The Leadership Journey Podcast: Hwa Yung on ‘Leadership or Servanthood?’

This week my guest is Hwa Yung who joins me via Zoom from Malaysia. Hwa Yung has served as a minister and a bishop in the Methodist Church, and was principal of Malaysia Theological Seminary; since his retirement he has remained active, giving himself to working with the Malaysian Church, to writing, and to working with leaders in the Majority World.

As well as talking about his own – sometimes very moving – story, we talk about his book, ‘Leadership or Servanthood’ (which I summarised in a previous post). The book is a challenge to the Church’s tendency to follow the cultural understanding of leadership – something that easily leads to a neglect of foundational biblical themes like discipleship and servanthood.

The book is published by, and available from Langham on their website.

Leadership is the result of practicing genuine servanthood wherever we are and whatever position we are called to by Christ. By living and ministering as servants, our loving and humble service will impact those around us as great leadership.’

Hwa Yung, in ‘Leadership or Servanthood?’

Leadership or Servanthood?

I’ve been reading this recent book from Langham and next week I hope to have the author, Malaysian church leader, Hwa Yung, as my guest on the podcast.

As the title suggests, the book sets out to question the Church’s fascination with leadership. It’s not that Hwa Yung denies the importance of leadership per se, his concern is the way the Church speaks of it ‘in terms that are not very different from the way the world around us does.’ In contrast, he argues, ‘it appears that the key emphasis in the Bible’s teaching is that we are called first and foremost to be servants and not leaders.’

The book consists of nine chapters and follows a clear path. The starting point is the focus on servanthood (‘the fundamental nature of the ministry and leadership to which [leaders] are called is defined by servanthood, and not by position, status, and power.’) From there we move to a discussion of authority: after all, if we are servants, what authority do we have? The answer is found in a spiritual authority that is founded on submission to the Father, as seen in the example of Jesus.

Just as the path of true spiritual greatness lies through humility and servanthood, so the path of genuine spiritual authority lies in submission to the Father.

Hwa Yung, Leadership or Servanthood, p50.

Next is the question of where we are to find confidence and again the answer is seen in the example of Jesus who was sure of his identity as the Son of God: he lived ‘in the security of his Father’s love and protection’. We are called then to face our own insecurities and live in the security of the Father’s love.

From this we are led to consider the importance of character and spirituality for those called to leadership – and this is illustrated from what we can learn from Paul in his farewell message to the elders at Ephesus as he reflected on how he had served with humility, compassion, faithfulness, sacrifice, and a lack of self-seeking ambition.

Chapter 8 uses the examples of Jacob, Moses, Peter, and Paul, to illustrate God’s transforming work in the lives of those whom he calls. The book concludes by revisiting the relationship between servanthood and leadership (note: ‘Servant Leadership’ won’t really cut it!). It’s well-summarised in these words:

Leadership in the cause of Christ does not come from our striving to be leaders but is the by-product of a life of humble service to him and others.

Leadership or Servanthood, p129.

There is some rich and challenging material in this. The question is a vital corrective to the lure of power and status.