Servant Leadership: Pathways

“Choosing Your New Testament Champions”

by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1:2
Following Biblical Patterns

Following biblical patterns of servant leadership is examined
not only from Old Testament champions, but from the New Testament as well.
Those selected for this article are “mere human” champions; the ideal leader
is Christ Himself, set out in a previous article (SL#53).
Who is your favorite New Testament personality? Remember: The following
“lessons” and “activities” apply equally both to this article and to SL#58
on Old Testament champions.

The New Testament gives a candid picture of many of its leaders–apostles, missionaries, pastors, deacons, and others. Some arose from within the church without formal position but with great contribution. We learn the pathways and patterns of servant leadership from them.

Leadership Lessons

  • Servant leadership is developed by choosing the right champions, by following the best models.
  • Champions from the New Testament clearly demonstrate a wide variety of characteristics, spiritual gifts, life situations, assigned tasks, and leadership styles.
  • Even the best of biblical champions also reveal flaws and failures. Learn from them.
  • Choose very carefully those you follow as contemporary champions for your life and leadership.

Choosing Your Champions

  • Study: Carefully review the lesson texts below. After each champion, write in your thoughts of the following questions and save your notes!
  • Reflect: How did God choose, prepare and utilize each servant as a leader? Does the biblical character remind you of someone or some situation you know?
  • Apply: What specific lesson will you add to your servant leadership practice? Which champion do you most resemble? Which do you want to be like?

  1. John the Baptist
    – Forerunner/Martyr:

    God called John the Baptist to pave the way for the Messiah. Living in the desert, an outsider to existing societal structures, John the Baptist preached of preparation, and baptized the people as a sign of spiritual cleansing for the coming Christ. Ultimately executed for his tenacious beliefs, John the Baptist’s leadership was determined and fearless. Reflection:
    • led from outside societal structures (Mark 1:3-4).
    • confronted the evils of his day (Luke 3:7).
    • suffered for his message (Luke 3:19-20).
    • proclaimed Jesus as Messiah (John 1:29).
    • humbly deferred to Jesus (John 3:30).

    • praised for greatness by Jesus (Matt. 11:11).

  2. Peter –

    A prominent leader in the earliest days of the Christian church, Peter–the big fisherman–was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. As a leader, Peter became a spokesman for the group, and for the cause of Christ. He was marked by an honest humanity, both beloved and aggrieved for his impulsiveness. Quick to question, quick to answer, quick to defend and sometimes quick to run, Peter was a leader made of honest action. Reflection:
    • called to be a fisher of men (Matt. 4:18-22).
    • confessed Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 16:16).
    • denied Jesus at the cross (Matt. 26:70).

    • spoke for Jesus’ cause at Pentecost (Acts 2:14).

  3. John – Apostle
    of Love

    A Galilee fisherman–turned disciple of Christ–John was known for his growth from a selfish man of ambition into a selfless model of love and kindness. John was ultimately a beloved disciple who became a gospel writer. Four other books of the Bible are also attributed to him. Reflection:
    • was among the first called from a common trade (Mark 1:19-20).
    • began as one of the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).
    • was in the inner circle of three (Mark 9:2).
    • sought a place of honor (Mark 10:35-37).

    • became the beloved disciple and gospel writer (John
      13:23-24; 21:24-25).

  4. Paul – Missionary/Strategist

    Born Saul of Tarsus, Paul was born and raised into orthodox Judaism, staunchly believing the Christian faith to be heretical. His famous conversion, on the road to Damascus, transformed Paul into a called Apostle, one of the most prominent missionary leaders in the first-century church. As a leader, Paul’s strategies were formed by a long-range vision of the growth of the church, as well as an articulate interpretation of the word of Christ. Reflection:
    • opposed the message and movement of Christ (Acts 7:59-8:1).
    • converted and called (Acts 9:15-19).
    • missionary to traveler, team leader (Acts 13:1-3; 15:36-41; 16:1-5).

    • apostle to the nations: “I must visit Rome also”
      (see Acts 19:21; 28:28-31).

  5. Barnabas – Encourager/Mentor

    An early mentor to Paul, Barnabas was an early, close associate and fellow missionary to the Gentiles. Acts 11:24 describes Barnabas as “a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (NIV). As a leader, Barnabus was an encourager and diligent conveyor of the Christian faith and proponent of the growth of its church. Reflection:
    • lived up to his name (Acts 4:36-37).
    • helped Paul on his spiritual search (Acts 9:19-31).
    • called out potential leaders (Acts 11:19-26).
    • responded to missionary assignments (Acts 13-14– see also 13:2-3).

    • stood up for a younger leader (Acts 15:36-41).

  6. Timothy – Companion/Co-worker

    Young friend of Paul and ultimately his fellow traveler and missionary, Timothy was a faithful and loyal servant despite his age. And although he is perceived as more of a follower than a leader, Timothy exhibited enormous confident, faithful work and companionship in the interest of the greater team and journey. Reflection:
    • continued in conversion and early development (2 Tim. 1:5-6; 3:14-15).
    • became Paul’s youthful co-worker (Acts 16:1-3).
    • was mentored extensively by Paul (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
    • was sent on major missions (1 Cor. 4:17).

    • was faithful to the end (2 Tim. 4:9-11).

  7. Lydia – Business

    A seller of purple garments in Philippi, Lydia is regarded as one of Paul’s first Philippian converts. A woman of some means, due to her garment-selling enterprises, Lydia offered her home to Paul and other missionaries in their ministry. As a leader, Lydia’s generous spirit was a model of Christian hospitality. Reflection:
    • followed the discipline of prayer (Acts 16:13).
    • was ready to believe and follow (Acts 16:14).
    • was successful in business (Acts 16:14).
    • practiced Christian hospitality (Acts 16:15).

    • supported the work of others (Acts 16:15).

  8. Priscilla
    – Team Member/Teacher

    A tentmaker, along with her husband Aquila, Priscilla
    met Paul in Corinth. They traveled with him to Ephesus, and continued
    to teach. Like Lydia, Priscilla hosted a church in her home, and was praised
    for her courage by Paul. Reflection:

    • member of a husband/wife team (Acts 18:2).

    • was tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:3).

    • worked with Paul (Acts 18:18).

    • instructed Apostles in the faith (Acts 18:25-26).

    • hosted a church in her home (1 Cor. 16:19).

    • took risks for the gospel (Romans 16:3-4)

Reflections Along the Journey:

  • What New Testament champion will you choose?

  • What contemporary model will you affirm?

  • Who will walk by your side in servant leadership?

  • How can you use biblical characters to mentor others?

  • Will you discern the positive–and the negative–lessons?

Close this window 

© 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd
Elder & Associates, Inc.

For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at

Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership