December 1, 2016 • Life for Leaders
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Three weeks ago, we encountered Jesus’s call to servanthood. As you may remember, in Mark 9 the disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. In response, Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (9:35). In chapter 10, the disciples are once again seeking their own exaltation and Jesus is once again emphasizing the call to servanthood.
In Mark 10, James and John had come to Jesus asking to share in his glory by sitting on his right and left hand (10:37). In such positions, they would receive both honor and exceptional authority. After Jesus explained to the brothers that they really had no idea what they were asking, the other ten disciples became upset. Partly they were angry over the arrogant audacity of James and John. It’s also likely that the other disciples secretly wished they had beaten James and John to the punch. They also wanted exceptional glory and power.
Jesus seized this teachable moment to reveal something radical about his understanding of leadership. Gentile leaders “lord it over” their people (10:42). But followers of Jesus must walk a different path. “Whoever wants to be great among you,” Jesus said, “must be your servant” (10:43). According to Jesus, the way of glory, the way of authority, the way of leadership is the way of servanthood. The word translated here as “servant” is diakonos, from which we get our word “deacon.” But the Greek word doesn’t refer to someone in church leadership. Rather, it denotes a person who serves in some subservient and humble role. A diakonos (the word sometimes referred to a table waiter), cared for the needs of others rather than his or her own needs.
We who follow Jesus today are called to serve others even as we serve our Lord. If we are leaders, we are called to servant leadership. This notion can be as counter-intuitive and counter-cultural as it was in the first century. Leaders in our day are often anything but servants as they seek power and glory. Following the way of Jesus will not be easy as we seek to serve, not only our superiors, but also our colleagues and even those over whom we have organizational authority. Our focus will be, not on our own advancement or position, but on the needs and concerns of others. Whether we’re at home or in the workplace, at church or in the community, we will seek to be leaders who serve others in humility and love.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When you hear the phrase “servant leadership,” what or who comes to mind?
What helps you to be a servant leader?
Are there contexts in your life where you need to grow as a servant leader?
Lord Jesus, thank you for making it clear that your way is not the way of the world. We are to be leaders of an altogether different character. As you know, servant leadership doesn’t come naturally to us. Nor is it prized in our culture. Sometimes even the church exalts authoritarian and gloriously charismatic leaders. So if we’re going to be servant leaders, we have our work cut out for us. To be more precise, you have your work cut out for you, Lord, as you transform our thinking and our attitudes.
Help me, Lord, to be a servant leader in my work. May I see the needs of my coworkers and reach out to care for them. May I lift up those who are officially below me, seeking to honor them and acknowledge their contributions. Help me to exercise the authority given to me with humility, always seeing myself first and foremost as your servant, and therefore the servant of others. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: The Grace of God (Mark 10:23-31)
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, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.