The servant leader. Jesus chose a servant as the countermodel for His followers. Nothing could be farther from our idea of greatness or leadership. We tend to see, as did the disciples, the pomp of power. The TV cameras focus on the great seal of the United States, a hushed quiet falls, the band in the background plays “Hail to the Chief,” and the announcer’s voice is heard: “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” We feel that is greatness. That is what being a leader is all about.
But then Jesus directs our attention to a quiet person standing off camera; a person in overalls with the working tools of his trade. And Jesus says that is greatness! That is what being a leader is all about.
This graphic contrast must have jolted the disciples just as it jolts us. Yet Jesus clearly wants us to see each of these people as leaders. Each of them is to be seen as having authority and the power to move other men. What, then, are the significant contrasts between the two?
While the secular ruler is above those he leads, Jesus said, “Not so with you” (v. 26). Instead of relational distance, there is relational closeness. The Christian leader must seek to be one with those he or she is called to serve.
Instead of “exercising authority” as a ruler who demands and enforces conformity, the Christian leader is to abandon coercion. Jesus said firmly and plainly, “Not so with you.” Force, manipulation, demand—all are ruled out in the way by which the servant leader exercises Christian authority. Outward force can produce conformity, but it can never produce that inner commitment which moves people to choose to follow Jesus.
How, then, does the servant lead? By serving! The secular ruler speaks the commands, but the spiritual leader demonstrates by his example the kingdom way of life into which he is called to lead others. No wonder Peter picked up this same theme and wrote as an elder to fellow elders, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–3). By serving, the Christian leader demonstrates the greatness of the love of God, and gently motivates others to follow him. “Whoever wants to be first 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” (Matt. 20:27–28).
Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary (576). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.