While traveling between cities where Jesus and the disciples were ministering, Jesus saw that His disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. In response, He tells them “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In other words, the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven would have a heart to serve, not to rule.
Leadership (greatness) had certainly been deformed by the Fall of Man. The evidence saturates our history and documents the failure of kings, rulers and empires who ruled oppressively over their people, creating horror, havoc and hardship throughout their kingdoms (including at times Israel, God’s people). The “greatness” (empirical leadership) mindset dominated the times of antiquity and was especially present during Jesus’ ministry. Jesus reminded the disciples of this worldly mindset in Matthew 20:25, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them.”
And yet it was not just the Gentiles who were operating in rulership rather than leadership. Jesus rebuked the scribes and pharisees in Matthew 23 for placing heavy burdens on their followers that not even they would require of themselves. Sin’s fracture of the world had certainly not left leadership untouched, but Jesus was in the midst of reprogramming the world with the culture of Heaven. Continuing in Matthew 20, Jesus lays down a foundational stone (reference point) for Kingdom living:
It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:26-28
Translation? There’s a new way to be a leader and it has nothing to do with your position, but everything to do with your heart.
The word “servant” refers to a waiter or attendant. Jesus was giving honor to those of lowly position (something He was familiar with) but also saying that you don’t have to be in a lowly position just to be a servant. Rather, He was saying that there will be those who are great in the Kingdom that will be in all types of positions and places, and you will know them because they will be marked with a genuine and sacrificial care for others.
The ministry of Jesus was primarily about releasing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It was His divine assignment to begin changing the culture of earth by teaching His disciples to release the culture of Heaven. When He said the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, it was because He had extended His. The offer? Forgiveness of your rebellion from God’s good ways and an invitation to live life in the fullest most beautiful way that God intended (John 10:10).
As many of us who are followers of Jesus know, the path to living in the fullness of this abundant life comes only as we take steps into deeper alignment with Jesus. As this happens we become more like Him. As we become more like Him, we continue to release the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and experience more of Jesus’ divine nature, of which Peter tell us we are partakers (2 Peter 1:4).
I love the fact that Jesus never rebuked the disciples for their desire to be great in the Kingdom. Instead, He showed them the true pathway to greatness requires a heart to serve, not to rule. This lesson was so important Jesus repeated it in multiple places in the Gospels (Matthew 23:11, 20:28, Mark 10:43, Luke 22:26). He was training the future leaders of the church who would soon be given the responsibility to build and establish the structures of the church throughout the world. They had to learn the difference between worldly leadership (desire to rule) and Kingdom leadership (heart of a servant).
The Secret Ingredient
A closer look at Jesus’ life shows us the secret ingredient necessary to operate with the heart of servant – humility. In humility, Jesus left his place of honor in Heaven to become like man (you and me), knowing that He would be born in the ghetto, grow up poor, spend three years training knuckle-heads, be rejected by those He came to save, be flogged, be beaten near to death and of course crucified on the Roman cross. He carried with Him the reign and rule of Heaven and yet He washed the feet of the twelve – – – including Judas, who He knew would betray Him. There is no greater example of humility than Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Humility Is In You
How do you grow in servant leadership? By growing in humility (James 4:10). How do you grow in humility? You go to the source. Humility finds its source in Jesus and if you are a follower of His then all you must do is let Him live through you. This is the path we must take if we want to grow as leaders. It sounds easy doesn’t it? I am not telling you it isn’t easy, but it typically doesn’t start that way. My experience has shown that we have the opportunity to grow in humility as we grow in our leadership.
During seasons of growth, we may find ourselves in difficult situations. In challenging times, responding in humility can seem so far from what is appropriate or expected. But, I believe this is what Jesus was trying to show his disciples when He said those who wanted to be first will be “last of all”. That word “last” in the original language means farthest. It’s like Jesus was saying that those who lead with the heart of a servant will do, at times, what seems farthest from worldly expectations. I think this is why so many of the religious leaders were not convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They were looking for the Messiah to be a political leader who would destroy the oppressive rule of the Roman kingdom in the natural realm. Instead, Jesus came as a servant leader who destroyed the oppressive rule of the devil’s kingdom in the supernatural realm.
What kind of leader are you? What kind of leader/s do you spend time with at work, at home, or at church? If we allow the humility of Jesus – – – present only in us through our salvation and recreation – – – to live through us as we lead, we will see Him bring the transforming culture of Heaven into our businesses, our ministries and our homes. To walk in greater humility, consider praying this prayer:
Heavenly Father, great is your name! You’ve given me new life through Jesus and I want to let Jesus live fully through me, especially in the area of humility. I confess my selfish desires that prevent me from living with the heart of a servant. Holy Spirit help me to walk in humility today and every day as I seek to bless and serve those around me for the glory of God. In Jesus name, Amen.
Travis Mincey is the Director of Ministry and Operations at Mission Community Church in Charlotte, NC. His passion is to see the presence of God bring miraculous transformation to all people in all places. Travis can be reached at email@example.com.