Jesus knew that some day his tiny band of followers would have authority over large groups of people. While he was with them, he taught them many lessons to use after he left.
In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus does just that.
Jesus called [the disciples] 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.
There is a little phrase buried in the middle of that passage. Did you catch it? “Not so with you.”
- Yes, the Gentiles use their power to overpower the people around them. They make sure everyone knows who the boss is. Not so with you.
- America is full of business leaders who overpower people around them. Not so with you.
- Leaders around you are seeking power and influence to use for their own good. Not so with you.
If you are in authority over anyone as a Christian you must serve. In John’s account of the last supper, Jesus does something so culturally unexpected it catches the disciples off guard. In John 13:3-5 we read that,
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
In this upper room, as he prepares for the cross set before him, Jesus becomes acutely aware of his authority. So what did Jesus do?
He immediately humbled himself and served.
John 13:12-16 recounts,
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
And so it should be with us. Whenever we realize that we have been given authority on earth we should immediately and tangibly serve others.
What does serving do when we have authority?
- It clearly reminds us that our authority is not something to which we are entitled or that we’ve earned.
- It shows others that we are accountable to the God who has given us this authority.
- It empowers those we lead to accomplish great things.
One final caution to Christian leaders: We have a tendency to over-strategize leadership. We see the strategic benefits of servant leadership and allow that to become our reason to serve.
That’s an extremely dangerous mistake because ultimately that turns serving into manipulation. As followers of Jesus, we cannot forget this:
Servant leadership isn’t a strategy to get people to follow you or a good habit to develop over time. Not so with you. Servant leadership is a biblical mandate.
As Andy Stanley, founder of Northpoint Ministries, has said, “Leadership is a stewardship. It is temporary and you are accountable.”