The Greatest Leader Must Become a Slave

Mark 10:43-45 (NKJV) 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

We have been looking at leadership as taught by the greatest leader to ever live, Jesus Christ. In these verses, he gives us the foundation upon which great leadership is built. By his definition, great leadership flows from a heart to serve. He said to 12 men who were disputing over who would be the greatest among them that if they wanted to be great they had to serve one another.

I believe one of the main keys in Jesus’ words is the very pointed and practical direction he gave them. It is easy to say we are servants, even servant leaders. Jesus required that they show it to each other. If we are to be great in the Kingdom of God, we must find practical ways to serve each other. This is not an option. Jesus made it the primary thing great leaders must do.

In the kingdom of God, the local church is the place we must begin to practice serving. In John 13:35 Jesus is once again talking to his disciples. This time he is talking about how they should love one another. Love and servant hood cannot be separated. He tells his disciples that the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples when they see how we love one another. They will recognize that love by our servant hood to one another in the church. This is vital to evangelism in the world.

Jesus equated his own leadership with servant hood. In verse 45 he says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” People followed Jesus. They did what he told them to do. Yet his identity was not that of a dominating person. He was the ultimate servant and that is what caused people to follow him so readily. We must recognize that serving does not weaken our leadership, it strengthens it.

As Jesus begins his discussion on servant hood he tells these twelve men that it is desirable that they want to be great in the Kingdom of God. The New Living Translation uses the term “leader” instead of great. It is not wrong to want to be a leader in the Kingdom of God. In verse 44 he tells us it is alright for us to desire to be first. I want to be the best leader among all the leaders I know. How do I become that?

We know that the bible does not condone competition between believers in the worldly sense of the word.

2 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV) 12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

Paul tells us here that to compare ourselves with each other is not wise. When I look at someone else and desire to be better than they are I will create unhealthy competition. I must outdo them to be better than them. Jesus does permit a different kind of competition.

Once I establish servant hood in my life, whatever kind of leadership I am called to will arise naturally. Jesus goes further with the twelve men he is speaking to. He says it is valid for each of them to desire to be first. How can any of them desire to be first and it not become a comparison of their relative gifts and strengths? Jesus tells us. “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

No one would equate slavery with leadership. Jesus is setting down a completely different criterion for leadership. Servant hood is the pathway to great leadership. Slavery is the pathway to becoming a leader of leaders. What is the difference.

A servant has a choice. He or she can choose to serve or choose not to serve. A slave has no choice. If we want to be the greatest leader among other leaders we must make serving our whole life. The “number 1” leader has no choice. He or she is bound to serve all who are under him or her.

This brings to mind an Old Testament custom. There was a type of servant hood that did not come with a choice. One Israelite might be bound to another. Most often this would be because of a debt. No Israelite could enslave another, but they could require a period of servant hood until the debt was paid. If the one who served loved his master and loved his servant hood, he could go to the master at the end of his time and ask to become a “love slave.”

This type of slavery was not forced upon anyone. It was a choice made because of love for the one being served. I believe that is what Jess is talking about here. If we so love the ones we serve and if we love our servant hood we choose servant hood as our life. We take all choice out of the equation. We become love slaves. This is the path to the highest kind of leadership. Everyone who chooses the ministry as his profession is choosing to be a love slave.

We might say, “Yes I choose to be a love slave to Jesus.” That is what you do when you receive him as Lord and savior. Every Christian is a love slave to Jesus. He is the Lord of the church. The degree you submit to his Lordship over your will and your choices, is the degree of success you will have as a Christian. That is not what it takes to be the “number 1” leader.

Jesus is talking about becoming a love slave to the ones we serve. If I want to be the greatest leader in my church I must take servant hood as my identity and my lifestyle. I give up the right to choose if I will serve. I serve. That is all there is to it. That is not always easy to walk out and at times we will fail. Nevertheless, if we want to be first, that is the only way to get there in the will of God.

