A Call to Servanthood

By Mark D. Roberts

November 8, 2016

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Mark 9:35


A sculpture with bowed posture as if in humility.In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw how the disciples of Jesus were caught in the act as they argued about which of them was the greatest. In response, Jesus did not directly rebuke the disciples, but chose instead to use the occasion of their argument as an opportunity to teach about humility and servanthood. Sitting down, which was the common posture of a teacher in that culture, Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (9:35).

Jesus’ call to humility and servanthood was as counter-cultural in the first century A.D. as it is today. It is natural for human beings to seek the power and glory that comes with being “first.” Many of us strive for years in order to become the CEO or the president or the principal or the senior pastor. We spend tremendous amounts of time and energy striving for position and power, polishing our reputations, and doing whatever else might help us to become Number One.

Yet, Jesus invites us into a new way of living, a whole new value system based on the kingdom of God. In this upside-down reality, humility, servanthood, and self-sacrifice lie along the ironic path to greatness. We who follow Jesus today are called to this new way of being, which impacts every relationship and situation in our lives.

Serving others is not necessarily contradictory to leading them. In fact, the best leaders are also excellent servants. Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller, wrote Leadership is an Art, one of the all-time bestsellers on the subject of leadership. Max answers the question “What is leadership?” with a line that has been quoted thousands of times: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you” (p. 11). Yet, most of the time people do not include the next two sentences: “In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader” (p. 11).

If you want to know what Max means by all of this, I commend Leadership is an Art to you. Today, I simply want to note that one of the finest leaders of the last fifty years affirms that “the leader must become a servant.” True leadership isn’t contradictory to servanthood. It embodies it. It depends on it.


How will you follow the call of Jesus to servanthood in your workplace? At home? In your church? In your neighborhood?

What could you do today that would serve those with whom you work?


Gracious Lord, help me to desire the “firstness” that matters most in your kingdom. Teach me to be a servant of all who are in my life. Help me, Lord, to serve my family, my colleagues, my sisters and brothers and church, my fellow citizens. Help me to serve, not only my superiors, but also those whom I supervise. Help me to learn how to serve well those who lack privilege and power. Free me from the need to prove myself, so that I might live my whole life for you and your glory. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Jesus the Builder (Mark 6:1-6)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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