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The Greatest Is the Servant of all: Servant Leadership, Biblical perspectives and Hans Nielsen Hauge



Leadership as service to others seems to be implied in the Biblical texts analysed in this article, especially the primary text in the gospel of Matthew 20:20-28. Both through examples from his writings and the way he lived, we will explore whether it is possible to see traces of this approach to leadership in the life of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824) and the movement he was leading. By exploring aspects of leadership as emphasised in relevant biblical texts, and their cultural and historical background, this will be explored and discussed in this article. In earlier studies, Hans Nielsen Hauge has been characterised as a charismatic leader. In this article we will explore whether he can be described as a servant leader. The purpose is not to conclude in these matters, but rather to point towards its possibility and gain a deeper understanding of the biblical perspective of leadership and servanthood as expressed in our exegesis of Matt. 20:20-28, as relevant background information in this regard.
e Greatest Is the Servant of all
Servant Leadership, Biblical perspectives
and Hans Nielsen Hauge
T L
Leadership as service to others seems to be implied in the Biblical texts analysed in this article,
especially the primary text in the gospel of Matthew 20:20–28. Both through examples from his
writings and the way he lived, we will explore whether it is possible to see traces of this approach
to leadership in the life of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771–1824) and the movement he was leading.
By exploring aspects of leadership as emphasised in relevant biblical texts, and their cultural and
historical background, this will be explored and discussed in this article. In earlier studies, Hans
Nielsen Hauge has been characterised as a charismatic leader. In this article we will explore
whether he can be described as a servant leader. e purpose is not to conclude in these matters,
but rather to point towards its possibility and gain a deeper understanding of the biblical per-
spective of leadership and servanthood as expressed in our exegesis of Matt. 20:20–28, as relevant
background information in this regard.
Keywords: Servant leadership, Calling, Employee welfare, Personal development, Stewardship, and Servanthood.
JEL Classifications: M12, N33, O15, Z12
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In this study, we will try to understand some of the aspects that influenced Hans Nielsen
Hauge’s approach of leadership, especially those related to the metaphor of servanthood
and service. Firstly, this will be explored by analysing how servanthood, or the role of a
servant, is used as a metaphor and model for leadership primarily in the New Testament
text Matthew 20:20–28. Also, relevant background information regarding the analysed Bib-
lical texts will be presented, together with a textual analysis or exegesis of the text in Matt.
20:20–28. Furthermore, we will look at how this concept is understood in contemporary
leadership theory. is will serve as a theoretical foundation. Finally, we will try to gain a
deeper understanding of Hauge’s approach to and understanding of leadership by looking at
both what he said about this topic and the way he was leading the movement he founded.
Several studies point to Jesus Christ as an example of servant leadership, both through his
actions and his teaching about this, especially in Matt. 20:20–28 (Akuchie 1993; Sanjaya
and Sarros 2002). Here service to others seems to be implied as a basic and foundational
understanding of leadership. As a man who knew the Scriptures, Hauge would know these
principles, as they apply to areas like leadership and business. is can be illustrated by his
statement in the book of Grund-Regler, where Hauge says, quoting the words of Jesus in
Matt. 20:26, that, “e greatest is the servant of all” (Ording 1947, p. 186 translation).
Also, Hauge and his followers were part of a broader international trend. Other international
groups, like the Puritans in the UK and USA and the pietists in Germany had similar values
and a “Protestant work ethic” as Hauge and his followers in Norway (Grytten and Minde,
2019, p. 246; (Grytten 2013; Ravnåsen 2015, pp. 23–24; Sejersted 2002, pp. 28–32). is
would include a perspective of work as a calling, and the importance of stewardship and service.
By examining the biblical material included in this article, we are not trying to explain
or predict how Hauge would have analysed it or claim that he would necessarily agree with
our analysis or conclusions. However, we know that Hauge was a man deeply committed
to obeying and following the Scriptures, including the call to servanthood explored here.
As we are trying to better understand his approach to leadership, the reference to Matt.
20:26, mentioned above, is relevant and will be our starting point for trying to understand
how Hauge saw the concept of service and how it relates to leadership.
Leadership and Servant Leadership
To date, there is no agreement among leadership scholars about a single definition of leader-
ship. However, the definitions of famous leadership experts like Yukl (2018) and Northouse
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(2018) are often referred to as a point of reference. According to Yukl (2018), leadership is
defined as “the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to
be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to
accomplish shared objectives”. Similarly, Northouse (2018) defines it as “a process whereby
an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” However, cor-
porate scandals like Enron, Fannie Mae, and Tyco have played an important role in the
increased interest in leadership theories that go beyond the above- mentioned definitions and
include ethical considerations and behavior. Although theories like authentic leadership and
ethical leadership seek to integrate ethics and leadership, servant leadership seems to be the
most promising among those theories in the current research in this field (Hoch et al 2018).
In modern leadership and management literature, Robert Greenleaf (1970; 1977) is con-
sidered the primary architect of the leadership theory called servant leadership. He describes
a leader who is, first and foremost, dedicated to serving others (1970, p. 13). e theory has
since gained support both among practitioners, especially by leaders in the business world,
and later among leadership scholars. Spears (2010) has identified 10 characteristics of serving
leaders: “listening, empathetic, healing, giving attention, persuasiveness, conceptualisation,
foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and community building.
According to Parris and Peachey (2012, p. 379), serving leaders are both primarily motivated
to serve and have a leadership identity rooted in this perspective.