This is the competition that Jesus calls us to. We are completely free to compete in out serving everyone else in the church. We are free to become loves slaves to our brothers and sisters. When we do that, what position we end up with becomes unimportant. Should we become the leader of leaders, we will have the right heart. We will understand that we lead by serving those under us not by “lording it over them.” Our motivations and our attitudes will be right. Jesus will be able to use us to lead those that we serve into his will and purpose for their lives.

All of this goes against the way of the world. Do not forget. Jesus is the best leader who ever lived. His leadership has endured the centuries. Learn from him and whatever other insights or techniques come your way, judge them against this standard. Do they make me more or less of a servant? If I use them will they cause me to grow or diminish in servant hood. If they do not enhance servant hood and lead you to slavery, reject them and choose the path Jesus defined as the true way to become a great leader.

Great Servant = Great Leader

Mark 10:42-45 (NKJV) 42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

If we want to learn how to be a great leader, there is only one example we must follow. That is the example of Jesus. People are still following him even though he never led an army or a nation. They follow the example of his life. They follow his sacrifice. They follow the principles he and those who followed him taught. More than 2000 years after he lived, his leadership still inspires and directs the lives of millions. What is it that makes Jesus such a powerful leader?

When James and John came to Jesus asking him for the honor of sitting on his right and left hand when he came into his kingdom, the only problem with their request was that it focused on a position. To be a great leader our focus must not be on a position. What should be our focus?

When the other disciples heard about James and John’s request, they were angry. They felt that it was not right for these two, one of which we know to be very young, to make such a request. Jesus quiets them and gives them the key to great leadership in the kingdom of God.

He starts by telling them that the path to leadership in the world cannot produce great leaders. We must recognize that this was not a suggestion on the part of Jesus. It was a directive. You might say it was a commandment. Look at how it comes out in the Amplified Bible.

Mark 10:42-43 (AMP) 42 But Jesus called them to [Him] and said to them, You know that those who are recognized as governing and are supposed to rule the Gentiles (the nations) lord it over them [ruling with absolute power, holding them in subjection], and their great men exercise authority and dominion over them. 43 But this is not to be so among you; instead, whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant,

“This is not to be so among you.” We cannot allow the philosophies of worldly leadership to determine great Christian leadership. Jesus commands do not apply just to our “religious” life. They apply to our whole life. Wherever we lead we must lead according to the principle Jesus states here. We are commanded to lead in a completely different way than the world.

Let me say again there is a great deal of teaching in the church right now about techniques of leadership, much of it gained from the world. What Jesus says in verse 42 points to leadership by domination. There is a great deal of difference between leading and dominating. I think we need to make sure that whatever techniques we learn from the world stay subject to the principles Jesus taught. All our leadership must start with what he is going to tell us in these verses.

I have always been struck by how he words his next statement to his disciples. Almost all the translations I have looked at use a particular word that we might not expect Jesus to use. That word is great. “Whoever desires to become great among you…..” Jesus authorizes us to desire to be great!

Some believe that we should think of ourselves as nothing. We should not desire greatness. They believe to think that way would be a prideful attitude. However, Jesus himself tells us it is good to desire to be great. The problem comes when we define greatness by the standards of the world.

I want to be great. I want to be a great husband, father and minister of the gospel. I want to be a great leader in the body of Christ. There is nothing wrong with that desire. It is wrong for me to want my greatness to be defined by the world’s standards. I am not great because of the size of my church or the number of people over which I have influence. Jesus tells us how to be great.

I want to remind you who Jesus is speaking to here. He is not speaking to a multitude. He is speaking to his disciples. They are the leaders who will be tasked with taking Jesus’ message to the world. Jesus himself will be gone. He needs to be sure that they understand how to lead the rest of those who believe into preaching the Gospel or his efforts will be in vain. What one characteristic must they cultivate if they are going to be great leaders.

