Servant Leaders Build Teams

Leaders must involve others to reach a shared goal, and they fail when they put too much trust in their own efforts and those efforts alone…. You cannot lead unless others are just as moved by the vision and sense of mission as you are. And it’s up to you to create that vision/mission and bring those you lead into it with you.
Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership

God had a purpose for sending His son to earth—to demonstrate His great love for us! Jesus declared his goal from the very beginning of his ministry. This was his mission and is at the heart of all he did and said while with his followers on earth. His vision and mission lays the foundation for the shared goal imparted to the church.

16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18       The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
                        because the Lord has anointed me.
            He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
                        to proclaim release to the prisoners
                        and recovery of sight to the blind,
                        to liberate the oppressed,
19                and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Luke 4:16-21, CEB

At the heart of this passage is the reading from Isaiah (vv. 18-19) which acts as the definitive summary of the ministry of Christ on earth. Joel Green writes that this ministry is to the “poor” which is a description “for those of low status, for those excluded according to normal canons of status honor in [the] Mediterranean world.”[1] Thus, Christ’s and the Church’s primary mission is to the marginalized—those outside the normal boundaries of society. This perspective opens the gates for all people to be adopted into God’s family and brought into right relationship with the Father.[2] In 2 Corinthians, Paul summarizes and connects believers with this mission that Jesus declared very simply by stating that our shared goal is to reconcile people to God (2 Cor. 5:19).

Jesus made this bold declaration of global mission first to “the people of Nazareth who have congregated in the synagogue on this Sabbath” eagerly awaiting a messiah who will deliver them from foreign oppression.[3] At first, they receive this as good news for about their occupation under Roman rule (Luke 4:22). However, as Jesus begins to share more deeply of his vision with them in the following verses, and he illuminates that this invitation is being extended for those outside the Jewish faith and national community (Luke 4:26), their excitement turns to anger and violence(Luke 4:28-29).

Recruit Others

From the example Jesus models, we can see that the first function of team building is recruiting others to join the team. After his entry into public ministry, Jesus began to travel around preaching, teaching, healing, and casting out demons. The crowds following him continued to grow and he began to call out from the crowd individuals to directly follow him.

18 As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 20 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 21 Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and 22 immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22, CEB

Recruiting is an invitation to participate in mission together. It casts a vision for others that guides the mission and connects with where the person is. In the previous passage, we see that Jesus communicates his mission in a vision to which the fishermen could relate; he offers them the opportunity to join him in as he would “fish for people.” Jesus highlights “out that just as fishermen try to gather fish from the sea, his disciples too will be trying to gather together other individuals who are willing to follow Jesus in radical obedience.”[4]

As servant leaders, we must also learn to recruit others to join in the mission. We must be able to build a team; a “group of people bound together by a commitment to reach a shared goal.”[5] To do this, we must be able to clearly communicate a vision to others in a way that helps them connect with that vision. Vision gives a team purpose, and purpose drives teams to effective action to attain the goals. With shared vision, we gain a sense that we are doing something together and are able to pursue the goal and press forward in a way that multiplies our effectiveness—unity in action.

Raise Others Up

The second step in the team building process is one of preparation for achieving the vision. As servant leaders, we must prepare our teams for ministry and mission. We must impart  knowledge and understanding and answer the “why” and “how” questions they ask as they join us in moving toward the goals of the ministry. We become instructors, trainers, teachers, and mentors as we train and equip others on our teams.

After Jesus had called together his team, he took them with him on mission. They watched him perform miracles and heard him teach the crowds. For three years of his public ministry, Jesus had close and intimate relationship with his disciples—he modeled the mission. They went where he went; listened as he taught crowds, small groups, and individuals; and watched as he healed the sick, cast out demons, and performed many miracles.

Many times, Jesus spent dedicated time focused on preparing his disciples to carry on the mission after he was gone. Mark gives us insight into the process Jesus frequently used as he taught the crowds and then further equipped his disciples.

30 He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? 31 Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; 32 but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he continued to give them the word, as much as they were able to hear. 34 He spoke to them only in parables, then explained everything to his disciples when he was alone with them. Mark 4:30-34, CEB, emphasis added

This passage shows that Jesus would use parables to highlight a principle about the Kingdom of God. After he taught, he would further explain things to his disciples to provide deeper insight and bring them to a greater understanding of the things of the Kingdom. “In the school of Christ, none may move to advanced lessons till they mastered the elementary studies.”[6] Jesus regularly applied the facets of understanding (explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge) in his own teaching to equip his disciples to better steward, carry, and share Kingdom principles. This process Jesus used with his disciples brought them into fuller understanding of his message, mission, and purposes.

