During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier. Their leader was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them.
Asked why by the rider, he retorted with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal!” The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers.
When the job was finished, the man turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” It was none other than George Washington.
In one of the great texts of the Bible, Jesus the greatest leader ever reminds us of the principle practiced by Washington.
“But whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you must be the slave of all.” (Mk. 10:43-44).
Sadly too many people in the world are like the Corporal. They are filled with pomposity because of their rank, title or position. They are giving orders. Barking instructions. But refusing to roll up their sleeves, dirty their hands and help with the work.
Christians and church leaders are not immune to this problem. In fact, in our text James and John had shown this disposition in a request to Jesus. “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (Mk. 10:37).
The request displeased the other ten disciples. No doubt their quest seemed selfish to their peers. But apparently, James and John weren’t the only ones enamored with greatness. Earlier after Jesus had predicted his death and while they were traveling to Capernaum, all the disciples had “disputed among themselves who would be the greatest” (9:30-37).
On that occasion, when they arrived Jesus asked, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road.”
Apparently, they were embarrassed to admit it. The Scripture says they didn’t answer Jesus. In response, Jesus “sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Then to illustrate his point of being humble, unassuming and void of any pretense, prestige or worldly ambition, he took a little child in his arms and said, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”
The world considers rulers with the power to command others, issue edicts and exercise authority as great. But the road to true greatness in the eyes of the Lord is found in service. Of meeting the needs of others. And being willing to minister whenever and wherever duty calls.
Preachers in the Lord’s church need to remember they are servants. One of my Bible teachers at Florida College whom we considered “great” often reminded us, “Boys, I’m just a student. I’m still learning.” His humility and dedication to careful scriptural exegesis was a wonderful example to those of us desired to preach the gospel. As my friend Dee Bowman often says, “There are no big preachers. And no little preachers. Just preachers.”
Elders should desire to be Shepherds because they want to serve. Not to wear a title. Or hold an office. Or exercise a position of lordship over the church. I once heard an elder who was sincerely questioned by a member about a decision arrogantly respond, “That’s the way it’s going to be because I’m an elder.” Sadly, such a man has no concept of servant-leadership.
John Maxwell defines leadership as influence. A true leader has followers because of his personhood, not his position. The axiom is true, “if a man thinks he’s a leader and has no followers, he’s only taking a walk.” Furthermore, when a leader has to “pull rank” to justify his decisions, he’s lost all credibility with his people.
The Rotarian mottos, “He profits most who serves best.” And “service above self” ought to be the desire of every preacher, pastor, and Christian who desires to be great in the sight of the Lord.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman