to many peoples’ concept of
leadership. These principles emanated from a desire to serve which, according to
Greenleaf, was inherent in the leader. For Greenleaf, “the servant-leader is servant
first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve” (Greenleaf, 1977, p. 13).
For Christians, the concept of serving others—even from a leadership position—
is not new. Jesus called us to serve (Matt. 20:26, John 12:26), demonstrated service
(Matt. 20:28, Phil. 2:7, John 13:3-17) and reminds us of God’s command to serve (Luke
4:8). The Bible is replete with examples of leaders who sought to serve others (e.g.
Joseph, Moses, Peter, and Paul). Thus it is not difficult to see why the concept of servant
leadership continues to resonate with Christian leaders today. What may be more difficult
is for believers to remember the importance of who is to be the primary recipient of our
service. For Greenleaf, the call to “serve first” assumes service to others, the people the
leader leads, and proceeds from his naturalistic worldview. Christians rooted in the
Biblical worldview, however, must understand that the Greatest Commandment outlines
The Greatest 3
the order of our service—that order being God first, then others. This paper will examine
how the Greatest Commandment serves as the foundation for demonstrating Biblical
The Christian and Servant Leadership
Even as Greenleaf defined the servant leader as one who has a desire to serve, to
“serve first,” he knew that the words serve and lead were overused and even carried
negative connotations (1977). With the recent proliferation of the concept of servant
leadership in academia, the marketplace, and the church, perhaps the phrase itself is
overused and, if not a negative term, is one whose meaning is suspect. Yet as Greenleaf
noted, though the words serve and lead were overused, they are nonetheless good words.
Thus, although the phrase servant leadership may be overused—or wrongly used—the
phrase is nonetheless a good phrase since it identifies a concept that is good and Biblical.
Biblical servant leadership is good since it espouses a crucial concept for
Christians who would lead—that leadership and service are not separate and
contradictory terms, but are two sides of the same coin. Blanchard & Hodges
(2005) posit, “Servant leadership is a concrete expression of a daily commitment
to live out the Word of God and the will of God and thereby advance the kingdom
of God” (p. 194). For Blanchard and Hodges, servant leadership is not an option;
it is a mandate for the believer.
The earliest call for believers to both lead and serve can be traced back to the first
chapter of Genesis. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man in His own image, in the
image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (NASB). As imagebearers
of God, Adam and Eve were then given a command: “Be fruitful and multiply,
The Greatest 4
and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the
sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
These two verses relate profound truth for Christians called to lead. Finch (2007)
believes that Genesis 1:27 carries the implicit message to serve others, since serving
others “is the only response commensurate with God’s work in creation, in which God
imprinted the divine image on Eve and Adam and, through them, on every human being”
(p. 204). This understanding—that we are all image-bearers of God—is critical to rightly
implementing the command of Genesis 1:28, in which Adam and Eve were told to rule
over the earth that God created.
Stevens (2006) observes that by this command to rule, Adam and Eve were given
the role of stewards who had “the wonderful role of representing the absent monarch’s
interests” (p. 6). As stewards, followers of God act as trustees that are to develop and to
serve the “unfolding kingdom” of creation (Roels, 1990, p. 27). Further, Roels contends
that if one believes that his or her business plays an important role in God’s kingdom,
then an important concern is to best determine how to be God’s steward in such business
endeavors. This concern leads many to search for the best ways to both serve and lead in
their business, and thus the continued allure of servant leadership as the biblical answer
to fulfilling the role of a steward.
Stevens (2006) calls the Genesis mandate to both serve and lead the cultural
commission of God that, like the Great Commission of Christ, is incumbent upon all
believers to undertake (p. 82). But does this call necessarily equal a call to servant
leadership? Though Finch (2007) observed that servant leadership resonates with people
who are not necessarily connected to any religious tradition (p. 203), Reinke (2004)
The Greatest 5
posits that servant leadership is “highly consistent with Judeo-Christian philosophical
traditions and teachings” (p. 34). Yet Chewning (2000) cautions against assuming a
biblical call for such a paradigm, suggesting instead that the Christian should focus on the
aspect of service rather than leadership. “Christ did not come to mentor leadership…He
came to serve, not to be served” (p. 15). Niewold (2007) also warns Christians against
uncritically adopting Greenleaf’s version of servant leadership. “Here is a Christianized
humanism suited to the modern autonomous self unfamiliar with, and even hostile to,
such essential soteriological categories as transcendent holiness, sin, personal moral
corruption, repentance, conversion, and even mission dei” (p. 126).
Interestingly, when Greenleaf first published his thoughts on servant leadership,
he understood that its central tenets were at best counterintuitive and must weather
inevitable criticism. He wrote, “Criticism has its place, but as a total preoccupation it is
sterile…if too many potential builders are taken in by a complete absorption with
dissecting the wrong and by a zeal for instant perfection , then the movement so many of
us want to see will be set back” (1996, p. 11). Yet he also understood the need for his
ideas to be analyzed and expounded upon as new information became available and new
analysis conducted. Far more than just adopting contemporary theory on a particular
leadership practice, the Christian in business must take all such theories captive to the
obedience of Christ and see if such ideas are good, virtuous ideas (II Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8).
