He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” [Mark 9:35 (NLT)]

Jesus’ disciples believed him to be the long-awaited and promised Messiah. Like most of the Jews, they originally believed that the Messiah would bring a new kingdom into this world: a new government for Israel that was not under the rule of Rome. The disciples began to think about their status in this future kingdom, much like close supporters of a presidential candidate start thinking about an ambassadorship or even a place in the presidential cabinet. The gospels tell us that they argued over which of them was the greatest and who deserved the best position in this new realm. The mother of James and John even had the nerve to ask Jesus to give her sons special status in his coming kingdom. She was like a presidential candidate’s financial backer who requests that a family member be given a cushy or high profile job in the new government. It seemed that everyone around Jesus was jockeying for a choice position in his kingdom.

It took a great deal of time and teaching, however, before the disciples truly grasped that the Kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke was not going to be here on earth. Jesus told his disciples that leadership would not be determined by power and influence but by service. The good leader is not the most prominent, ruthless or esteemed person, said Jesus; the good leader is the servant. This was a new concept of leadership: attending to the needs of people instead of using them for your own purposes, caring for others instead of having them care for you. Instead of looking for ways to earn honors and privileges, Jesus tells us that we should be looking for ways to serve others and minister to their needs.

Just because you’re in the driver’s seat … doesn’t mean you have to run people over. [From “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow]

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as ransom of many.” [Matthew 20:26-28 (NLT)]