Servant leadership is a holistic approach to leadership. It is based on understanding that
part of an organisation’s role in society is to develop people who can contribute to a better
world (Parris and Peachey 2012, p. 378). Serving leaders see themselves as stewards of the
organisations they lead. Eva et al. (2018) divide the research on servant leadership into three
distinct phases. Firstly, a development of the concept with a focus on the work done by
Greenleaf (1977) and Spears (1996). en the second phase, where various measurement
tools were developed for servant leadership, and studies showed how this form of leadership
affected organisations.
e last phase, which we are experiencing now, is characterised by more sophisticated
research design and holistic model development, instead of just looking at simple causal
relationships. In this phase, just during the last few years, a number of different studies
and articles have been published, including two meta-studies, contributing to an increased
understanding of the topic. us, it has, among other things, signalled the need to work on
developing an organisational culture characterised by servant leadership (Eva 2018). In one
sense, this could be understood as re-emphasising the basic idea in this concept: A servant
leader is concerned that those she leads develop and grow, as well as building healthy and
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strong organisations that serve both their many different stakeholders and society as a whole
(Greenleaf 1977; Supphellen and Liland 2017, p. 130).
Servant leadership has over time, and through the above-mentioned phases, been more
clearly defined, at least from an academic perspective and different measures of this lead-
ership theory has also been developed. us, the following definition of servant leadership
has been offered by Eva et al. (2018):
“Servant leadership is an (1) other-oriented approach to leadership (2) manifested through one-on-one
prioritising of follower individual needs and interests, (3) and outward re-orienting of their concern for self
towards concern for others within the organisation and the larger community”
(Eva 2018, p. 4).
According to the authors, this definition has three features that describe the major compo-
nents of servant leadership, that is, its motive, mode, and mindset (Eva 2018, p. 4). e
motive of servant leadership is closely connected to Greenleafs description of the leader as
primarily committed to serving others (1970, p. 13). Here this is conveyed as having an
“other-oriented approach to leadership”, which is quite different from having self-orienta-
tion as one’s approach to leadership. is resolve to serve others must not be confused with
being soft, or even weak, as a leader, but “…requires a strong sense of self, character, and
psychological maturity.” (Eva 2018, p. 4). Next, the mode of servant leadership refers to
the “one-on-one prioritising of follower individual needs and interests” from the definition
above. is is based on the realisation that every follower has a set of unique needs, desires,
goals, etc., and that they therefore must be treated differently.
e servant leader is actively seeking to understand their followers, their values, assump-
tions, worldview, etc., in order to promote their growth and well-being. According to Eva et
al. (2018), these leaders act as stewards, who see their followers as someone they have been
entrusted to help them develop to become better versions of themselves. Finally, the mindset
of servant leadership is in the definition described as “outward re-orienting of their concern
for self towards concern for others within the organisation and the larger community”. e
servant leader is thus thinking as a trustee, and the development of the followers are con-
nected to a larger picture, that is, to the organisation and the larger community. is is also
connected to the stewardship role of leadership, and the leader is both entrusted to care for
the followers, their growth, and to help them move from a self-serving to an others-serving
perspective and orientation. ese three features or aspects of servant leadership are not
meant to serve as a way to measure it, but it can help to conceptualise this approach to
leadership. In our study, we will apply them to the life and work of Hans Nielsen Hauge,
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together with the analysis of the biblical material, especially Matt. 20:20–28, to explore if
servant leadership theory can help us better understand him as a leader.
Leadership in the Bible – initial reflections
Obviously, the Scriptures are not primarily dealing with issues related to leadership and
management. However, biblical figures like Joseph, King David and Daniel were leaders and
served in leadership roles among the people of God, both in the Old and New Testament.
e character of such leaders are described in passages/ Scriptures, like 2. Tim. 3:1–7 and
Tit. 1:5–9. Clinton (1993, p. 12) argues that there are different approaches to how one can
understand and learn more about leadership in the Scriptures, i.e., through biographical
studies of leaders like Moses, Abraham, and Paul, acts of leadership, instructions given to
leaders (e.g., 1. Pet. 5:1–5), and by studying topics related to leadership, like stewardship.
Different important roles in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, like those of the
king, priest, and prophet involved aspects of leadership, influence and being a role model.
Jesus was undoubtedly a leader. Wright (1996, p. 168–70) uses the term “leadership
prophet,” based on Webb (1991), to describe Jesus’ ministry. He gathered a band of disci-
ples, or followers, around himself, went from village to village as he gained support, and
assembled occasionally large crowds of people in the wilderness and other remote places
(cf. Matthew 14:15–21; Mark 6:35–44 and Luke 9:12–17). Jesus is portrayed as the per-
fect model for every area of the Christian life, including both servanthood and leadership.
Regarding the latter, it is important to bear in mind that Jesus is not only described as
one who acted as a servant. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus actually became a servant
(Philippians 2:7–8), who was not living for himself, but as one who sought to minister to
the needs of others (Cedar 1987, p. 84). us, it appears that we are exploring something
that goes beyond acts of servanthood, and perhaps even includes the identity and intrinsic
motivation of leaders.
