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Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership, Part 3 - The Servant Model (2)

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The Servant Model Of Christian Leadership (Continued, part 2)

In Biblical Models of Christian Leadership, Part 1, we discussed the “Shepherd Model” of leadership. In Part 2, we began to discuss the “Servant Model” of leadership – specifically:

A. The Principle Of Servant Leadership

B. The Paradigm Of Servant Leadership.

In this Part 3, we will examine another aspect of the “Servant Model” of biblical leadership…

C. The Paradox Of Servant Leadership

Servanthood is the principle and the paradigm of Christian leadership that Jesus and the apostles taught and practised. This paradigm is, however, also a paradox as Jesus explains in Mark 10:35-35. Let’s study that text together…

Textual Study: Mark 10:35-45

The subject that is being addressed in this passage is “Greatness in Christ’s kingdom.” In contrast to the kingdom of men, Jesus teaches his disciples a brand new kingdom perspective that in Christ’s kingdom, lower is higher and last is first. This is the paradox of Christian leadership that accompanies the new order of Jesus’ kingdom. Notice the contrast that Jesus makes between greatness in the kingdom of men and greatness in the kingdom of God…

I. In The Kingdom Of Men, Worldly Greatness Is Measured In The Superior Status Of Self (35-42)

Notice firstly that...

1. In the kingdom of men, greatness is measured in terms of prominence

James and John were part of Jesus’ “inner circle” –  the leaders-among-leaders. They came to Jesus and said: “’Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” (35-36). Their bold request was this: Grant us that we may sit, one on your right hand and the other on your left in your glory (37). They wanted the most privileged places, the top spots, the place usually reserved for the most influential guests, the place to which the master of the feast would usually invite his closest friends – “Come and sit up here with me” (Lk. 14:8ff).

In response, Jesus challenged them as to whether they would be able to pay the price for such a privileged position – the same sacrificial price he would pay; whether they would be able to drink the cup of God's judgement as he would; whether they would be able to be baptized into the same death as he would be. Surprisingly, they answered, “Yes! We can pay the price.” And Jesus said, “You’ll pay the price alright” (39). Not only was their request arrogance of the highest order, but it belied their complete misunderstanding of Christian discipleship.

James and John had a totally wrong concept of the kingdom, of the work of Christ, of who they were and where they fit in. They completely misjudged their ability to endure with Christ. They knew nothing of the suffering that would precede glory. They thought the time of reigning with Christ was imminent and they wanted a crown without the cross.

After all (so they may have reasoned), they were Jesus’ closest confidants. Wouldn’t that entitle them to a special place of consideration in the kingdom? They were the leaders over the rest of the disciples. Wouldn’t that entitle them to special privilege in the kingdom? They were related to Jesus: they were family (Jesus’ mother and their mother were probably sisters). Didn’t that give them an edge over the others when Jesus would allocate their reigning positions in the kingdom?

In any event, they had a distinct sense of superiority over the others. Somehow they thought they were more worthy than the other disciples of a place of honour in Jesus’ kingdom and they wanted to make sure that they got their due reward.

Little did they know the irony in it all. Their imminent reward would be to suffer and die for Christ. They would pay the price alright as Jesus said. But to their chagrin, Jesus said, to sit on my right hand and my left is not mine to give – it’s for those for whom it is prepared (40). God has foreordained who should occupy such positions. They aren’t arbitrarily assigned to anyone who just asks for them. There are qualifications, there’s a price to be paid, a sacrifice to be made, a service to be rendered to God. This is all about sacrificial service, not about rewards earned.

When the other disciples heard what James and John had requested you can understand how they felt. They began to be greatly displeased with James and John (41). The human response to one-upmanship is anger, indignation for thinking that somehow they were better than the rest of them; for thinking that they deserved a special, privileged place in Christ’s kingdom. James’ and John’s behaviour instantly infiltrated the thinking of  the rest of them so that they all were dragged into this immature, self-centred attitude.

That’s how one person’s attitude can affect everyone else. It doesn’t take much to incite envy, jealousy, ambition. Those who were previously passive become enraged. Those who were previously content become discontent. Those who were previously happy begin to complain. It raises this question: What kind of impact is your attitude as a leader having on others? Do those around you become more like Christ because of your example as a leader? In fact, do they see Christ in you at all? 

Instantly the disciples’ attitude changed into competitiveness. “If James & John deserve special treatment, then why not us? We’ve been as faithful as they have. We’ve given up everything for Christ just like them.” And each one started to vie for a favoured position in the kingdom. After all, why should James and John be so favoured? “If they think they should have it, so should I What do they think they have to offer that I don’t? What have they done that I haven’t done? What special merit have they earned that I haven’t?”

That’s non-Christian thinking – all about self. That’s how greatness is measured in the world – in the superior status of self. That’s why the climb up the corporate ladder becomes all-consuming. People want prominence and dominance at any cost, sometimes doing anything they have to in order to get it.

In secular thinking, that’s how success is measured – by your influence, power, prominence, position, wealth, title. I don’t understand what motivates that kind of drive for attention, special treatment, an honoured position, favouritism, the envy of others. Yet, sadly, that’s often the case among Christians and Christian leaders. A worldly mindset often infiltrates the way Christians think. Receiving the adulation of others is a passion for them. Having others under their control is paramount for them. And there is no place that that kind of ambition and drive is  more rampant than in the church and Christian ministry. Often that’s where people push themselves to the forefront. That’s where they can gain a certain status and influence. That’s where they can easily influence others. Someone has said that the church is probably the easiest place on earth to gain prominence because there are such low standards and loose controls. And yet it should be the place where the strictest standards for leadership are adhered to.

