Here are 4 different models of interaction between masters (leaders) and slaves (employees):
Oppressive master and submissive slave
This tends to be the pattern in settled traditional societies and modern totalitarian societies. Hierarchy is strong – the pyramid model. Those at ‘the top’ very much see themselves as ‘above’ others and those at the bottom know their place and submit. Leaders are dictators who cannot be questioned, ‘big men’ who make harsh demands and place heavy burdens on the people ‘under’ them, accumulating resources, power and status for themselves (1 Sam. 8:11-14; Neh. 5:15; Eccl. 5:8-9). In this model, leadership is the privilege and power to make things better for yourself. It is certainly not servant leadership. This pattern ‘works’ in a sense in that people often want a ‘big man’ in charge and there is a kind of peace and stability but because the rulers and bosses are driven primarily by self-interest there is a lot of corruption and nepotism, projects are rarely completed efficiently, creativity is stifled and the vulnerable and peripheral sections of society are neglected or oppressed. An ugly model.
Oppressive master and rebellious slave
This tends to be the pattern in societies that are undergoing change – times of economic, social or political turmoil (e.g. the UK in 1381, France in 1789, Russia in 1917, the US in 1967). The older generation continues to demand respect and subservience and clings to the levers of power. The working/under class (and/or middle class) are fed up with this and revolt, refusing to respect their leaders, demanding equal rights, by force if necessary. In this situation, the slave actually becomes a mirror of the master – both become proud, forceful and demanding. As many have noted these sort of revolutions tend to end up not with a dismantling or subversion of the power hierarchy but a simple replacement of one ruling class with a new ruling class who operate in the same oppressive way. Yesterday’s oppressed slave becomes today’s oppressive master. Another alternative is that there is not full scale revolution or at least not a successful one. In this case things continue in a state of bitterness and conflict, unhappy workplaces, unhappy families, political tension. An ugly model.
Servant leader and rebellious slave
This tends to be the pattern in societies that have been heavily influenced by the gospel and a Christian worldview for many years. It is also possible in individual Christian organisations and gospel ministries. Here the truth of equality before God is taken for granted. Hierarchies are flattened. The expected and culturally acceptable model of the master has become someone who is not proud or full of himself or self-seeking but who values and involves colleagues, invests in people, makes decisions collaboratively and shares credit. However, the slave in this model is not humble. He doesn’t address the boss in a respectful way. He is unwilling to take orders or even advice. He is not grateful for the servant leadership and care of his master but takes it as his right and insists on ever more rights. He takes advantage of the lack of micro-management or harsh demands to be lazy and sloppy in his work. An ugly model.
Servant leader and submissive slave
This is the beautiful biblical model. The master is a truly gospel-humbled person who sees himself not as ‘the big man’ but as a little child (Psalm 131). He fears God and exercises his authority for the genuine building up and flourishing of those who have been entrusted to him (2 Sam. 23:3-4; 2 Cor. 10:8). Like the Son of Man, this leader seeks not to be served but to serve his brothers and sisters. And the employees, younger people and those who are being led, do not take advantage. They also seek to serve and work hard, with all their heart, for the Lord, even when they are not being supervised (Col. 3:22-23). In their speaking and obedience they graciously submit themselves to their elders and give full respect to the authority over them (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 5:5a). In this model there is humility on both sides (1 Pet. 5:5b). Conflict can be resolved, creativity can be unleashed, leadership can be exercised and the whole body built up in love.