Servant Leaders Empower Others

This week we again focus on a servant leader’s responsibility to those they lead. Matthew 28:18-20 shows how Jesus commissioned that group of followers in whom he had invested. Jesus models empowering those He equipped and sending them with a commission to impact the world. No matter which field or endeavor in which you are engaged, as a servant leader you have the responsibility to release and send others to go farther than you could or maybe even thought possible.

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20, NASB

“When Jesus called the disciples to himself on the side of a hill and commissioned them to continue that mission, he was not abdicating his own responsibility for it—he was sharing that responsibility.”[1] Jesus invited his followers to cooperate with him in extending the influence of the Kingdom.[2] He empowered his followers by transferring his “royal power” and authority (Matt 28:18-19) to us so that we would be empowered to represent God to the world. This empowering is a shared responsibility for a calling, a vision, a mission. When we share responsibility, we release authority and power to accomplish the tasks involved.

As servant leaders, we must remember that “[r]esponsibility without authority disables rather than empowers followers.[3] We are charged to help others learn to partner with God through the filling, in-dwelling, and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Pastor Bob Sawvelle once said, “God is here with us, and He expects us to cooperate with his rule.”[4] As Christ imparted his responsibility and authority to us, we, as servant leaders, fill this same role wherever we are involved in ministry or any task.

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ Ephesians 4:11-12, NASB

We must remember that it was Christ himself who gave the gifts to the church so that it would be equipped to do what it was called and created to do. The Greek word is katartismon, meaning a “complete furnishing, a preparation or training that fully qualifies.”[5] “In essence, the Bible teaches that God places his gifts in the church with specifically gifted people who can prepare others for service and thus further the church’s mission.”[6] God didn’t leave the process to chance. He imparted gifts to the body so that we could not only be equipped (fully trained) but also empowered (fully qualified).

The final stage of empowering we must recognize and understand is the Holy Spirit. While Jesus was still with his followers after his resurrection, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-4). He promised them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them and that they would be witnesses to the whole earth (Acts 1:8). It was this essential ingredient that was the royal power behind the commission to make disciples!

The disciples were waiting in the Upper Room for the promise after Jesus ascended to heaven. They were unified (“with one mind”) in devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14) as they waited on the promise. Then, on Pentecost,  the room was filled with a mighty wind, tongues of fire rested on each person, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). This filling with the Holy Spirit sent them spilling into the streets where they were praising the Lord in every tongue imaginable (Acts 2:5-12) . When challenged by the crowd for being drunk, Peter stood up, and with great boldness, declared the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:13-36). It was this filling by the Holy Spirit which enabled Peter to preach with power and authority to the point that the peoples’ hearts were pierced, they repented, and the church grew by 3,000 (Acts 2:37-42)! It is the filling of his Spirit that brings his giftings and empowers all for the work of any ministry.

We can experience the anointing and filling of the Holy Spirit for power to minister in two ways. The disciples received the anointing of the Holy Spirit by waiting on God in prayer—we can receive His power and filling in the same manner.[7] Another way to receive (or give) the anointing is by the laying on of hands. “The writer of Hebrews clearly considers ‘the laying on of hands’ as so basic to the Christian life that he refers to it as foundational and as an elementary teaching of the apostolic Church” (see Heb 6:1-3).[8]

In the Old Testament, God directed Moses to gather seventy elders so he could take the “Spirit who is upon you [Moses], and will put Him upon them” (Num 11:17, NASB). While there is “no mention of Moses laying his hands on the elders…the concept of a transference of the anointing that is on one man to the others is clearly present.”[9] Moses also laid his hands on Joshua to commission him to lead the people after Moses’ own death (Deut 34:9).

In the New Testament, we see “laying on of hands” in several instances. It is done for ordination (Acts 6:6, Acts 13:1-3, and 1 Tim 4:14), for healing and blessing (Matt 19:13-15, Mk 5:23, Lk 4:40, and Acts 28:8-9), and for impartation (Acts 8:14-17, Acts 19:6, and 2 Tim 1:6).[10] These are not comprehensive examples of the Holy Spirit coming on people for impartation but are a sample of His work of filling believers with power for ministry.

“How are Christians supposed to carry out the gargantuan task of making disciples of all nations? There is only one way: by divine empowerment—by the power of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The gifts are not ornaments for the spiritual lives of a few special people, but are the God-given equipment that enables the Church to accomplish her mission.”[11] As servant leaders, we share our responsibility with others for the vision and mission, impart what we have received to those we serve, and depend utterly on the Holy Spirit to empower them for ministry.

This attitude and practice natural leads to the fruit of empowering and that is sending. Servant leaders do not raise others up filled with purpose and power without setting them loose upon the world. The expectation and implication of equipping and empowering is that we will do something with the training, understanding, commissioning, empowerment, and authority. When we look at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20, we see Jesus presenting this expectation with a clear call to action. “Jesus is passing the torch to his disciples, even as he promises to be with them forever—spiritually, not physically—to empower them for future mission.”[12] This call can be expressed in one phrase—”Go and make!”

While sending is important to the commission, this has been viewed off-center in some Christian circles. “To ‘make disciples of all nations’ does require many people to leave their homelands, but Jesus’ main focus remains on the task of all believers to duplicate themselves wherever they may be.”[13] The best understanding of our commission is that we are to make disciples as we go.

The “sending” aspect of ministry should be just another part of our lifestyle. The “disciples’ reactions to Jesus’ appearing and the words he speaks recall the awesome experience of those who met with God, and were sent out as his messengers with the assurance of his presence with them.”[14] Those who encountered God throughout Scripture were transformed to carry his authority to be representatives wherever they were directed. For some it was ministry right where they were, and for others it was to a faraway land. Regardless, the act of sending was a commission of carrying what was imparted so that it would impact wherever the person was.

As servant leaders, we must remember that sending looks like many things. It is listening to God’s voice and obeying. That may or may not include near or distant lands, thus we must carefully navigate what this looks like for those we lead. Patiently waiting on the Lord for His direction, and then stepping out boldly once heard, are aspects of “sending” one who has been equipped and empowered for ministry or service.

The development and growth of God’s call on a person’s life often begins right where you are. This is why it is important to hold this final piece in balance and trust for those you lead. You want to equip them and empower them into what they are called or led while avoiding the pitfall of discouraging or distracting those you lead. For these reasons it is extremely important to see yourself first as a servant to those you lead. If your concern is first for their benefit, then you will become a most effective leader who equips and empowers those they lead. By creating an environment from which they can grow and go, you are fostering a kingdom mindset that sees every event and location as opportunity to advance God’s Kingdom on earth!


[1] Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership: Timeless Wisdom on Servant Leadership (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), Location 2339, Kindle Edition.
[2] BobSawvelle, Bob. “The Gospel of the Kingdom.” Sermon, Passion Church, Tucson, AZ, November 14, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afDYw9fmeCs.
[3] Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership, Location 2346.
[4] Bob Sawvelle, “The Gospel of the Kingdom”.
[5] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
[6] Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership, Location 2400.
[7] Randy Clark and Bill Johnson. There Is More! : The Secret to Experiencing God’s Power to Change Your Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2013), 16.
[8] Clark and Johnson, There Is More!, 15.
[9] Clark and Johnson, There Is More!, 16.
[10] Clark and Johnson, There Is More!, 18-23.
[11] Randy Clark and Mary Healy, The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom. (Ada: Chosen Books, 2018), 67.
[12] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 431.
[13] Blomberg, Matthew, 431.
[14] R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 417.

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