Echoes of Servant Leadership in the Hebrew Bible
Although the primary imagery Jesus is drawing on in our primary text in the Gospel of
Matthew, chapter 20, seems to be slavery in the first century within the Greco-Roman world,
this does not negate the possibility of any Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, influence, or
“echoes,” that can help us understand the text better. We will look at two such “echoes”; the
ideal Israelite king, especially as he is described in Deuteronomy 17, but also a few examples
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of such ideal kings, and the mysterious figure that emerges through the last chapters of the
prophet Isaiah; the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 42–53).
e Ideal King as a Servant
Contrary to the general idea in the ancient world, it seems quite clear that the Israelites did
not believe that their king was divine (de Vaux 1997, pp. 111–113). For the view that Israel
too believed their kings were divine, see Mowinckel (1956, pp. 60–63). Although there is
some evidence that indicates that the king could be viewed as an adopted son of Yahweh
(Psalms 2:7 and 110), this is a very different concept than that of many other nations, where
the kings were worshiped as gods or demigods and had absolute power. e concept of
“shared leadership” between the king, prophet and priest that emerged through the history
of Israel, at least to a certain extent, provided some checks and balances that regulated the
power of the monarch. In one sense we can argue that the Israelite king could be designated
as a servant to the people, as indicated in the wise, but rejected, advice to king Rehoboam
from his older advisors (1 Kings 12:7), and in the description of David’s own understanding
of why he had become king and why Yahweh had exalted his kingdom; “for the sake of his
people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:12).
Moreover, the idea of the king as a defender and deliverer of the poor and oppressed (e.g.,
Psalm 72:1–4, 12–14) clearly states that he is not only supposed to use his power for his own
good, but also to help and serve his people, especially the poor and needy. Similarly, Samuel’s
reference of Saul as once being “small in his own eyes” (1 Sam 15:15) could very well be
describing a humble attitude, often encouraged in the Hebrew Scriptures, that Israel’s first
monarch once had and thus portrayed a view of himself, as not being superior to his fellow
countrymen. If so, it is in stark contrast to the pride he later developed, and thus could be
viewed as an ideal mentality the king is supposed to exhibit. is does not, however, mean
that Israel’s monarchy was perfect nor that it never followed some of the same patterns as its
neighbours. However, it does highlight some important differences in how the role of the
king was understood in Israel, and what was expected of the king in terms of his character
and behaviour. To explore this further, we will briefly analyse the passage in Deuteronomy
17:14–20, where different regulations regarding the Israelite king are stated. For the purpose
of this study, we will focus on the issues that are most relevant to the idea of servanthood.
Because the text in Deuteronomy 17 refers to a king, critical scholars often claim that this
speaks in favour of a late monarchical date for Deuteronomy (Nicholson 1967, p. 80–81).
is has, however, been refuted convincingly by Merrill (2001, p. 263–264). Even though
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the word could be used for leaders in general, it is interesting that mele, which is frequently
used for “king” in the Hebrew Bible, is used even as early as the patriarchal times (cf. Gen
17:6; 16; 35:11). Because mele was such a common word, and could refer to rulers in
general, we do need to exert caution in designating this passage as predictive. However, we
can say that it together with the texts from Genesis referred to above, probably anticipated
an institution similar to the kingship of other nations. Furthermore, as we will see below,
the text actually sets limitations to what the king can and cannot do, and it has some quite
remarkable instructions regarding his relationship to the Law and his people.
After stating that the king has to be chosen by Yahweh, and that the Israelites are prohib-
ited from taking a foreign king in verse 15, the author now describes, “ree rules [that] are
laid down for the king himself in vv. 16–20.” (Keil and Delitzsch 2002, p. 929). However, it
seems more natural to divide them into four since taking many wives and accumulating gold
and silver appears to be two separate laws. e first two rules, not gathering great numbers
of horses, connected as it seems, with going back to Egypt, and not taking many wives so
he will not be led astray, both appear to deal primarily with loyalty to Yahweh. Rule number
three and four, while also obviously dealing with fidelity towards the Almighty, seem to have
a stronger human relational and social aspect. However, it is also important to remember
that the Israelites are warned not to trust in their wealth and forget Yahweh when they are
blessed in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:10–18) and to read and keep the Law was
required for all the Israelites, including their leaders, see for instance Joshua 1:7–8.
A king who chooses to accumulate great amounts of silver and gold obviously increases
his own wealth. But this does not benefit or help his people. Rather, it will probably create
greater social instability because this often implies the poor getting poorer (paying more
in taxes), as the king increases his wealth. As we turn to the last rule, the king is no longer
merely given prohibitions, but is now also given instructions about what to do, namely, that
he should read and keep the Torah. Based on the Israelites high view of the Torah, this can
at first glance seem like an obvious exhortation. However, seen in light of the practice of
ancient kings, who often viewed themselves as above the law of the land, here we encounter
a radically different approach. ere are two reasons given why the king should read the Law.
e first is “to learn to fear Yahweh, his God,” and further, “by carefully keeping all the words
of the Torah.” More surprisingly, the next reason is to “not exalt himself above his brothers
(verse 20). From the context, this can be interpreted as saying that the king cannot exalt
himself above his brothers by thinking he is exempt from keeping the Law. But by using
the family term “brother,” before he exhorts the king not to exalt himself above them, the
author also seems to make a statement about their equality before God. Although the king
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is not referred to as a servant explicitly here, the text at least gives us an indication that he
should view himself as a servant of Yahweh and, at least to a certain extent, one who serves
his subjects, and perhaps even rules with their best interest at heart.
e Suffering Servant of Yahweh
e next Hebrew Bible echo we will consider is the Suffering Servant of Yahweh from Isaiah
40–55, a figure often identified in four distinct “servant songs” (42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9;
52:13–53:12). is servant of the Lord appears to be the nation as a whole in texts like
49:1–6. It is also clearly portrayed as an individual who somehow takes upon himself the
suffering of the nation, perhaps even the whole world, see Isaiah 52:13–53:12 (Macrae
1964, pp. 218–228). Kaiser (1978, p. 174) believes that this figure combines in himself all
of Israel, the prophet and prophetic institution, and the Messiah in his role as Servant. Be
that as it may, we will here direct our attention to the passage in 42:1–4, and briefly analyse
it as it relates to our study of servant imagery for leadership.
