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. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NLT)
Jostling for position is common whenever human beings come together, whether it be in business, community groups, or politics. It can even happen in churches. We continue to have this idea that getting to the top and having power is the best way to get things done. Our competence and hard work and enthusiasm entitle us to getting to the head of the queue. Jesus disagrees.
When some of his followers angled for places of privilege in the life to come, he rebuked them. He says that what goes on in the wider world is not what is to go on in his followers. They will wield great influence by serving others, not satisfying their own lust for power. It is a sad reality that some who speak from positions of power about serving others are more concerned with their own advancement and privileges.
Jesus is saying that if we are to lead at all, we lead as servants. In the church, leaders may speak of servant leadership. But even here those leaders need to beware of merely seeing it as a cliché. Servant leadership can easily degenerate into leading in such a way that the leader’s aims and intentions and privileges are confirmed. The leader is being served.
True servant leadership involves not seeing ourselves as the centre of the universe. It makes for a better world. One wise writer remarked that most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.