With this increased understanding and preparation also came added expectation and responsibility. It was not enough that they had the knowledge, they also had to apply what they were learning and what Jesus demonstrated for them. As a servant leader, recognize that understanding must lead to action. Knowledge without application is like faith without works—dead (Jas 2:17). James writes that blessings flow as we act on what we have learned.

25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do. James 1:25, CEB

Release Others

A key part of building teams is when servant leaders release (empower and send) those they have recruited and raised up to join in the ministry. Perhaps one of the best pictures of this process is the relay race. Each team member was recruited to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses to have the best chance of winning the race. They have trained together through many grueling hours of intense and focused practice all year long. Then the day of the big race arrives and they must run their portion ever prepared to transition, to pass the baton, to the next team member to complete their leg of the race. But without confidence in each other’s ability to fulfill their part, to successfully complete their part of the race, all you have is a group of uncoordinated (and often unsuccessful) individuals.

1Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. 2 He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. 3 He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. 4  Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 5 Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 6 They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. Luke 9:1-6, CEB

After Jesus had spent time with the twelve disciples, teaching and modeling his mission on earth, he sent them out to do the same things. In Luke 9:1 we see that when they had reached a certain point in their practice and preparation, Jesus gave them power to perform miracles (dunamis in the Greek), royal authority (ĕxŏusia in the Greek) over demons, and instructions for this specific task within the broader mission.[7] Yet, when they returned, they still did not fully grasp their roles or abilities in carrying the mission forward. Let’s follow the story a little further.

10 When the apostles returned, they described for Jesus what they had done. Taking them with him, Jesus withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds figured it out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about God’s kingdom, and healed those who were sick. 12 When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.” But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (They said this because about five thousand men were present.) Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” 15 They did so, and everyone was seated. 16 He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. Luke 9:10-17, CEB

When the disciples returned, they withdrew to Bethsaida to review things with Jesus. The crowds heard where they had gone and followed them. Jesus welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God and healed the sick, but when evening came there was no way to feed the crowds. The disciples, not realizing the significance of already being empowered and sent by Jesus, urged Jesus to send the crowds away. Jesus’ response was “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13).

Jesus knew they were capable, but the disciples had not yet fully grasped the extent to which they were able to do what Jesus did. So, again, Jesus demonstrated the mission and authority they had received from him already, he continued to teach them over the following season, and he sent them again (along with others) to practice and improve their ability to successfully complete the mission (see Luke 10:1-12, 17-24). All of this was continually in preparation for the time when Jesus would commission them a final time in Matthew 28:18-20 and turn over earthly responsibility for his mission before ascending to heaven.

As servant leaders we must realize that this process of releasing others, like with Jesus and the disciples, requires ever greater responsibility for our team members. It requires that we release responsibility for accomplishing the team’s goals in ever greater measure to those who walk with us and come after us. This step is the most challenging and involves the most risk to individuals and to the team as a whole. As you release power and authority to accomplish the mission and the responsibility to meet the goals, you take the risk that individuals may fail and goals may be unmet. However, you must see this risk as opportunity for it is in failure that we often learn our greatest lessons and in overcoming failure that we see our greatest successes. Servant leaders, and their teams become risk takers and innovators as they step into the callings, roles, and responsibilities for which they are prepared and empowered.

Final Thoughts

This article only scratches the surface of creating teams as a servant leader. What we looked at will get us started and set a firm foundation for expanding our teams and equipping others for mission. As we grow we can ask what our biggest obstacles are to recruiting, raising, and releasing others, and we look for ways to overcome in those areas. We can make a plan to equip others and prepare them to step into all God has for them. Finally, we can choose to enthusiastically take risk as we release others and help them learn to soar on their own. There are many techniques and tips available for building and sustaining healthy teams, and we can find them if we continually seek to grow as servant leaders. Be encouraged and choose the adventure of learning and continuing to grow and improve as the servant leader God desires each of us to become!

[1] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 211.
[2] Green, The Gospel of Luke, 211.
[3] Green, The Gospel of Luke, 213.
[4] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 91.
[5] Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership: Timeless Wisdom on Servant Leadership (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), Location 2728, Kindle Edition.
[6] R. Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 155–156.
[7] James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 24 and 30.


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