After identifying the person in view here as “my servant” and “my chosen one”, Yahweh
says, “I will put my Spirit on him,” which often designates a special endowment of leaders, as
for example seen in Numbers 11:16ff. and 1 Samuel 16:13 (Motyer 1993, p. 320). Moreover,
he will be “bringing out” or “producing” what is described as “justice to the nations.” Watts’
(1998, pp. 118–199) suggestion that the servant is merely a messenger does not seem to fit
this description and understanding of verse 1. Rather, if the servant is to accomplish this,
his active participation is needed, and he is definitely described here as a leader of Messianic
proportions, as seen also in Isaiah 42:6 and 49:8 where the Servant of the Lord is designated
as “a covenant for the people” and “light to the nations,” which some scholars describe as
Messianic (Vos 2003, pp. 256–258). Brueggemann (1997, pp. 433–434) mentions the
possibility that this could be a reference to Jews in exile, but he concludes that in light of
Exodus 19:6 and Genesis 12:3, the traditional rendering is the most likely.
Kaiser (1995) believes that the description of this individual, especially by using the term
“my servant” in 42:1a is, “a designation that marks his willingness to carry out the Father’s
will and one that we later learn he voluntarily takes upon himself,” clearly referring to Jesus
(Kaiser 1995, pp. 212–213). However, for the purposes of this study, we simply define
him as some sort of a leader at this point (Witherington 1999, p. 153). Interestingly, in
verse 2 he is depicted as not, and the Hebrew word for “not” is repeated three times in this
verse, apparently for empathic reasons, “crying out” and not “being heard.” is seems to
indicate, as the further description in verse 3 also implies, that his manner of appearing is
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perceived as quiet, gentle, and humble, cf. Zechariah 9:9 (Keil and Delitzsch 2002, p. 415).
Interestingly, seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies about this individual, the
gospel writers also understood the text this way, see Matt. 12:18–21. e servant is not
using violence to enforce his will (von Rad 1965, p. 2:251), but is gentle in his dealings
with others, as indicated in verse 3,
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out
(Isaiah 42:3 NIV).
is gentleness, however, should not be confused with weakness. e servant is described in
the last part of verse 3 again as someone who will “bring forth justice in integrity/firmness,”
and verse 4 clearly states that he will accomplish his mission, i.e., establishing justice on the
earth. us, the text clearly describes a leader who is called Yahweh’s servant and who will
bring and establish the justice of Yahweh over the whole earth. Moreover, he succeeds in this
gigantic project not by military power, but by gentleness, humility, and firmness. is servant
is definitely a Messianic figure. e gospel writers saw the prophecies of this servant leader
fulfilled in Jesus, as we will now turn to. First, however, we will do a brief survey of slavery in the
Greco-Roman world, which will help us to better understand the text in Matthew 20:20–28.
New Testament Background: Slavery in the Greco-Roman World
Before we start analysing the passage in Matthew 20, it might be beneficial to briefly consider
the concept of slavery in the first century Greco-Roman world first, since that appears to
be the primary reference to Jesus’ use of the key terms diakonos and dulos. However, it is
not unlikely that Jesus, and the gospel writers, also had texts from the Hebrew Scriptures
like those from Isaiah about the suffering servant (identified in four distinct “servant songs
(42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12) in mind.
Slavery was an important part of ancient societies, and was extensive in both Hellenistic and
Roman periods, primarily due to large numbers of prisoners of war (Ferguson 2003, 59). By
the end of the first century BCE, there were about two, some even suggest up to three million
slaves, which represented about 35 to 40 percent of the population in Italy (Williams 1999,
p. 111). ere is no indication that this had declined by the first century CE. Slaves not only
belonged to the wealthy, but everybody, unless he or she was extremely poor, had at least one
slave (Dupont 1992, p. 57). Slaves were regarded as the owner’s property, and their conditions
were totally dependent on the virtue, or unfortunately the frequent lack of virtue, of their
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owner (deSilva 2000, pp. 190–191). It is interesting that in the Greco-Roman world slaves
did not belong to one particular race, and they often dressed similar to those who were free.
Because of this it could be difficult to distinguish a slave from a free person by appearance.
Moreover, according to Williams (1999, p. 111), “ere was no work in which they were not
employed, from the most menial of tasks to key positions in business and government, and
they mingled at all levels with the free population.” us, the tasks of a slave were manifold,
especially in the cities. It was not uncommon that slaves were manumitted by their masters,
often by paying a “ransom” or a large sum of money the slave had been able to acquire, and
there were great numbers of the so-called freedmen in the Roman Empire. However, there
are also numerous references to cruelty done to slaves (Williams 1999, p. 111).
e Servant as Leader (Matthew 20:20–28)
We will now explore the primary text for our study; Matthews 20:20–28. Matthew follows
Mark (10:35–45) closely, whereas Luke (22:24–27) drops the introductory request made
by James and John (or their mother in Matthew) and the reference of drinking from Jesus
cup. He substitutes “High Officials” for “Benefactors,” and instead of using his vicarious
death as an example; “…give my life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 and Mark
10:45 NIV), Jesus makes reference to himself and says that he is like ”one among you as
one who serves” (Luke 22:27b).