Mark 10:43 (NLT) 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.

This is certainly not the path the world teaches us to take. If you want to be a leader you must show that you are above the rest. You must demonstrate your leadership ability by taking charge. You should be the one giving the orders. You should assign everyone else their tasks and if you are a real leader, the others will do what you tell them to do. That is the way you become a leader in the world. However, it shall not be so among leaders who are Christians.

We have no real problem with servant leadership as long as it is abstract. “Yes, I am a servant of God.” How do we know that you are really a servant of God? We cannot hear God directing you. We can look at your fruit, but even that can be deceptive.

“I am a servant of mankind. I serve people.” That is a good thing, but that is not what Jesus told his disciples would lead to great leadership. Jesus looked at 12 men and told them, “If you want to be great, a leader, you must serve each other.”

If Peter wanted to be a great leader, he was going to have to find a way to serve John. John was one of the ones who made the request that started this discussion. That did not matter. Peter would have to serve him. James was going to have to find a way to serve Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector which meant he was an official representing the Roman government. Nevertheless, Matthew was going to have to serve Judas. (Yes, Judas was still part of the group.)

The path to great leadership is specific servanthood. If I really believe God has called me to pastor, I must find a way to serve the people around me. I must serve the one who may be a rival for the position. If someone else gets the position I think I deserve, I must serve that person. If I am not promoted I must serve those who are. This sounds counter intuitive but it is how Jesus taught us to become great leaders.

When we realize that we are all servants, we are free to lead as Jesus opens the door for us to lead. There is no doubt that God has given some of us gifts to lead. However, if that is the case it is even more important that we cultivate servanthood. If we do not, our gift will become domination. That is never God’s way to lead.

I believe that it is important for all leaders to practice serving. I am 62 at this writing and have been in the ministry for 38 years. I am a proven leader in the church. I have been the pastor of 3 churches and led in various other capacities. I have “paid my dues” as it were. However, I still find ways to serve others.

I do things that most would consider below my position. I do them on purpose. I do them so I never forget that I am a leader because I am a servant and I do it so others will see my example.

This is where great leadership begins but Jesus is not done with us yet.

Jesus’ Definition of a Great Leader

Mark 10:35-40 (NKJV) 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”

Some of you may be saying, “I am not a leader. I don’t think this applies to me.” However, there are two reasons you should keep reading. First, everyone leads someone. There is always someone who is watching your life and in a real sense you are leading them. The principles Jesus taught apply to all kinds of leadership. You may be a passive leader but if you are a Christian, you are a leader.

Second, we are all followers. We are all being led by someone. We need to be able to recognize whether that person is a godly leader or not. If not, we do not need to follow them. Understanding the principles of leadership as taught by Jesus will help you find the right kind of leaders for your life.

Yesterday we pointed out the fact that Jesus was the “fullness of the Godhead” bodily. That means that whatever God himself could be through the limits of flesh, Jesus was. In the area of leadership that means he is the best leader who ever lived. In Colossians 2:8-10 Paul tells us that when we look to other examples we are limiting ourselves to natural wisdom. What did the greatest leader of all time teach about leadership?

The scripture above is a very familiar story. Two young men came to Jesus and asked him a question. They request that they be allowed to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. The context of this question is that Jesus has just told them again that he will be going to Jerusalem to die. Some of the disciples did not understand and some simply did not accept that this would happen. I believe James and John did.

Their request was not from a bad motivation. They were telling Jesus they intended to die with him and when they did they wanted to be at his right and left hand. It is possible that they were thinking of a natural kingdom in which they would rule with Jesus, but I do not think that is the case. There was a problem with their request, however.

Jesus asks them if they can endure what he must endure. Their answer is yes. Jesus did not rebuke them. Instead he indicates that they will “drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with my baptism.” In affect he is saying that they have what it takes to fill the requested position. His next words are very important to what it takes to be a great leader.

