(This article was originally published in Worship Leader’s July/Aug 2013 issue. Subscribe today for more great articles like this one.)
How should a follower of Jesus lead others?
I can think of no better biblical passage to answer this question than Mark 10:35-45. I can also think of no other passage in Scripture that more incisively reveals and challenges my own heart as a leader.
In Mark 10, Jesus shared with his disciples for the second time that he was soon to be crucified (10:33-34). After he finished, James and John approached him with an audacious request: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (10:37). Thus, the two brothers revealed their heart’s yearning for personal glory. They wanted to bask in the adoration that would be focused on Jesus when he reigned in the kingdom.
Jesus did not rebuke James and John for their self-absorption. Rather, he told them that they had no idea what they were asking. Jesus knew they did not understand that he was about to drink the cup of God’s wrath as he died on the cross.
All About Me?
When the other disciples heard what had happened, they “became indignant with James and John” (10:42). Of course, their indignation revealed their own self-centeredness. No doubt they wanted to be glorified alongside Jesus and felt angry that the brothers had beaten them to the punch.
Jesus used this occasion to reveal the distinctive character of leadership in the kingdom of God. Those who want to be great must become servants. Those who seek to be first in glory must become first in humility by becoming slaves of all. This stunning, counter-cultural call to servanthood is based on the example of Jesus himself: “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” (10:45). Jesus did not come to receive the glory promised to the Son of Man (see Daniel 7:13-18). Rather, he came to fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant of God (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12), whose sacrifice would bring salvation and healing.
A View From Heaven
This was surely an unsettling revelation for James, John, and the rest of the disciples. They were expecting Jesus to be enthroned in glory and they hoped to share in his exaltation. Instead, Jesus spoke of his sacrificial servanthood, calling his followers to imitate his example in their own leadership.
This story from the Gospel of Mark challenges me to consider my own motivations as a leader. I would confess to you that, as a worship leader, I often struggle with my ego. No, I’m not generally filled with pride. On the contrary, when I stand before people as a guest preacher—the usual form of my worship leadership these days—I can easily feel insecure. I can be preoccupied, not so much with how people will respond to the message God has given me as with whether or not they like me. I’ve surrendered this preoccupation to the Lord a hundred times. I expect I’ll have to surrender it a bunch more before I’m done.
I’m embarrassed to share this with you, but perhaps my honesty will help you peer into your own heart. If you’re at all like me, you genuinely want God to be glorified through your leadership. That’s your primary passion. Yet, there’s a part of you that cries out for attention and affirmation. Have you ever wished that you could receive the adulation of a Chris Tomlin or a Matt Redman? Do you wish your songs made the CCLI Top 25? Or, if you’re a preacher, would you like to be mentioned in the same breath with Louie Giglio or Tim Keller?
I take genuine comfort in the fact that the earliest followers of Jesus struggled as I do. If Jesus chose people like this as his disciples, he’s not scandalized by me and my need for affirmation. But, at the same time, I am challenged by Jesus to imitate him, to choose his way of humility, and to learn how to genuinely serve those I’m called to lead, without regard for myself and my emotional needs.
Let me encourage you to let this story from Mark reveal your heart to you, even as the words of Jesus challenge you and the example of Jesus inspires you. May God give us the grace to be like Jesus: people of genuine humility, leaders who don’t crave the spotlight but who truly seek to serve those whom God has given us to lead. To him be all the glory … really!
The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and consultant for Christian organizations. Find out more here.