Goodbye Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Rodrigo Duterte: Rejecting strongmen and their style of leadership
Recently, Donald Trump said he’d “be honored” to meet Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s bloodthirsty, brutal dictator. Trump called him a “pretty smart cookie,” who showed political ability at a young age.
Donald Trump has also praised Russian president Vladmir Putin, as a tough, smart political leader. After Putin ordered the Russian invasion of Crimea, Trump said: “You look at what he’s doing. And so smart. When you see the riots in a country because they’re hurting the Russians, OK, ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit.” In September 2015, Trump gave Putin an “A” for leadership. Trump said of Putin: “I will tell you that I think in terms of leadership, he is getting an A.”
Donald Trump has also invited the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House. This despite Duterte’s extrajudicial killing of more than 7,000 drug suspects.
Now, a lot of this might be clever politics. Donald Trump is a shrewd politician, who works all the angles, and is focused on “the art of the deal.” He’s doing what he does well.
But what do Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, and Rodrigo Duterte have in common? They are all strongmen. They are not all equal in brutality and violence; not by any means. But they are all equally strongmen. In fact, they stand in a long tradition of strongmen, with a natural affinity for each other and their shared way of exercising leadership.
How do strongmen lead?
They rule by force. They are obsessed with power, position, pragmatism, and politics. They elevate power over love, fear over compassion, position over character, pragmatism over ethics, personality over depth, and control over freedom.
But it isn’t only business and politics that encourage strongmen. The church knows it’s fair share of strongmen too.
The church’s strongmen build monuments to themselves. They rule their churches with force, manipulation, coercion, fear, and persuasion. They are fiercely pragmatic. And they compete constantly for power, position, legacy, and control.
It’s time to reject strongmen and their style of leadership. It’s time to embrace servant leadership, patterned after the life of Jesus Christ.
Imagine a different kind of leadership in church and society.
Imagine the impact of Christian leadership shaped around service, love, and self-sacrifice.
Imagine a leadership that didn’t see love and service as a means to an end, but as the end itself. Love isn’t a tool we use to get to a goal; it is the goal.
This servant leadership has no selfish ambition or vain conceit. It humbly esteems others above itself. It looks to the interests and needs of others.
Servant leadership cultivates the same attitude of mind as that of Christ Jesus. It doesn’t grasp after its own advantage. It embraces the desires and passion of God. And it allows God to fashion within it a fierce, resolute, courageous, self-reliquishing humility.
I am describing a leadership that seeks to witness to Christ Jesus, and experience intimacy with God and with others. This leadership depends on the power of the Holy Spirit. And it brings glory to God the Father. Picture the eternal legacy of Christian leadership shaped around the service of God. Serving God means wholeheartedly serving his mission and church and world.
Sometimes I call this servantship.
Here’s what I mean by servantship:
Servantship is following Jesus Christ, the servant Lord, and his mission. It’s a life of discipleship to him. It’s patterned after his self-emptying, humility, sacrifice, love, values, and mission. Servantship is humbly valuing others more than yourself. It’s looking out for the interests and wellbeing of others. Servantship is the cultivation of the same attitude of mind as that of Christ Jesus. It’s making yourself nothing. It’s being a servant and humbling yourself. And it’s submitting yourself to the will and purposes of the triune God. Since servantship is the imitation of Christ, it involves an unreserved participation in his mission. Servantship recognizes in word and thought and deed that Christian leaders are servants. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Hierarchical and domineering leadership is unbiblical. It pollutes and corrupts and erodes the church. It points away from Christ. And it degrades the church’s worship and ministry and fellowship and witness. Autocratic and ego-driven leadership never brings glory to God.
Servantship is the imitation of Jesus Christ. It is imitation through love and service. Servantship does not dismiss notions of leadership altogether. But it does evaluate and reshape these concepts. It examines and reconceives notions of power and authority and influence.
In Philippians 2:7, we read that Jesus “made himself nothing.” He “emptied himself.”
True Christian service is movement away from selfish ambition and pride and self-centeredness. Such service is movement toward the same attitude as that of Jesus Christ. It’s emptying oneself of pride, status, and control over others. It’s being a servant.
Why do Christian leaders embrace unbiblical, self-serving, or controlling models of leadership?
Sometimes they do this because of pride. And sometimes they do this because they’ve traded love for power, ethics for pragmatics, and service for position.
How do we move toward servantship?
By truly wanting to glorify Christ and not ourselves.
By exalting Jesus and humbling ourselves.
By rejecting self-seeking and self-serving and domineering forms of leadership.
By embracing the servanthood exemplified by Jesus Christ.
By reflecting theologically on Scripture, and embracing a new, biblical vision for leadership.
By meditating on passages like Philippians 2, and on the four Gospels, and then patterning our leadership after Christ’s servant leadership.
By putting our biblical observations and convictions into courageous, self-sacrificial practice.
Examining the biblical material, my friend and colleague Darrell Jackson forms a powerful conclusion.
“By redefining the concepts of greatness and status within the kingdom of God with reference to the hallmarks of service and humility, Jesus initiates a revolution of ruling and leadership. This is a vital insight for those who lead churches and Christian organizations… Far from the throne-rooms and boardrooms, the “scum” of the earth (1 Corinthians 4:13) are exercising a ministry of service and humility that is frequently regarded with contempt, is typically accompanied by sacrificial suffering, yet which is capable of a revolution on a cosmic scale, for it is a call to royal service in a kingdom against which the gates of Hades will not prevail (Matthew 16:18).”
This biblical servantship is revolutionary. It redefines ruling and status and leadership. It glorifies Jesus Christ.
Through poverty, tears, humility, righteousness, mercy, purity, peacemaking, suffering, love for enemies, and the service of all, servantship witnesses to the “kingdom of God among you.” (Matthew 5–7). And it joins in Jesus’ mission to heal and transform and redeem the world.
It’s time to reject the “strongman” form of leadership in church and society and, instead, embrace servantship.
Parts of this blog were taken from my book GlobalChurch. Order today from Amazon.com
Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.
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Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites, or in any other place, without written permission is prohibited.
 Some of this material was first published in Graham Hill, “The Theology and Practices of Self-Emptying, Missional Servantship,” in Servantship: Sixteen Servants on the Four Movements of Radical Servantship, ed. Graham Hill (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013). Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers, <http://www.wipfandstock.com>.
 Matthew 20:26–28.
 See the excellent treatment of servant leadership by Puerto Rican American theologian Efrian Agosto: Agosto, Servant Leadership.
 Jackson, “For the Son of Man Did Not Come to Lead, but to Be Led: Matthew 20:20–28 and Royal Service.” 30–31.