Who Among Us Is the Greatest?
The counterintuitive nature of servant-leadership.
This is the second of a 5-part devotional series called Stewardship: A Biblical Model For Leadership. Read the first part here.
“For who is the greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)
In August, TIME Magazine debuted its cover featuring a black-and-white photo of tennis player Serena Williams. Her hair was slicked back in a tight ponytail, her cheekbones glittered with bronzer, and her ears adorned with studs in the shape of the word, “Ma.” Above her profile and under TIME’s well-recognized masthead were two words: The Greatest.
Serena recently announced she would be hanging up her racket in an effort to pursue a better home life with her family. The retirement announcement opened the floodgates of think pieces seeking to answer one question: Who is the greatest?
In an interview, Serena is asked to list off a few athletes upon whom she would bestow such a label. She rattles off names like Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, basketball player Lebron James, and golf legend Tiger Woods. When asked if she thinks she belongs among them, she doesn’t hesitate in her response. “For sure, hands-down,” she says. And based on Serena’s stats, she’s not wrong.
We live in a world that’s obsessed with greatness — a reality that dates all the way back to Biblical times. In Luke 22, we enter a scene of dispute among Christ’s followers with each of them arguing over who among them is the greatest. And somewhat surprisingly, this wasn’t the first time (see Luke 9:46).
Like many people today, the disciples often worried themselves with status and ranking. They each sought to be Jesus’ closest and most trustworthy disciple and were completely dismayed when Christ foretold that one of them would ultimately betray him (Luke 22:21).
But each time the disciples sought to advance themselves, Christ urged them toward the counter cultural idea of servant leadership — a way of life that Christ himself perfectly exemplified. In Phillippians, the Apostle Paul explains that Christ, who embodied the very nature of God, did not consider his equality with God to be used for his own advantage.
“Rather [Christ] made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)
Throughout his life, Christ epitomized what it means to lead with a heart of humility through acts of service. He was a servant leader who did not seek his own recognition, but radically sought to achieve goodness for the sake of others, in spite of the costs.
Christ’s example stands in stark contrast to many leaders of today, who we often see clambering over one another in order to boast about themselves. But as Christ points out in the book of Matthew, true “greatness” comes with service. “Important leaders love to use all their authority,” he says. “But it should not be that way among you. Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant … In the same way, [Christ] did not come to be served. He came to serve others …” (Matthew 20:25b-28a)
Our mission is more than receiving temporary accolades from the world around us. Instead, we are to live a life of self-sacrificial service that points others to the God who humbled himself when he became vulnerable like us and died on the cross so that we may live in full fellowship and intimacy with him.
As Henri Nowen writes in his book, The Selfless Way of Christ, “[Christ] moved from power to powerlessness, from greatness to smallness, from success to failure, from strength to weakness, from glory to ignominy. The whole life of Jesus of Nazareth was a life in which all upward mobility was resisted.”
So when we find ourselves in leadership roles, we must cultivate a servant’s heart rather than skillfully orchestrating a workplace to reflect our own image, wants, and desires. As Christian leaders, we must be willing to do the work that needs to be done — no matter how small — and care for the lives of those around us — no matter their positions. If we can do that, then we will be demonstrating the kind of servant’s heart that’s uniquely Christian.
Dominique McKay is Ministry to State's Director of Women's Ministry in Washington, D.C.