Jesus tells James and John that the position of sitting on his right and left hand is not his to give. It must go to the ones for whom God has prepared it. There was nothing wrong with James and John’s request to do something significant in the Kingdom of God. The problem was that they requested and focused upon a position.

Later we find that the rest of the disciples were angry with James and John. Why was that so? It was not because they wanted to do something great for Jesus. It was that they wanted a position. Whenever we focus on position it produces strife. Our desire for a position automatically puts us at odds with other believers. If I think I deserve a position that means I think I am better than someone else. That is a selfish point of view and Christianity does not work in selfishness.

Jesus reveals something here that can and should free us from focusing on position. You may believe you are called to be a pastor, the main worship leader or some other position in the body of Christ. That may be so, but we must recognize that God has prepared someone for every positon. If you are the one he has prepared for that place, trust him to get you there.

If you are not the one, you will not be effective and you will not be happy or at peace if you get it. There are many people who have gotten positions the wrong way. They have not been a blessing to others or to themselves. People in the wrong position have caused a great deal of trouble in the body of Christ.

Jesus, in his flesh, was not authorized to give this position. We often focus on men. I have had many people accuse me of holding them back. They wanted a position. They believed they deserved it and they believed I was withholding it from them or giving it to someone who did not deserve it. They failed to realize that my whole desire is to see everyone in the church full the place God has for them. They also failed to realize that it was not really up to me. It was up to God!

I know it seems that the earthly leader has the power to withhold or give positions. To a degree this is true. If you are under a leader who has displayed characteristics that you cannot trust, you are not bound to stay under him or her. You can leave. I would suggest you talk to them first and see if there is a reason you have not been given position or if there is something you can do to be ready for a position. In the end it is your prerogative to find someplace with leaders you can trust. I have given this advice to many as they sat in my office.

That said, I am amazed at how weak most people think God is. God has a position prepared for you. No one can keep you from that position. If you focus on obeying God, cultivating your Christian life and your relationship with him, you will end up where you belong. God will get you there. If he has to change those leading you, he can do that. If they will not change, he will change them or move you. The problem usually is not the leader we are under it is our lack of trust in the Lord of the church

God has a place just for you. You will probably go through many positions before you get there. You will do and go through many things that God will use to prepare you for that position. If you focus on him and not position you will get there. If you focus on the position you will never be a great leader in the Kingdom of God. A focus on position will always cause strife and it will drive you to do things to get the position in ways that do not befit a Godly leader.

I pastored for 38 years. In that time, I started 3 churches. The first two were learning experiences for me. I made many mistakes not the least of which was too great a focus on the position. By the time I started my last church, I had learned many things. I had also come into relationship with some quality senior men who became my examples of real Godly leadership.

In that place everything was different. My focus was on the people God gave me not the position. In almost 30 years, people have come and gone but we never had a split. My leadership was never really challenged. I was secure in my position because I knew God had given it to me. I did not stand up and declare, “I am the pastor here!” I never needed to. I was in the position God had prepared for me and no one could take it from me.

God wants to give you the place he created for you more than you want to have it. No one can fill it but you. On the other hand, you cannot fill a place prepared for someone else. Forget about position. Do not desire to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher. Do not focus on any office or job. There is a better way. Jesus tells us how to become great leaders. We will look at his path to Godly leadership tomorrow.

Jesus Christ: The Definition of Leadership

Mark 10:42-45 (NKJV) 42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

I believe leadership is one of the rarest commodities in the world today. There are many who seek power over others. There are many who crave influence in the world. Some even desire these things for the right reasons. Too many desire power and influence over others for their own gain or to feel self-important. Still others may want it to compensate for experiences in their own life that made them feel powerless. None of these motivations, even when they are for good reasons, are the reason to lead.

Look at these words from the apostle Paul.

