Dr. Gordon Bietz has served as President of Southern Adventist University since 1997. Prior to that he was president of Georgia-Cumberland Conference and senior pastor of the Collegedale Church on SAU campus. He and his wife, Cynthia, have two married daughters and six grandchildren which happen to be three sets of twins!
Leadership is Servanthood?
Jim and John had been working on the campaign trail for more than a year.
- They were there when they were the only advance men.
- They were there when the polls were in single digits.
- They left their families and good jobs for 18 months on the campaign trail.
- They were there when the press accused their Candidate of being a drunkard.
- They thought the campaign was finished then. The headlines were enough to make a campaign manager quit.
- They had been by the Candidate’s side when the opposition party dug up that story about His parentage.
Their point was that they had been there during the tough times and now they were seeking a bit of quid pro quo. That is Latin for, “We scratched your back and now you should scratch ours.”
It looked like they had a lock on the election; cabinet posts and special appointments would soon be distributed and they wanted a piece of the action. They wanted to be in charge of more then scheduling the motel accommodations. They wanted more responsibility than just coordinating the limousines. It was pay-back time. They wanted to be leaders.
And so we read in Mark 10:35-37,
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ "
We want to be in charge! We want a position. Right hand man and left hand man! Actually, in Matthew’s version of the event James and John get their mother to ask for them. There is political manipulation for you.
The procession to Jerusalem was looking, for-all-the-world, like a triumphant march and James and John were not about to be left holding the bag. No sir! They had enough of itinerary planning and being errand boys. No more gopher work for them, they had paid their dues.
Rumors were flying. Jesus would be King. This was their chance. It was now or never. So they went to Jesus and said, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Their hymn was the glory song, “Oh that will be, glory for me, glory for me, glory for me.”
What was in the minds of James and John is the same thing that is in our minds when we fantasize about positional power and authority. Why do we aspire to being in charge? To
have positions? There is a desire basic to human nature that:
- We want to be in control, not controlled
- We want our own destiny in our hands, not in the hands of others.
I do not want anyone to have control over me. That is why, if I was independently wealthy,
I would say, “You can take this job and find someone else to do it!” If I was wealthy I would not have to trust myself to others. If I was in charge I would not have to trust my destiny to others.
James and John knew the longing to be in charge, and we know that longing today as well. They sought positional leadership to fulfill an inner emptiness, and we do the same thing.
Thinking that the higher position will satisfy. A higher salary, a corner office, a bigger budget will satisfy.
But the hole of personal emptiness is no more filled by position than the lust for riches is filled by a raise or the ocean is filled by an eyedropper.
How did Jesus respond to James and John and their desire for glory?
" ‘You don't know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ’Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ ’We can,’ they answered” (vss. 38, 39).
There is a lot of confidence in ignorance. Before I became a father I knew all about how to raise kids. Before I became a president I knew all about how to be one.
Assertiveness training had given James and John a lot of chutzpah.
“Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’ ”(vss. 39, 40)
Notice that Jesus does not condemn James and John.
- He does not say, “You selfish disciples.”
- He does not condemn their desire to be in charge
- He does not criticize their desire to be leaders. What does He say?
He just says, “It isn't up to me to make that decision. Sorry, I can’t choose the secretary and treasurer. The nominating committee does that! I am sure you would make a fine vice president but we need a search committee and the Board of Trustees and you know it is out of my hands.
You know that might have been the end of the story except for one small detail.
“When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John” (vs. 41).
Why were they so indignant? There are none so indignant as those who catch someone else doing something that they wish they would have done. The ten disciples felt like you feel when there is traffic on the freeway and someone drives along the side of the road for a mile or so and then cuts back into line. You blow your horn indignantly only because you did not have the courage to do the same thing.
Since this request was causing a commotion among the disciples, Jesus decided that He needed to visit with all of the disciples at once.
”Jesus called them together and said, ’You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them’ ” (vs. 42).
Jesus starts out by describing the way it is in the kingdom of the world. You know the old way -the way of the worldly kingdom - Jesus says, strives to beat out others for positional leadership, politics with the “right” people, asks for favors - quid pro quo.
And then Jesus contrasts the kingdom of this world with the way of His New Kingdom.
“ ’Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all’ ” (vss. 43, 44).
Rather than condemning the two ladder climbing disciples, Jesus told them how to get up the ladder and achieve their goal. Congratulations! You want to be on my left and right - this is how you do it.
Their goal was good; their methodology was wrong. There is nothing wrong with a desire for leadership - Here is how it is done. So, Jesus gives the strategy for leadership in His kingdom. This is His pyramid of leadership. This is His management style, if you want to get ahead in His company.
It is a paradigm shift for leadership. This is a turning upside down of normal thinking on positional leadership. This does not compute in our human brains when we have been so accustomed to thinking in terms of control, having control, gaining control, being in charge. This secret of success in Jesus' kingdom is incomprehensible to our western mindset.
It is an oxymoron. Servant / leader. These are two words you do not use in the same sentence. It is like saying Custodian/President or CEO/garbage collector.
How does Jesus’ management methodology work? How does being a servant make you great? Will being a servant get your picture on the front page? How does being the low man on the totem pole make you top dog?
Jesus strategy for leadership turns our ideas on their head. What would this servant leader look like? How would this slave leader behave? “ ‘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” (vs. 45, NIV). Jesus did not just preach servant leadership, He lived it.
Philip Yancey wrote in Christianity Today about Henri Nouwen whose life displayed a "holy inefficiency." “Trained in Holland as a psychologist and a theologian, Nouwen spent his early years achieving. He taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, averaged more than a book a year, and traveled widely as a conference speaker. He had a resume to die for.”But, he was not spiritually satisfied with achieving, or being great - at least as defined in the eyes of the world.
Nouwen agreed to become priest in residence at Daybreak, a Toronto home for the seriously disabled. There, Nouwen spent his last ten years where there were no iPads, iphones, or calendars. The church "industry" seemed very far away.
There at the Daybreak home he spent two hours a day dressing, washing, and feeding Adam, a 26 year old profoundly disabled person.
When asked if it would not be possible for someone else to do these manual chores, maybe while Nouwen was doing something “great.” " ‘I am not giving up anything,’ he insisted. ‘It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.’ "
“He had learned to love Adam, truly to love him. In the process he had learned what it must be like for God to love us--spiritually uncoordinated, retarded, able to respond with what must seem to God like inarticulate grunts and groans.”[i]
We might say, “What a waste!” A Harvard professor - feeding an invalid? A great writer dressing a disabled person?
We might say: “What a waste!”
I only am working in a small conference.
I only have a couple of persons reporting to me.
My considerable talents are being wasted.
And Jesus goes to earth. The Son of God takes on human flesh. Was that a waste!?!
Jesus came not to show off his worth, He came to give us worth.
He came not to enrich Himself at our expense - He came impoverishing Himself to make us rich.
He came not to impress us with His glory. He came to share His glory with us.
He came to us not because we had value. He came to us to give us value.
Follow, the example of Jesus:
As servant leaders we should feed others so that they can reach their goals, rather than feeding on others so we can reach our goals.
Servant leaders serve others so they will find success, rather than using others to find their own success.
[i] Philip Yancey, “Yancey: The Holy Inefficiency of Henri Nouwen: A better symbol of the Incarnation, I can hardly imagine,” Christianity Today (December 9, 1996), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/december9/6te080.html (accessed November 30, 2015).