Jesus says that the whole notion of greatness that is measured in terms of self promotion is worldly thinking. It’s related to secular culture, not God's kingdom.

So, In the kingdom of men, greatness is measured in terms of prominence.  And...

2. In the kingdom of men, greatness is measured in terms of power

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them” (42).

There are those who are “considered” as rulers in the world by those who are under their domination. But in truth, Jesus infers, God is the only supreme ruler and Lord. Men and women may be impressed with their show of power but it didn’t impress Jesus, for in worldly settings, those who are powerful today are deposed tomorrow.

The Roman rulers in that day did lord it over their subjects. The great ones in the halls of power did impose their authority on the people. Theirs was a rule of dominance and imposition and oppression - of harshness, inconsiderateness, trampling on others to get and keep their power.

We understand that kind of oppressive regime, don’t we? We’ve been exposed (though from a distance) to the Idi Amins of the world, the Saddam Husseins, the Hilters and Stalins and Mussolinis, and Ayatollah Khomeinis. Even at a lesser level, perhaps we have all experienced bosses in our workplace who have “lorded it over us.” Perhaps you’ve experienced this in a marriage relationship or from an angry father or school teacher. Those in authority often abuse their positions. They measure greatness in terms of their superior status of self over others.

That’s how worldly greatness is measured in the kingdom of men – by the superior status of self. But, Jesus says...

II. In The Kingdom Of God, Spiritual Greatness Is Measured In Sacrifical Service To Others (43-45)

In the kingdom of men, worldly greatness is measured in the superior status of self. But, Jesus says, it shall not be so among you (43a). In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is turned on its head. Worldly greatness may be gained through prominence and power, but the paradox is that …

1. In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is measured in terms of lower being higher - but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant (43a). To be spiritually great in Christ’s kingdom, you must become a “servant” to others – to meet their needs, to act in their best interests.

2. In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is measured in terms of the last being first - And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all (44). To be spiritually great in Christ’s kingdom, you must become last on the social scale, a “slave” - one without rights or assets. That’s the paradox of servant leadership. For in Christ’s kingdom, lower is higher and last is first.

The greatest example of this, of course, is Christ himself. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (45). Even the Son of Man in his true greatness didn’t come in a position of power and dominance. He didn’t come to be served, to solicit the subservience of others, to take people captive, with the expectation that others would serve his every whim, or to occupy a place of honour, exaltation, and recognition.

Jesus came to serve. He didn't come to be served, to exercise prominence and power but to provide redemption, to seek reconciliation, to love the unlovable, to serve those who wanted to be leaders and lords. This is Jesus’ mission statement! John the Baptist’s mission statement was “He must increase and I must decrease”. Paul’s mission statement was, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Jesus mission statement was, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” He is the quintessential servant, the One who took the low place in serving others. The perfect Servant came not to be served but to serve”. That’s why he came – to show that true greatness in God's kingdom is not about power and prominence but about servant-hood: Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever desires to be first shall be slave of all” (43-44).

Jesus served his disciples in the Upper Room. He served his Father – did his will, spoke his words, submitted to his authority. He served his people, coming to his own who did not receive him. He served those with physical needs he fed and healed. Those with spiritual needs he told the way of life. He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). His was a ministry of unhurried but effective and efficient activity. That’s why he came. He came to serve. That’s our model of leadership. But notice also…

He came to sacrifice: give his life a ransom for many” (45b). The One who was the creator of life, gave his life. He was the creator of physical life (Col. 1:16) and He was the creator of spiritual life (Jn. 1:4; 10:10; 14:6). The One who was the creator of physical and spiritual life gave his sinless life as our ransom. He was the Lamb without blemish and without spot. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. That’s why he alone was qualified to give his life a ransom for many”. Jesus came to give his life as a fully sufficient, substitutionary sacrifice (1 Pet. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21), a sacrifice sufficient for all the sins of every person ever born but a sacrifice that was efficacious only for the many”, not everyone, for not everyone would receive his sacrificial ransom.


Jesus was the Perfect Servant in life and in death, in service and in sacrifice. He is the perfect model of what greatness is in his kingdom, for in Christ’s kingdom, lower is higher and last is first. That’s the paradox of servant-leadership. Greatness in Christ’s kingdom is measured not by the superior status of self but by sacrificial service to others. That’s what it means to be a servant leader - to follow the example he left us of service and sacrifice.

Christian leadership is not about being ambitious. It’s not about vying for positions of prominence and power, like James and John. It’s not about status in society or in the church. Christian leadership is about stooping lower in the kingdom of this world in order to be higher in Christ’s kingdom.

Jesus values lowly service and self-sacrifice for those are the characteristics of his own life. So, to the extent that you demonstrate servanthood, humility, and sacrificial living, to that extent you are “living Christ”; to that extent you are modelling his paradoxical paradigm of true leadership. And that’s what he has called us to!

Is that true in your life as a Christian leader? Are you modelling Jesus’ paradigm of upside-down-leadership in the way you speak, act, relate to other, lead other? Can others see by the way you lead, that you want to serve them as Christ did his disciples  in order to enhance their lives and ministries?

So now, in parts 1 to 3 of this series on “Biblical Models of Christian Leadership”, we have examined the principle, the paradigm and the paradox of servant leadership. In part 4 of this series, we will complete this study by looking at the practice and the purpose of servant leadership.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors

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