About six months ago, I started reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time fantasy series. I didn’t realize what I was getting into at the time and now 12 books and 13,000 pages later I still have two books to go before I finish the series. In the most recent adventures, a tyrant was brought down by her own ambition for power. She had come to the place where she believed that she was the law rather than one who upheld the law. Soon, she was abusing her power and violating centuries of law in order to have her own will carried out, people punished for speaking their minds and retribution exacted when people disagreed with her. As far as being a leader goes, this woman was horrible. She had forgotten that her position existed to serve and to guide those under her rule, not to dictate and demand.
In Mark 10, James and John came to Jesus with an odd request. They boldly announced, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (Mark 10:35, NIV). Now, if I were Jesus, I would have rebuked them for coming to the master and saying, “Give us whatever we ask you for.” But Jesus simply asked them what they wanted and they answered that they wanted the two most prominent places in his kingdom. Jesus turned them down, telling them those places weren’t his to give away, but the situation naturally caused a stir among the other disciples. After all, what made James and John think that they could rule over the rest of the disciples? Wasn’t Peter a bolder leader? Wasn’t Judas a better administrator? Why would these two think they could rule over the others?
So Jesus called them all together and told them that their concept of leadership, their concept of being important and prominent must be different than the way the rest of the world viewed those things. 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 (Mark 10:43-45, NIV). Jesus wanted the disciples to get away from the idea that positions and titles and the power to command people were important and to begin realizing that the highest places of honor among his followers would belong to servants, to those who focused on helping people, on meeting needs, and on remaining humble.
Too often today, we still get those values mixed up in our churches. People want to be deacons and pastors and serve on church committees because they get to make decisions and have influence, not because they want to serve. With astounding frequency, we focus on influence and power and forget that Jesus is not pleased with people who dictate or command, but with people who lead through acts of service and selflessness. We get caught up in the idea of “moving up” when we should be focused on stooping down to do whatever tasks need to be done for the sake of the Kingdom and for the good of the people around us. We get our feelings hurt when people don’t want us to make decisions but we aren’t willing to get our hands dirty and get down in the trenches. We get worked up over someone else being awarded a position of influence because we fail to value servants more than decision makers.
When we find ourselves there, Jesus says to us, “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.” If Jesus allowed others to make decisions for him, even to the point of his death, can’t we let go of the idea of being important and latch onto a desire to serve?