Becoming a great leader by the method of Jesus completely contradicts what the world usually assumes about leadership. In a fascinating incident recorded by Mark, Jesus teaches three essential qualities of leadership, and then effectively debunks the world’s definition in favor of God’s view of true leadership:
And there come near unto him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto him, Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee. 36 And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? 37 And they said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39 And they said unto him, We are able. And Jesus said unto them, The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40 but to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared. 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be moved with indignation concerning James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister; 44 and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all. 45 For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many, (Mk. 10:35-45).
The world’s view of leadership usually includes 1) an accumulation of power and 2) an attitude of superiority over others. Jesus notices these, even points them out to his apostles (vs. 42), but then shows how they are mistaken notions. His phrase “lord it over them” suggests the tendency of autocratic leaders to force their way upon others by sheer power. They force their decisions upon others because at the moment they appear to be in charge, and they have sufficient resources at their command to enforce their will. Such leaders are invariably shortsighted and small. They are eventually exposed, but sometimes not until they have done great harm. Wars have been started, nations corrupted, and great misery produced by “leaders” who thought of themselves as more powerful than others.
Closely associated with the mistaken goal of power accumulation is the attitude of superiority over others. Worldly leaders often come to believe that they are superior to others, more to be respected and obeyed. The world’s “great ones exercise authority over them.” How many politicians, presidents, and world leaders have been horribly corrupted by adopting such a view? How many religious leaders have fallen prey to this type of thinking? They actually believe their position of power makes them great in comparison with others. They “love the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi,” (Mt. 23:6-7). Their power has gone to their head. The only thing worse than a man who has never effectively been in charge of anything, is such a man who is now somehow placed in charge of something.
With a single question, Jesus shows that true leadership requires patience, willingness and submissiveness. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? Not everyone is ready for leadership. There is a process of development, not always pleasant. It takes a willingness to grow and learn, in submissive imitation of Jesus. It involves following God’s timetable, not ours.
God’s definition of leadership includes servitude (vs. 43). Becoming a “minister” to them meant being a servant, one who was called upon to do the less desirable jobs. It means serving not just one or a few, but serving all (vs. 44). And it means diligently following the example of Jesus Christ, who came to give his life for others (vs. 45; cf. Phil. 2:5ff).
Too many are trying to achieve positions of leadership by following the flawed wisdom of the world. But the key to true greatness is service to others. Those who are truly impacting this world and making a difference in the lives of others are following Jesus’s view of leadership.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.