With this in mind, let’s begin with the very foundation of Greenleaf’s servant
leadership—that the “servant-leader is servant first” (1977, p. 13). Few Christians would
argue that Christians are not called to serve—this was the very essence of Christ, and
again relates to the powerful attractions to Greenleaf’s central tenet that the servant-
The Greatest 6
leader is to serve. For Christians, the issue is not service, but who is to be the foremost
recipient of our service as stewards of God. Despite Greenleaf’s definition, the call to
serve others is not the foundational call of the Christian servant leader. The foundational
call for Christians is to serve God first.
Seeking the Kingdom: The Greatest Commandment
Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things
will be added to you” (Matt. 6 33). Jesus spent the entirety of his public ministry teaching
and showing the way of the kingdom while living the righteousness of God. Thus the
exhortation to seek the Father’s kingdom first is exemplified in the life of Christ in word
and deed. For Jesus, seeking the kingdom was not merely living a moral life of perceived
holiness before God—think of his stinging rebukes of the Pharisees. Seeking the
kingdom was first and foremost submission to his Father’s will, a will that included
obedience unto death, “even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
It is worth noting that there were times when Jesus seemingly refused service to
others in order to be obedient to the Father. Jesus delayed his healing of Lazarus so that
God would be glorified (John 11). Jesus withdrew himself from the crowds to be alone
with the Father (Luke 5:16). Jesus refused those who would proclaim him political
messiah so that he could become their spiritual Messiah—just as the Father had required
(John 6:15). In short, Jesus was a servant to his Father first in order to better serve those
he came to save. Scripture reinforces this idea for believers who seek to be servant
leaders—our service to others is complete when it is first and foremost rooted in loving
service to God.
The Greatest 7
A lawyer, well versed in matters of covenant and Mosaic law, once asked Jesus a
question: “Which is the greatest commandment?” (Matt. 22:36). His question hearkened
back to the teachings of Deuteronomy—a book Jesus knew quite well. Jesus readily
answered, “To love the Lord with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your
mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). Then Jesus added,
“And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. In these rest all of
the law” (Matt. 22:39). This was life in the kingdom of God. This is what it meant to seek
the kingdom first. Love God, then love each other. Scripture gives us numerous examples
of how we demonstrate our love for God. Deuteronomy 10:12 states we are to “love Him,
and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Here, love is
couched in service. Deuteronomy 11:1 adds that when we love God, we will keep His
charge, His statues, His ordinances, and His commandments. And His command is that
we love and serve others. This is how we show the Father we love Him—by keeping
these commands (John 14:21, 23). Love and serve God first to better love and serve each
other. It is by being rooted in this truth—and understanding the critical order in which
Jesus encapsulated the commandments of God—that our service to others can be blessed
Again, Jesus lived and modeled the truth he taught. He is the perfect role model of
servant leadership (Blanchard & Hodges, 2005). Stevens (2006), for example, noted that
although one of Jesus’ messianic titles is “the servant,” his service was rooted in his
obedience to the will of the Father (p. 52). Similarly, Stark (2005) posits that everything
Jesus did related to what the Father was doing, that Jesus’ activity flowed as the Father
directed. This is Biblical servant leadership. As Borek, Lovett, & Towns (2005) remind
The Greatest 8
us, “Jesus both taught and modeled the principles of servant leadership throughout His
public ministry and private mentoring” (p. 210).
Thus Jesus serves as the consummate example of the Greatest Commandment
displayed in its purest form. He understood the importance of the Greatest
Commandment when, faced with the agony of the cross, he prayed, “Nevertheless, not
my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus served the Father first, and through this
selfless act of placing himself fully in the Father’s will came the most unimaginably
powerful act of service to others—redemption. So the ministry of Jesus was fulfilled by
living the Greatest Commandment and was far more that just service to others—it was
first and foremost service to God and his purposes (Stevens, 2006).
Other Biblical figures relate this important truth. Moses, for example, can be
rightly viewed as one of history’s godliest servant leaders. But his life was not always
marked by such humble service to God. Consider Moses’ role in delivering the children
of Israel from Egyptian bondage. The events that led to his leadership role were sparked
by Moses’ slaying of an Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:11). Acts chapter 7 provides a
rich context to better understand the actions of Moses when he killed this Egyptian. We
often view Moses’ action as the reactive, violent response of a Hebrew defending his
enslaved countryman. But the author of Acts states that Moses “supposed his brethren
would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they
understood not” (Acts 7:25). Moses was beginning to assume the mantle of leadership
and, at least in his eyes, to serve his brethren by initiating deliverance. The only problem
was that Moses’ initial plan for serving the Hebrews was not rooted in the Greatest
The Greatest 9
Commandment. Once it was, Israel received her deliverance—not by the natural hand of
Moses but by the supernatural hand of Moses’ God.
