Leadership or Servanthood?

Over the years I’ve read a lot of books on leadership, in the context of local church ministry. It’s to be expected as that’s the area I work in and the area that I want to grow in. But a lot of books try to walk the tightrope between being a leader and being a servant. This is a constant tension in Christian ministry. So, which one is it, are you a leader or a servant? How do we faithfully follow the example of Christ?

Leadership or Servanthood? Walking in the Steps of Jesus was written by Hwa Yung, bishop emeritus of the Methodist Church in Malaysia. In this book, Yung critiques the leadership style in churches which is borrowed from the secular world. The world focuses on growth, on being the top of your game, or creating a well structured and smooth running organisation. It’s easy for churches to adopt the same mindset. Not only is this unhelpful, but it is not what we’re called to in Scripture.

The first section of the book is a critique of certain church leadership style and the types of courses on leadership that are produced and them duplicated in other churches. Which I agree with the fundamental premise of the book, that a Christian leader is called serve and be a servant, I do think that Yung does throw the baby out with the bath water a little bit.

There are definitely things that we shouldn’t bring into the church from the secular world (competition, focus on numbers, etc.) but there are also things that we can bring in and would benefit many churches (strategic thinking, future planning, etc.). So whilst I hear the heartbeat of the book, I wonder if it isn’t as simple as the author portrays.

The vast majority of the book is taken up by looking at different Bible passages to help the reader reflect on their view of leadership and where it comes from, the Bible or the world. Yung’s insights are helpful touching on a whole host of topics such as sin, church hurt, pride, humility, identity, idolatry and more. I didn’t agree with everything the author said, or his theological conclusions, but that is to be expected.

One of the things that the author referenced, negatively, is the ‘obsession’ of church leaders to train leaders. Whilst I see the danger that he is pointing out, I don’t think he is taking into consideration the call to equip the saints. Some saints who are equipped and enabled to serve, as God has gifted them through the power of His Spirit, will naturally become leaders. It isn’t a bad thing, as long as the focus is on equipping the saint rather than simply creating another leader as if you’re playing a game of chess with the church down the road.

Whilst this wouldn’t be my go-to book on leadership it does have insights that a church leader would be good to reflect on and assess in their own lives and ministry. The book is worth a read, you can grab your own copy here directly from Langham Publishing.


HWA YUNG is bishop emeritus of the Methodist Church in Malaysia. Among his many roles, he has served as a pastor and bishop within the Methodist Church, and as principal of Malaysia Theological Seminary. He has also been involved with various international ministries, including as chair for the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies’ council of trustees and a member of the International Board of the Lausanne Movement.

*** I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not change the way I rate the book. My views are my own. ***

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