What Makes a Leader?

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By: Raymond Harris

Note to the Reader
This week we continue our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.

Passage: Mark 10, mc Mark 10.35-45, vv 10.42-44

What Makes a Leader?

Leadership is a topic that seems to never go out of importance. From politics to education to the marketplace, everyone is trying to identify and define leadership; even Christendom is trying to define leaders and leadership. That which makes a leader is difficult to identify, but one thing is certain, we can recognize beyond doubt, failed leaders. Do a search with online booksellers, or look on the shelves of any bookstore, you will find books that discuss leadership. The leader and their leadership seem to be the material of millions of printed pages.

What Is Leadership?
From the earliest days, there are some disciples who follow Jesus who were concerned about leadership; this is evident from the discussion of James and John1 in Mark Chapter Ten. The interesting issue is that based on Jesus response, he is not concerned about the leadership that they are interested in.2 Based upon the indignation of the other ten disciples,3 James and John must have been asking for something tremendously powerful.

What is it about leaders and leadership that is so appealing? To say that leaders or that leadership does not have power would be a falsehood. The leaders and the leadership do have power. But leaders and leadership have hardships that those in non-leadership situations do not face. Just consider the hardships of one of the chief leaders of the oil company of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A person could pursue any issue in particular, but behind the face, is a real man facing real turmoil. Who in their right mind would want to be that leader?

A person who becomes a successful leader could face untold rewards. A person who becomes a failed leader could face untold disgrace. But it seems that disgrace is not the objective of those who pursue leadership. Sometimes it takes history to prove whether a leader was a success or a failure, and not all leaders are recognized for what and who they are when they are leading. Be that as it may, Jesus has a very interesting take on leadership.

Jesus Defines Leadership
It seems proper to conclude from Jesus’ statement that some leaders seek leadership for the purpose of oppressing and dominating with their power.4 It is unfortunate that history proves his statement correct, whether it be in the spheres of government or religion. But this is not our discussion. We need to focus on what Jesus told James and John.

Jesus told James and John, as well as the others it seems, that oppressive domineering leadership is not the hallmark of the leadership of the disciples of Christ. He makes it very clear that if James and John really want to lead they have to learn to serve.5 Those elected to public office are sometimes referred to as “public servants” because those two words describe not just their function, but their responsibility to the public itself. But when was the last time “church leaders” were referred to as “servants of the assembly”. The word minister comes close, even the word deacon, but these words carry meanings not conveyed by the word servant. Ministers are hired and fill offices with specific duties. While deacons are chosen and willingly serve from within the assembly, they still make sure that responsibilities are fulfilled.

It is interesting that Jesus said that a real leader is a slave.6 Can you imagine the reaction of James and John, not to mention the other Ten Disciples. It must have been a reaction similar to “You have got to be kidding me. A slave?” A slave has no rights, no privileges, no choices. A slave does what they are told, when they are told. I am not sure I have ever met a leader who was a slave to the assembly. I don’t think that I am a slave to the assembly. It is obvious from Jesus’ statement that he believes a slave makes the best leader.

The church does not need scores of lessons about quality leaders or quality leadership. The church needs scores of lessons about quality slaves. We disciples must learn how not just to serve, but to be enslaved to righteousness. Can you imagine your brother or sister living enslaved to serve you, ministering to your needs? Now for the harder question, can you imagine yourself enslaved to serve, ministering to your brother and sister’s needs? May the LORD bless us as we seek to be quality slaves who serve and minister to the needs of one another.

1. “Discussion of James and John.” Mark 10.35-37.
2. “Jesus interested in a different type of leadership.” Mark 10.38-40.
3. “Disciples’ indignation” Mark 10.41.
4. “Some lead with oppressive power.” Mark 10.42.
5. “Leaders must learn to serve.” Mark 10.43.
6. “A real leader is a slave.” Mark 10.44.