Addressing men who were striving to find their place in a hierarchical view of authority, Jesus spoke clearly and authoritatively about leadership that aspires for position in His Kingdom and His Church:
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them, But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” Mark 10:42-43
For several reasons, this statement by our Lord and King, repeated elsewhere in the Gospels, must be seen as a baseline of revelation by which we understand and interpret all other New Testament passages about leadership in God’s Kingdom.
1> The words are a direct and clear statement from Jesus Himself addressing leadership in His Kingdom. As Christ is the head of the Church, His Word must be our primary guide. Paul and Peter would never contradict Him, and when questions arise, I’m sure they would defer to the Lord in everything.
2> This statement is repeated in the Gospels, and the main idea is repeated by Jesus in other scenarios. Repetition is a strong way to emphasize a point. In this case, it is a very emphatic word from the Lord.
3> The statement does not lend itself to misinterpretation or misunderstanding. It is clear and bold. The context of leadership and Christ’s response to the disciples’ maneuvering for position are noir up for interpretation. Unlike others New Testament passages on leadership, there is no ambiguity of meaning or intent in Christ’s words. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servants.”
Nevertheless, Christian leaders down through the ages have sought to put this statement in a safe place – saying, for example, that the posture of a leader in a position of authority should be to “act in a servant sort of way.” They call this servant leadership. But Jesus never told us to be “servant leaders.” He told us to be servants – period. Maybe we would be far better off with more servants and fewer leaders in the Church.
Jesus’ statement is not merely a challenge for those who hold office or positions in the church to behave humbly and act like servants. This is not just a heart check. It is more revolutionary than that and demands more than spiritual introspection. It is a radical paradigm shift to a completely upside-down Kingdom, where no one is over anyone else. Period.
Though our attitude is certainly part of the equation, what Jesus addresses is our actual position in the Kingdom of God. When it comes to leadership, the body of Christ has one head – Christ Himself. e are not to structure ourselves the way the world does. Christ’s statement is a direct assault on a hierarchal view of leadership, and to ignore that is to temper His words. We mustn’t try to tame Jesus with our hermeneutics.
The primacy of servanthood is consistent with the teaching of the Gospels and the other doctrines of the New Testament – particularly regarding God’s redeemed people and how we are all granted equal access, blessing, and empowerment in Christ’s Kingdom. it does not violate the principle of the priesthood of all believers, unlike many of the other current interpretations of New Testament texts on leadership.