The servant leader is a principle of leadership that exists only in Christianity. It is a powerful thing and the complete opposite of the way the world considers leadership to be like. Jesus shows in this section and from his own example what it means to be a leader and to be in authority as a Christian.
To be a servant leader is to be a leader who serves those of whom he or she is in charge. In the world as a person rises in authority, whether in an organization or business, means they gain more power over those under them. As they increase in position and authority they become masters and are served by those beneath them. Thus we see the typical structure where the servant serves the master.
However in Christianity as a person grows in Christ and rises in maturity as a Christian, they become a servant. The authority and power given to a leader in Christ is the authority and power to serve others. The power of their position is in their service, not in being served. Jesus himself said that he came to serve and not to be served. (Verse 28) Jesus was the Son of God and yet showed what it means to be a leader in the New Covenant through his own example.
The point is that as Christians we are not here to become the boss. We are here to help each other to learn and grow so that everyone in Christ comes to an equal footing in Jesus Christ. We are called to be equals, brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not called so that a few lord it over the rest as supreme rulers, to be served by their minions.
The model of master and servant in the world is the complete opposite of the process in Christ. In Christ as we progress, we become more humble as we overcome pride and arrogance and become better able to serve. In the world often it is the leader who becomes more proud and arrogant as they rise with their success. But in Christ as Jesus shows in this section, pride and arrogance have no place in leadership in Christianity. What counts in Christ is learning to be humble and obedient to God so that we can teach others His ways.
We are learning to put away pride and to put away all of the passions of the flesh to serve Christ. The request that the mother of James and John made in this section, for her two sons to be seated at the right and left side of the Lord was based on pride. It was a mother looking out for the best for her two boys. The other disciples were indignant at this request, and we can see that left unchecked it would have set up a division amongst the disciples. The worst thing that can occur in a church, especially in an eldership, is for division to occur. Division leads to the breakdown of churches and thus Jesus statement that “It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Verse 26)
It is no different in a worldly organization. When there is a division in the leadership group, generally there is pride at the root of the situation, one person or one faction seeking a proud advantage over the rest. They have the intention to divide and conquer, to take over the reins of power from the current ruling person or group.
But in Christ when the leaders are the servants of all, when they have put all pride and arrogance aside, then they can truly lead for the betterment of the church, for the growth of the flock in their charge and for the glory of the Lord. When the desires of the leader are to do the will of the Lord rather than to follow their own will, then you have a truly strong church in Jesus name.
Finally we see the greatest compliment the Lord can give to any person, which shows how much he values the servant leader. When we come into his kingdom and stand before his judgement seat, the finest thing we can hear him say to us is, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21,23) There is no greater honour the Lord can bestow upon an individual than to consider them a good and faithful servant. It is in our serving of each other that we truly honour the Lord and help to grow the church so that, “…we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)