Colossians 2:8-10 (NKJV) 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.:

Paul warns us about being spoiled by the philosophies of men. He tells us that such teachings are full of the man’s view of the world. This view is grounded in worldly wisdom, traditions and cultures. He tells us that the place we need to look for understanding is Jesus himself. He is the fullness of the Godhead manifested in a physical body.

I believe Jesus was all that God could be through the limitations of human flesh. Jesus was not only the Son of God; he was also the son of man. He took on the limitations of flesh by his birth through a human mother. However, Jesus was whatever God almighty could be through a human being. We need look to no other source for wisdom, insight or example.

Jesus was a teacher. He was the greatest teacher of all times. Jesus was a shepherd. He cared for the sheep at a deeper level than any pastor since he walked the earth. He was the apostle and prophet upon whom the church is built. He drew multitudes to God. What evangelist can claim a better record than the Savior himself? We do not question these ideas because they are in the spiritual realm. I believe we could extend this thought to all realms.

If Jesus had been a musician, Mozart would have paled in comparison. As an athlete, he was a perfect physical specimen. If he had been a mathematician, no one would have matched his understanding. He created mathematics. As a physicist he set in motion the laws of physics. As an astronomer he set the universe into motion. There is nothing that a human being can do in which he would not have been the best to ever live. That includes leadership.

Jesus never led a nation. He was never a general leading troops into battle. There is little that we can credit to him that we usually attribute to great leaders. Nevertheless, time is marked by his life. The educational system has changed the designation from BC, before Christ, and AD, which stands for the “Year of our Lord” in Latin to before and after the “Common Era.” Nevertheless, the dates remain the same. Time is marked by the birth, burial and resurrection of one man.

Multitudes followed Jesus in his lifetime. Had he called for rebellion in Israel they would likely have followed him to the death. Instead he chose to lead the way by dying for them. After his sacrifice, so many people followed him that the religion they founded became the greatest in the history of the world. Nothing has so defined the world as the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

His example of leadership inspired people to lay down their lives for his message. Some died as martyrs. Many more lost wealth, family and position because they choose to follow the leadership of this one man. Even today there are people who are being crucified and beheaded because they refuse to renounce his leadership.

It seems to me that if we want to study the best example of leadership in history, we need to look no farther than Jesus. What are the principles of leadership he displayed in his life? What did he teach those closest to him about leadership? If we want to be good leaders, we should start there and make those principles the foundation upon which we build.

Of course this applies to leaders in the church. I have traveled to many countries and I have seen many leaders. Some are good and some are not so good. I think I can say without doubt that the biggest problem in the church today are its leaders. I do not mean to judge anyone’s motivation. However, it seems that in many cases we have done exactly what Paul said not to do. We lean to the wisdom of men and apply the principles taught by society instead of majoring on what Jesus taught about leadership. The result is a church that looks more like the world.

Although I am most concerned about the church, I think that these principles can be applied to all leadership. Business is under fire today because of leadership principles founded in greed. What if the principles Jesus taught were applied to business? I believe we would find a new level of Godly prosperity.

Government is one of the prime examples of wrong leadership. We have dictators who think it is their right to rule everyone else. Their motivation is money and power. We have politicians who have made it their life’s work to govern. They spend much of their time trying to be sure they stay in power. There are others who try to do good. Many of them have rejected Jesus all together. Their leadership is weak and misguided most of the time.

There are exceptions of course. However, most of what I see in the world today is a leadership that is far inferior to that displayed by Jesus. There are those who try to minimize his role. There are those who even say his influence has been negative and not positive. History does not bear out that opinion.

There are certainly some who have done many wrong things in his name, but those who truly commit to what he taught have changed the world for the better. They have also opened up relationship with God at a level that no one else can.

What made Jesus’ leadership different. There are a few words in today’s scripture that we must examine. Those words are “It shall not be so among you.” As long as we define leadership by the standards of the world we will fail. Jesus gave us another way to lead. That is what we want to learn and apply.

Come back tomorrow.