As mentioned above, only Matthew records that the request came from the mother of John
and James. Senior (1997, p. 150) suggests that this is because of Matthew’s more favourable
and positive treatment of the disciples. However, since Matthew describes the mother, pos-
sibly Salome (cf. Mark 15:40; Matt 27:56), coming together with her sons as she makes her
request known to Jesus, it does not seem like the author tries to portray this as something
she came up with on her own. Keener (1999, p. 485) points out that in Jewish tradition,
older women held a position of respect which younger women did not hold (cf. 2. Samuel
14:2 and Titus 2:4), and “could ask for things men did not dare to ask (Luke 18:2–5 and
2 Samuel 20:16–22).” us, it appears to be much more likely that John and James, perhaps
influenced by Jesus’ promise to the twelve (19:28), wanted to secure a special place even among
the disciples, and therefore made their request through their mother. is also explains why
Mark records that the request was made by the two brothers, and why Jesus answers them
directly, and not their mother (Keener 1997). Hagner’s (1998) suggestion that Matthew puts
the request in the mouth of the mother in order to avoid the implication of James and John
challenging the position of priority granted to Peter in 16:18 thus seems to be unwarranted.
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In any case, the request is clearly about wanting the most exalted positions of importance
in Jesus’ eschatological Kingdom (Hagner 1998, p. 580). According to the customs of ancient
monarchs, the right side in particular was identified as being the special place of honour, see
1 Kings 2:19 and Psalm 45:9 (Ryken 2000, p. 544). Also, sitting at the hosts’ right and left
side would refer to the seats closest to him, and imply that the brothers asked to be the first
and the second among the disciples in Jesus’ kingdom. is was not the first time the idea
of who was the greatest crossed the disciples’ mind. ey seemed to be preoccupied with it
and had a quarrel in Mark 9:34 and Luke 9:46, which interestingly is recorded as a question
(“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”) in the apparent parallel, Matthew 18:1–5.
Jesus washing Peter’s feet (1852–6) – painting by Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893), one of the great metaphors of
servant leadership.
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Here Jesus tells them to change, (literally “turn”) and humble themselves, and in that sense
become like children, to explain who is the greatest in the kingdom.
In verse 22, after saying that they do not know what they are asking, Jesus asks them if
they can drink from the cup, he will be drinking from. In the Hebrew Bible, or the Old
Testament, the word “cup” was utilised in many different ways, but it was used primarily
as a metaphor for suffering, especially that which was caused by God’s wrath, e.g., Psalm
75:8; Isaiah 51:17 (Blomberg 2001, p. 307). Similarly, Jesus used it here to designate his
willingness to accept his Father’s will for him, which included the suffering of the cross,
as seen in Matthew 26:42; John 18:11. It is highly unlikely that the disciples at this point
understood what it meant that they too would drink from the same cup, which is of course
referring to their future suffering for the gospel and for many of them, their martyrdom
(Ryken 2000, p. 219). eir quick and confident answer, “We are able”, in verse 22 also
seems to indicate that. Moreover, Jesus tells them that they will actually experience suffering,
but that such extraordinary honour belongs to those for whom, “It has been prepared by my
Father.” Interestingly, Jesus’ first response to the two brother’s request was that suffering, as
he himself experienced, should be expected for those who wanted to be great in the kingdom
of God. e text does not indicate that Jesus here condemns the desire to become great, but
he rather re-interprets the meaning and motivation behind the term and thus puts it into
the right perspective (cf. 2. Samuel 14:2 and Titus 2:4). It appears to be difficult not to see a
connection to the suffering servant at this point. Jesus will deal with the servant aspect shortly.
When the other disciples in verse 24 hear about what the two brothers had requested
from Jesus, they become “angry” or “indignant”. However, Luke describes in 22:24, which
is part of the parallel text to Matthew 20:20–28, that there was an argument about who
was the greatest among them, which obviously involved more than the two brothers. Also,
as we saw above, this was not the first time the idea of being the greatest had occupied the
disciples’ mind. us, it is probably not an overstatement to say that there was an element
of jealousy, rather than genuine concern for James and John, in the indignation expressed
by the ten other disciples (Blomberg, 2001 p. 308).
Jesus, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to teach them a valuable lesson. In verse
25 he makes a contrast between “the rulers of the Gentiles/nations” and, literally, “the great
ones,” referring to people in high positions, on one hand, and his followers on the other.
Carson (1996, p. 46–47) points out that this phrase (normally) does not exclude Israel.
Interestingly, Luke uses another word for the latter; “Benefactors”. is was a term that would
be well-known for his Greco-Roman readers, referring to wealthy individuals who donated
money either to needy persons or to different “public benefits” such as stadiums, theatres or
– 69 –
local celebrations (deSilva 2000, p. 100–102). Lull (1986, p. 289–305), surprisingly, thinks
“Benefactor” is used in a positive sense, but that goes against the parallelism in Mark and
Matthew that Luke seems to follow, and the empathic “not so with you.” Marshall (1978, p.
812) argues convincingly that Luke here, contrary to Matthew and Mark who both repeat the
first phrase, deals with the issue of reputation (“be called benefactors”), and he thus believes
that the term “Benefactors” here represents an element of irony by Luke (Marshall 1978).
e phrase that introduces verse 26, “not so with you” obviously speaks of a contrast. e
Gentile rulers treat their subjects a certain way, described by the terms “lord over them” and
“exercise authority over them,” whereas Jesus wanted his disciples to lead by being “servants
to others. At this point, it seems legitimate to ask an important question: Is it leadership
Jesus is concerned with here, or is he merely stressing the importance of servanthood in
general for all of his followers? Grams (2004) argues that Jesus’ teaching about discipleship
in the gospel of Matthew emphasised “littleness” and not leadership, and he believes that
this “littleness” or humility is not presented as a leadership qualification.
erefore, he rejects what he labels the oxymoron “servant leadership” because it,
“… implies the exercise of power for service. is is not the message of the cross, which is
about serving in “weakness’” (Grams 2004). is obviously raises the whole issue of leader-
ship (or not) in the church, but for the purposes of this study, we will simply explore, as
we analyse the text in Matthew, whether Jesus was speaking about leadership here or if his
exhortation was a more general description about being a servant. e reference to rulers
of the Gentiles and people in high positions, the two brothers’ request for influential and
honourable positions, and the double “invitation”, “whoever wants to become great” and
“whoever wants to become first,” indicate that leadership is being implied. Also, it is impor-
tant to distinguish leadership from authority here. Power and authority can be exercised by a
leader, but leadership is not, contrary to Grams, necessarily identical with “exercising power.