Sometimes loving and serving God first might seem counterproductive to the
command to love and serve others. For instance, when faced with a royal command to
pray only to Cyrus, the prophet Daniel chose to continue his prayer time with God. The
consequence of his decision was terrible—Daniel was sentenced to death. For the Jews
living in Babylon, Daniel’s fate not only meant the death of a fellow Hebrew, it also
meant that their small displaced community would lose a high-ranking member’s position
of influence. Servant leadership absent the Greatest Commandment might surmise that
the best way to serve others would be to retain one’s position of power by adapting to the
king’s edict. Such an action, however, would forego God’s miraculous deliverance of
Daniel—an act which moved the great Persian king to proclaim Daniel’s God the “living
God” and ensured that the Jews were free to worship Him (Daniel 6:25-27).
Thus, once a person demonstrates the love demanded by the Greatest
Commandment, service to others can then be truly understood. As Rahner (1983) stated,
“The human being attains his or her fulfillment in one single, total act of his or her
existence: in the love of God for his own sake” (p. 70). Rahner also noted that love of
God and neighbor were in a type of mutual relationship, that love of one’s neighbor was
an achievement of obeying the Greatest Commandment. Serving others demonstrates our
love for others, yet our love for others must first emanate from our total and preeminent
love for God.
Loving God Sustains our Service for Others
The Greatest 10
Greenleaf (1996) believes that the average person faces a dilemma when facing a
decision that has ethical implications. The dilemma is not that the person lacks an ethical
code or desire to make the moral choice, but rather that the person lacks the strength
required for such a choice. Greenleaf defines strength as “the ability to see enough
choices of aims, to choose the right aim, and to pursue that aim responsibly over a long
period of time” (p. 27). Thus strength is the ability to not only choose the right thing; it is
also the ability to see that choice through.
Servant leadership that is rooted in a deep and genuine love for God provides the
wisdom and strength needed to give our lives in service to others. Leadership can be an
emotionally draining and physically exhausting work. Working with fallen people in a
fallen world can create difficulties that weary the heart. The psalmist noted, “My flesh
and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”
(Psalm 73: 26). Strength of heart is not provided in service to others—it comes only from
the Lord and provides the strength needed to endure while practicing true servant
Drawing upon the leadership of Nehemiah, Boice (1996) noted that while some
Christian leaders put their relationships with others first, the first priority of Nehemiah
was to serve the Lord and seek Him in prayer. Boice believed Nehemiah sought God first
since only God “could accomplish what needed to be accomplished” (p. 202). In our roles
as servant leaders, our objectives can sometimes seem no less daunting. As we seek to
advance the kingdom in the midst of a subjective and relative culture, we too need the
strength of God to accomplish His work. God is not only the strength of our hearts; he is
also the strength of our hands. Nehemiah prayed, “For they all made us afraid, saying,
The Greatest 11
Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God,
strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 9:6). Thus seeking the Father first provides the strength
needed to effectively serve, strength that not only encourages the heart, but also sustains
our service to others.
This discussion began with Greenleaf’s notion that a servant leader “is servant
first” (1977, p. 13). Though Greenleaf based his theory on naturalistic assumptions, the
basic tenet of leading by serving is rightfully significant to Christians who are
commanded to be stewards and serve the image-bearers of God. However, Christians
must understand who is to be the primary recipient of their devotion and service. For
Christians, service is first and foremost given to God, and is rooted in loving fulfillment
of the Greatest Commandment. Jesus modeled this critical truth, and other Biblical
figures reinforce this important order. Through obedience to the order of the Greatest
Commandment, Christians can look to the Lord to provide the strength needed to
lovingly serve others and demonstrate true Biblical servant leadership.
The Greatest 12
Blanchard, K. & Hodges, P. (2006). Lead like Jesus: Lessons from the greatest
leadership role model of all time. United States: W. Publishing Group.
Boice, J. M. (1996). Foundations of God’s city: Christians in a crumbling culture.
Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Borek, J., Lovett, D., & Towns, E. (2005). The good book on leadership: Case studies
from the Bible. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.
Chewning, R. C. (2000). Leadership’s role in servanthood. Baylor Business Review,
Finch, K. P. (2007). The image of God, servant-leadership and forgiveness. The
International Journal of Servant Leadership, 203-205.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate
power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1996). On becoming a servant leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Niewold, J. (2007). Beyond servant leadership. Journal of Biblical Perspective in
Leadership, 1(2), 118-134.
Rahner, K. (1983). The love of Jesus and the love of neighbor. New York: Crossroad.
Reinke, S. J. (2004). Service before self: Towards a theory of servant-leadership. Global
Virtue Ethics Review, 5(3), 30-57.
Roels, S. J. (1990). Christians and academic life. Occasional Papers from Calvin
College, 8(1), 27-37.
Stark, D. (2005). Christ-based leadership: Applying the Bible and today’s best leadership
models to become an effective leader. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.
The Greatest 13
Stevens, R. P. (2006). Doing God’s business: Meaning and motivation for the
marketplace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.