On the first Sunday of July, we entered into our new church home in the heart of the college town of Berkely, California ready to serve as the Discipleship/Young Adults (Professionals) Pastors. As we worked through the sanctuary door, we could see the Sunday teams preparing and setting up for church service, and that day they appeared to be short-handed. Like any other time, when we saw a ministry need, we put down our bags and headed to the front of the sanctuary to assist where we could. However, the response was, “No, pastor; we have it.” We were a little puzzled and did not quite understand because the need was there, yet they did not desire our help.
After this happened on several different occasions with different ministries over about three weeks, we discovered the presence of a high power distance culture, a traditional hierarchical culture in which the pastors were not to serve, but the members were to serve. Hence, we could not assist with set up because it was not the pastors’ position to do so.
We have seen this type of culture before, and we have seen the positive and negative effects of this culture in the church. Perplexed, we were not sure if this was communicated through leadership or if it is due to cultural background. However, we were sure we wanted to be different; for we believe in servant-leadership, that “we are here to serve and not to be served.” We want to always lead like Jesus.
Immediately, the thought came to mind, How do we help shift the culture? How can we understand and respect the culture, maintain honor while bringing life to the way of servant leadership? Simple enough…Lead by example.
Honor Those Who Lead
The concept of honor is biblical and applies to both leaders and followers. According to Romans 12:10, it is two-directional, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” One also shows honor with submission to those in authority, according to Hebrews 13:17. There is a thin line; however, between giving honor where honor is due and instilling fear to demand honor. Though it is one of reverence and not fear in our current context, we have seen fear prevalent in previous contexts. Unfortunately, the scriptures are even used to support their claims. One scripture, in particular, Romans 13:1-3, often found itself at the forefront.
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.
Ministry is collective work which each member of the body doing its part to help build the kingdom of God. We all have different positions in the body some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers. We are called together to build up people for the work of the Lord.
In cultures established with the superior and inferior statuses, it makes ministry through a servant-leadership paradigm more difficult. However, a leader that possesses a heart dedicated to commitment to growth, empathy, listening, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, and belonging to community has the potential to change the dynamics of said culture.
Research on servant leadership and power distance seems to confirm that Jesus’ form of leadership is appropriate to use in cultures across the world, contributing to outstanding leadership that is desirable to people all over the world.
Follow the Leader
Jesus, the epitome of a servant leader, performed two vital functions of leadership; 1) became a servant to minister and redeem man, and 2)equipped and trained His disciples as servant leaders. He chose to serve, to witness to, and train up and empowered people to complete the work He began. Jesus built relationships with the people and taught them the spirit of duplication in Servant leadership. He did not lead from a hierarchical position but walked and lived among the disciples and the disciples honored His position.
Following the lives of Peter and Paul, we find the same servant-leadership Jesus proposed to the disciples that cut through many cultural expectations and challenge the cultural norms of leadership in most cultural contexts. Their stories provide examples and teaching on how to lead the way of servant-leadership cross-culturally. Therefore, follow the prototype set of “Leading and Walking Out God’s Way” of leadership.
Servant leadership focuses on three practices:1) the humility and ethical use in power, 2) establishments of genuine leader-follower relationships and 3)creation of a positive and creative work environment conducive to camaraderie. Within ministry these practices properly placed can produce an abundance of innovative thinkers and future servant leaders of honor.
We have found a shifting taking place within the last month. We are leading freely alongside others and living life with them. The culture is becoming a low power distance in regards to leadership. However, we had to adjust and get into the uncomfortable position of going against the cultural norms. Though we are processing through some other cultural norms, we are hopeful because thus far the responses are favorable. It may be favorable because it is how God designed us the lead from the beginning.
As Christians, we are to boldly confront socially acceptable forms of power usage and leadership and to learn to lead as a servant. Jesus reminds us that the kingdom is real, that we will have a place in the kingdom, but for now we are to live as leaders who serve.
 Ephesian 4:11
 Debby Thomas, “Jesus’ Cross-Cultural Model of Leader as Servant in Luke 22: 24-30,” Theology of Leadership 1, no. 1 (2018): 72.
 Larry C. Spears, “The Understanding and Practice of Servant- Leadership,” Servant Leadership Roundtable (August 2005):1
 Ibid. Thomas. 68
 Dean Davey and Paul T Wong, “Best Practices in Servant Leadership – Regent University,” Servant Leadership Roundtable (July 2007): 3.
 Ibid. Thomas. 76
 Ibid. Davey.
 Ibid. Thomas. 77