Leadership can also be defined in terms of influencing or empowering others, and servant
leadership is doing this through serving others, with their best interests as the leader’s primary
motivation. One could perhaps say that servanthood and humility is stressed above leader-
ship in the New Testament, but that does not necessarily mean that leadership is rejected.
According to Cranfield (1959, p. 341), the Greek word kata used here, implies that one
exercises authority to others disadvantage and one’s own advantage. However, as all the major
Greek lexicons will show, kata does not always carry a negative connotation, so it would
be dangerous to be too dogmatic based on this observation alone. Obviously, we would
need more evidence to draw such a conclusion. It is certainly possible that this rendering is
implied, especially since it seems to fit the context very well. Hence, it seems to reinforce
– 70 –
the point Jesus is making, and it also corresponds with our knowledge
about rulers at that time, who were not always known for their benevo-
lence. However, the phrase “It is not to be so among you” marks a stark
contrast with the ruling that has just been described. e indicative
future of “will not be,” is here functioning as an imperative, called
imperatival future (Wallace 1996, p. 569–570). e next sentence starts with an indefinite
relative clause, which contains a verb in the subjunctive mood together with the particle,
and it refers to an unspecified individual or group; “whoever wants to be great among you.”
e lack of antecedent is a characteristic of indefinite relative clauses. us, Jesus is not
necessarily referring to the disciples only, but anyone among His followers who wants to
become great. ose who want to be “great” or “first”, perhaps corresponding to the initial
request of the two brothers (“right hand” and “left hand”), which obviously referred to the
first and second positions, should seek to be “servant” or “slave”, respectively. As we have
seen above, slaves in the Greco-Roman world performed a wide variety of tasks, and some
even had influential positions in business and government. Obviously then, Jesus is not
making a general reference to the work of a slave or servant here. Rather, he either has the
tasks of a specific kind of slave or servant in mind, or perhaps the general mindset of a slave
or servant, who in a sense existed only to render service to his or her master.
e latter would indicate not just servant-like actions, but an attitude of servanthood and
a motivation to serve and put others first as important regarding leadership, as described
by Jesus. Taken one step further, such an attitude would correspond with the character
trait called “humility” in the New Testament; “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain
conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, NIV). It
is interesting that Jesus later connects and equates the idea of being a servant with humility
(Matthew 23:11–12). Moreover, as referred to above, answering the question, “Who is
greatest in the kingdom of heaven” earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus picks up a child and
says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven
(Matthew 18:4, NIV).
One cannot rule out the eschatological implications of verses 26 and 27, that is, that part
of the fulfilment of becoming “great” and “first” will be experienced after the inauguration
“Betragtning over Verdens Daarlighed” (Elaboration on the World’s Misery) published in
1796 was the first of 33–34 publications authored by Hans Nielsen Hauge. Additionally,
he revised and republished books of other writers.
– 71 –
of the Eschaton. is would fit the pattern of humiliation and exaltation that Jesus himself
experienced (Philippians 2:6–11; cf. Matthew 5:3–12). Jesus statement in verse 28 about
himself as an example, “e Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (others),”
also seems to indicate a lifestyle and attitude of serving others, even though the last part of
the verse is a reference to the specific act of his death, this can be seen as a “climax” of a life
that was always lived this way. us, there seems to be convincing evidence that indicates
that Jesus primarily referred to serving as an attitude or a motivating factor, maybe even
a way of life, among his disciples, at least when we consider the story as it is rendered in
Matthew, and thus similarly in Mark. And as Agosto (2005, p. 49) points out, it is clear that
Jesus here is appealing to them to become more serving to others, instead of self-serving.
As mentioned above, the account of the incidence we are looking at is shorter in Luke
than in the other Synoptic gospels. Also, he clearly places it within the context of the last
supper. Marshall (1978, p. 814) refers to the phrase “I am among you as One who serves”
and the rest of verse 27 as problematic, since it indicates that Jesus here has the role of a
table servant, whereas we know from the text that he was the host. e problem, however,
is obviated if one can pre-suppose the foot washing incident in John 13. Both take place,
according to Luke and John, at the Passover meal. However, the statement (“…among you
as one who serves”) could also be seen figuratively as a reference to Jesus’ life and ministry,
and especially his death, which corresponds with Matthew and Luke, “give my life as a
ransom for many.” e specific action that is emphasised however, if this reconstruction is
correct, is the foot washing, as it is performed by a table servant. Jesus’ reference to himself
as an example of servanthood in verse 28, emphasising his death, also seems to support
actions of servanthood as well as the understanding of it as a way of life referred to above.
