Day Six: The Charter of Servant Leaders
Jesus’ last foretelling of His death occurred several months later, after a flurry of activity including the feast at Jerusalem, raising Lazarus from the dead, and meeting the rich young ruler. The hatred of the chief priests and Pharisees had waxed hotter with each healing and teaching.
But the significance of His words escaped them. Immediately after He proclaimed that He would be betrayed, condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified, the mother of James and John knelt before Him and asked,
Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom (Matthew 20:21).
This led to all the disciples ganging up on James and John, who’d put their mother up to the request. They must have fumed, How dare they try to politic their way into preeminence through their mother!
Contemplate the sadness of this scene. Jesus has just announced that He will endure the social, emotional, legal, and physical agonies of trial and crucifixion, the ultimate act of “pouring out” in sacrifice for the world, and all of those listening descend into a mosh pit of competitors vying for supremacy.
But did He lash out in anger? No. Jesus saw it as a teaching moment, and “called them to Himself,” dispensing these sublime words:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:24-28).
This statement serves as a charter for God’s servant leader troops all over the world. It breaks easily into three parts:
- Comparison and contrast: “Power-over” leadership prioritizes ruling, lording over, or “exercising authority” for the upbuilding of the leader. This the believer is not to prioritize, as God’s kind of leadership departs from that model.
- How to be great: The path to greatness in God’s kingdom departs from the typical upward march of a military, commercial, or corporate model, to flow downward to the lowest places.
- The ultimate example of servant leadership is Jesus, specifically “the Son of Man,” Jesus in His incarnate form, headed down the rocky road to the Cross.
“It shall not be so with you” is as much of a promise as it is a command. God promises that through the grace and power of Jesus, you will avoid the pitfalls of the power-over model of leadership we see everywhere in this power-hungry world and come to understand and love leading as a servant.
To reject the power-over model of leadership, embracing instead servant leadership, exercising authority for the building up of those you lead, rather than the building up yourself, requires a born-again heart and lifestyle. What can make a clean break from old habits and patterns? God’s gift of repentance. For it is a gift, rather than something we can generate in our own strength (See Acts 5:31).
God presents repentance as a way of pulling our sin out by its “roots.” John the Baptist said of his ministry of repentance, “The ax is laid to the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10). We’re told we should be “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; (Hebrews 12:15).
- Have you at times felt shame for unChristlike ways of treating the people you lead? Give examples.
- Do you feel confident that God can give you the gift of repentance?
- How does a more Christlike approach make you feel about other people? About yourself?
Carefully write out all the ways in which you’ve engaged in “power-over” leadership and ask God to give you the gift of repentance. Then believe He will give it, because when we ask for bread, He doesn’t give us a stone (Luke 11:11).
Oh, God, You have promised that the self-aggrandizing leadership style of the world “will not be so” with me. You have promised that, rather than using my influence and power to build myself at the expense of others, I will use it to build others. I know my selfishness, God, but I claim Your promise because it is stronger than my sin. Help me love what I once hated—humility—and hate what I once loved—pride. I’m asking for more than a little tweak. I’m asking for a complete overhaul.