“Whoever wants to achieve great influence among you must be a leader.” (Mark 10:43NLV)
The NLV is the New Leadership Version, which I just made up. Fortunately, that wording isn’t actually in the Bible. You could probably tell as you were reading it, simply because it doesn’t remotely feel like something Jesus would say. As you well know, what Jesus actually said is: “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” And yet, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read the phrase highlighted above almost exactly in church or Christian leadership blogs. How do we continually justify such a contradiction? And not just justify, but teach, encourage, and require demonstrated growth in influence and leadership above serving in others?
We do it by conveniently contriving the oxymoron “servant-leader” as a type of leader. A friend recently sent me a devotional by Rick Warren on this very topic. Rick writes:
“Thousands of books have been written on leadership, but few on servanthood. Everyone wants to lead; no one wants to be a servant. We would rather be generals than privates. Even Christians want to be “servant-leaders,” not just plain servants. But to be like Jesus is to be a servant. That’s what he called himself.”
While you immediately recognized the opening quote above couldn’t be Jesus’s because it’s so completely out of character for him, we continually justify our leadership obsession by rewriting Jesus for our own purposes as Leader, CEO, Life Coach, and by highlighting his “management methods.”
Warren goes on to write that your unique personality and gifting (leadership is just one of many gifts listed in Romans 12) is important in serving God, but “having the heart of a servant is even more important.”
“Your shape [personality and gifting] reveals your ministry, but your servant’s heart will reveal your maturity… Anyone can be a servant. All it requires is character.
It is possible to serve in church for a lifetime without ever being a servant. You must have a servant’s heart.”