As we have seen, a mentality, or perhaps even a lifestyle of servanthood and specific acts
of service, both seem to be implied in Jesus’ teaching about leaders as servants in Matthew
20:20–28. However, an emphasis appears to be on the former. Ladd (1993, p. 316) captures
this well as he is commenting on Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet in John 13. He calls
it an act of love, which he defines as, “Utterly selfless service – the willingness to fill the most
humble and menial tasks of service to one’s fellows” (Ladd 1993). is was certainly one
of the primary topics Jesus taught his disciples, who were supposed to be characterised by
love towards each other (John 13:35). Commenting on what the disciples, especially Peter,
had experienced with Jesus, including the sharp rebuke in Matthew 16:23 (“Get behind
me, Satan!”), and the process he went through regarding the crucifixion of Jesus, even his
threefold denial, Boyd (2001, p. 132) explains, implies that he now, “… had learned the
true meaning of what Jesus came to do as well as the true meaning of servant leadership.
– 72 –
e life and work of Hans Nielsen Hauge
Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771–1824) was born in Tune, close to the city of Fredrikstad in the
south-eastern part of Norway. As he was ploughing the fields of his parent’s farm, he experi-
enced a spiritual breakthrough. He sensed the grace of God in a fresh and new way and received
a divine calling that would change the course of his life forever. He later explained it this way:
“My calling is to love God and my neighbour”. To pursue this calling, Hauge travelled across
and throughout Norway, mostly on foot, and preached a message of repentance and how to
develop a personal relationship with God. As people responded to his preaching, he established
several local groups of societies of friends who later became important for Hauge’s entrepre-
neurial endeavours. e number of groups grew as Hauge continued to travel and preach,
and after a few years, he was leading what became a national movement (Sjursen 1997, p. 17).
As the movement grew, and Hauge saw the need to start new businesses in different parts
of Norway, he established or re-established about 30 businesses, and was part of, as an inves
tor, consultant, counsellor, etc., in founding more than 150 business units (Grytten 2013,
p. 38; Breistein 1955; Ravnåsen 2015, p. 48–49). Even though the estimates are uncertain,
Hauge probably contributed to creating between 7,000 and 8,000 jobs in the period until
1828 (Hodne 1999, pp. 41–61; Breistein 1955, pp. 120–159; Grytten 2014). During a
time when the total population of Norway was about 900,000, this makes Hauge one of
the most influential serial entrepreneurs in Norwegian history.
According to Ims, Liland, and Supphellen (2019, p. 324), Hauge saw his entrepreneurial
and business projects as part of his divine calling. us, he saw starting new businesses as
a way to express his faith and improve local communities all over Norway (Ims, Liland,
and Supphellen 2019, pp. 317–318). Together with his followers he started a network
of businesses, many of which had a clear dual purpose, seeking to reach both social and
financial goals (Liland 2020). us, they were working towards having a higher purpose
for their businesses, and of making society better (Hunnes and Liland 2021). is seems to
be an important part of the Haugean approach to business, and their motivation for entre-
preneurial endeavours (Grytten and Minde 2019). Hauge himself explained it in this way,
“I am only a steward of the gifts God has entrusted me” (Kvamen 1974, p. 414, translation).
Hauge and Servant Leadership
Hauge was known as a father-figure in the movement he initiated, and a strong leader who
through his personality displayed authority and earned respect (Seland 2017, p. 111–114).
At the same time, he was known as a man of humility and meekness (Norborg I 1966,
– 73 –
pp. 180–185; Seland 2017, p. 109). Several authors have described Hauge as a charismatic
leader, like Seland (2017, p. 109–111) in her analysis of the Haugean communities, but also
Magnus (2020, pp. 126–127) and Kullerud (1996, pp. 249–256) have described Hauge
the same way. ere are certainly aspects of charismatic leadership that might be helpful in
understanding Hauge as a leader, especially related to his ability to influence his followers.
Also, using Weber’s distinction of charismatic versus bureaucratic and traditional leaders, can
provide a deeper understanding of the type of leader Hauge was. He did not have a formal
position of authority or leadership, at least initially, but eventually he was leading the new
movement he had founded, as he was opposing and challenging priests and other authority
figures with his message. However, this approach, that is seeing Hauge as a charismatic
leader, might be less useful as we are trying to understand more of Hauge’s motivation for
and actual understanding of leadership. Even more so if we are trying to learn from this.
As we are looking at servant leadership to understand Hauge as a leader, the initial
description by Greenleaf (1977), explaining that the servant leader is primarily driven by
promoting the employees’ well-being and personal development is foundational and impor-
tant. Hauge was known both for developing his employees, and at the same time for being
a strong leader (Supphellen and Liland 2017). is is a combination we often find among
servant leaders (Liland 2020, p. 338–339). For Hauge this was part of his understanding of
life as a Christian, that should be characterised by love for others. us, he was committed
to put the employees’ needs above his own.
Moreover, Hauge referred to servanthood and service in his own writings, and we will
include a few samples here. When he spoke about serving, Hauge often referred to serving
God, but he also used the term about serving one’s neighbour (Ording 1953, p. 169, 175),
and as we have seen, even serving those we lead (Ording 1947, p. 186). Regarding the latter,
this can be illustrated by statements like, “Arbeyde og Tienestevillighed noget der skulle
lyse” (Kvamen 1974, p. 126, translation: Work and service is something that will shine for
others to see), and that “love should serve all” (Ording 1947, p. 199, translation). Finally, in
the book Grund-Regler, as mentioned above, where Hauge says, quoting the words of Jesus
in Matt. 20:26, that, “e greatest is the servant of all” (Ording 1947, p. 186, translation).
us, the concept of service or servanthood seems to be well known for Hauge, both as a
general concept, and as an approach to leadership.
us, we will apply the three features, that is, the motive, mode, and mindset of servant
leadership from Eva et al. (2018, p. 4) to Hans Nielsen Hauge. First, the motive of servant
leadership has to do with having an other-oriented perspective (to being a leader), as opposed
to being self-oriented. As we have seen above, Hauge expressed that “My calling is to love
– 74 –
God and my neighbour”, which certainly reflects an other-oriented perspective, not only to
leadership, but to many, if not all, all aspects of life. Ravnåsen (2015, pp. 96–97) points out
that serving was an essential part of Hauge’s motivation, and that he saw this as an integral
component of the Christian life. According to Hauge, one should rather “serve others and
give, than be served and through that cause inconvenience” (Ording 1953, p. 50, transla-
tion). Regarding work and leadership, he claimed that our “Arbeyde og Tienestevillighed
noget der skulle lyse” (Kvamen 1974, p. 126, translation: “Work and service is something
that will shine for others to see”). rough a life lived to serve the Lord and other people,
while at the same time being a strong and respected leader (Seland 2017, p. 111–114),
Hauge seemed to display an other-oriented orientation to his leadership. e fact that
he never built his own personal wealth and gathered riches for himself, also supports this
view. However, Hauge was aware of the danger of pride and selfishness, both by warning
his friends against them and by being aware of how they could influence his own decisions
and choices. As he purchased the ship Christane Margaretha, for instance, he did not listen
to the warnings he received from some of his friends, and bought the ship anyway, which
caused him to lose a substantial sum of money. He could at times be strong willed, and thus
not listen to others (Supphellen and Liland 2017, p. 136).
Secondly, there is the mode of servant leadership, which is stressing how the leader
emphasises the needs and interests of followers. According to Ims, Liland, and Supphellen
(2019), Hauge based his approach on an understanding that all people are equal, created in
God’s image, and thus emphasised their self-worth and distributed tasks that matched each
person’s talents (Dalgaard and Supphellen 2011). ere are several examples of how Hauge
had an unusual ability to see others and was a keen judge of people and their character
(Ravnåsen 2015, pp. 129–131). According to Dalgaard and Supphellen (2011, p. 57), he
had a strong focus on empowerment and personal responsibility. Moreover, he saw potential
in other people, and could for instance challenge a young man to sell the family farm to
become a merchant or work on some of the businesses Hauge and his friends had founded.
He would also literally invest in his employees’ education and professional development.
e young man Christopher Grøndahl worked for one of Hauge’s printing press companies.
Hauge paid for his education in printing (Sjursen 1997, p. 143), and he eventually became a
publisher of many of Hauge’s books through Grøndahl & Søn Forlag AS, a famous Norwegian
publishing house, which today is part of one of Norway’s biggest publishing houses, Cappelen.
Also, Peter Møller was sent to Copenhagen to get an education as a chemist and pharmacist. He
later became the inventor of the product “Møller’s tran” (translation: “Møller’s cod liver oil”).
e business founded by Møller developed and evolved into what is known today as Lilleborg,
– 75 –
owned by the mother company Orkla. Characteristically, Hauge invested in and partly paid
for these men’s education as a way to prepare them for their future business roles. Obviously,
this also benefited the companies they worked for, as the employees grew their competence
and capabilities. However, this double effect is not uncommon in servant leadership.
irdly, the mindset of servant leadership is about thinking as a trustee and a steward,
seeing followers and the leadership role as something we have been entrusted with. is sense
of stewardship was essential to Hauge, and an important reason for him to be involved in
different business projects, as documented by Breisten (1995), Aarflot (1969) and Grytten
(2010). Hauge expressed it this way, “I am only a steward of the gifts God has given me”
(Kvamen 1974, p. 414, translation). us, he referred to himself as a steward several times,
and his role was to be a steward of the resources entrusted to him. In many ways, this led
him to have the mindset of a steward and trustee. Also, he inspired others to serve in the
same way, based on the same values and worldviews. Both Grytten (2014) and Breistein
(1955) introduce and list a number of other entrepreneurs who followed in Hauge’s foot-
steps, many having a similar approach to leadership and labour.
us, it can be argued that Hauge, to a certain extent at least, seems to have the motive,
mode, and mindset of servant leadership. However, more research is needed to explore fur-
ther if he can be defined as a servant leader, and whether other relevant leadership theories
can be consulted to get more insight and help us gain a deeper understanding of Hauge’s
leadership, and even that of other entrepreneurs and leaders in the movement.
Further research
Further research could include an analysis of the values of Hauge and his followers, like
stewardship, workers’ welfare, frugality, reinvesting profits, and community building (Gryt
ten 2014, pp. 64–65). Also, Spears’ (2010) characteristics of serving leaders, like listening,
foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and community building or van
Dierendonck and Nuijten’s (2011) eight dimensions, that is, empowerment, accountability,
standing back, humility, authenticity, courage, interpersonal acceptance, and stewardship
could serve as an interesting comparison. Moreover, other servant leadership measuring tools
could be applied to Hauge or other leaders in the movement. Finally, in light of Greenleaf’s
(1977) argument that all organisations should serve a role in improving society and making
local communities better, Hauges perspectives regarding businesses serving a higher purpose
(Liland and Hunnes 2021) could be examined in more detail.
– 76 –
As discussed above, the metaphor of servanthood and service for leadership is conveyed in
the Scriptures, especially in the primary text of this article; Matt. 20:20–28. is idea was not
foreign to Hans Nielsen Hauge, who himself quoted the words of Jesus in Matt. 20:26, that,
“e greatest is the servant of all”. Some of the characteristics of servant leadership, and the core
idea of the concept of putting the employees’ needs above one’s own, seems to fit Hauge, at least
to a certain extent. However, more research is needed to understand this in more depth, as we
have only started to explore what influenced Hauge’s understanding of leadership in this article.
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