In the fallout of the sex scandals that had rocked the televangelist world in America during the 1980s, someone wrote an article in the Africa Concorde magazine in which he revealed the full extent of the problem. In his closing remarks, he made a very important observation that times had really changed since the man of Nazareth walked the streets of this world. He quoted what the Lord Jesus had once said in Matt 8:20, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” The author continued his observation that the people who now claim to be servants of Christ lead a totally different lifestyle from his.

I believe his observation was right as he clearly saw that what was done in the name of the Lord had nothing to do with him. This observation is also true when we consider the issue of leadership. In Mark 10:42–45, the Lord takes the opportunity to teach his disciples what real leadership is about. Servant leadership is what the Lord is teaching his followers. In this article, I highlight this by expounding this passage. 

What servant leadership is not

Verse 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 

It is not selfish ambition

The indignation of the ten apostles was a result of their discovery of the request that James and John had made to the Lord through their mother, according to the account in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 20 and verse 20. The apostles may have been so angry at what this request meant to the rest of them. Their chances of occupying the highest positions were under threat by the lobbying of the two. The other ten harboured similar desires as James and John of being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. From the Lord response to this situation, it is clear that selfish ambition is not a characteristic that is to be found in those who are to serve in his kingdom.

Ambition is in itself an amiable and essential part of leadership. The Lord Jesus himself had ambition for the mission that he had come here on earth for. The apostle Paul also had ambitions to be like Christ (Philippians 3:7–10). These two examples show that ambition is important. However, unlike the disciples, their ambition was to fulfil what God had wanted. They were in line with the will of God. In his contribution on this passage in The Pulpit commentary, A Roland says, “Ambition is a wholesome stimulus, if only it is free from selfishness.” Anyone who is or who wants to be a leader in the church needs to think less about himself and more about what the Lord wants him to do. 

It is not self serving

In verse 42 we read: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.”

The Lord in addressing this problem makes reference to the rulers of Gentiles and their high officers. He does not condemn the fact that they hold power, but the way in which they were using it. It is important to remember that during this time the nation of Israel was under Roman rule and the people detested this arrangement. They were subjected to all kinds of suffering and harassment at the hands of their colonialists and some of their own who had decided to join them. Unfortunately, when one looked at the religious establishment of the day, there was not much of a difference at all. The Lord says the following concerning this leadership in Matt 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

The disciples’ view of leadership was obviously informed by what was obtaining at the time and the Lord in our passage wants to correct this wrong philosophy about leadership. The Lord Jesus, in addressing the issue, makes it clear that his followers must look at leadership differently from the way the Gentiles or unbelievers viewed it. He points out the fact that Gentiles used leadership as a means to get their followers to do things for them. In other words they use the position of leadership for their benefit at the expense of those under them. By carrying out their responsibilities in that way, the Gentiles were abusing their authority.

We ought to beware that we do not copy styles of leadership from those whose principles are foreign to the kingdom of heaven. We need to look to the Holy Scriptures for instructions on all matters. Today, we have political and traditional leadership in place and, as in the days of Christ, much of it is self-serving, self-seeking and self-satisfying. 

What is servant leadership?

Verse 43 and 44: “…Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.”

The Lord says greatness in the kingdom of God is different from the way the people of the world view it. He says that anyone who desires to become great must be a servant. In verse 44, the Lord uses two words to describe the nature of leadership in his kingdom. These words are “servant” and “slave”. From this, we learn two things about his style of leadership. 

It focuses on service for others

Both servants and slaves are involved in providing service to their masters or whoever has employed them. The word used for servant is the same word for deacon, which means to serve. Unlike the leadership of the Gentiles who used their subjects to serve them, the Lord is teaching that the kingdom-way is for leaders to be involved in serving others. The focus of service in the kingdom is others. The Lord Jesus is saying that anyone who wants to be great must think about the needs of other people. Servant leadership is one that seeks to help those who are weak and needy.

Servant leadership aims at helping the disappointed, the discouraged, and the disillusioned. In short, it is focused on helping to meet the needs of others in whatever situation. Matthew Henry puts it this way, “…those that shall be put under your charge must be as sheep under the charge of the shepherd, who is to tend them and feed them, and be a servant to them, not as horses under the command of the driver that works them and beats them, and gets his pennyworths out of them.” 

It makes sacrifice for the sake of others

The lives of servants or slaves usually revolve around the people that they serve. They usually work long hours, on weekends, and on public holidays. Their families often miss them as they are engaged in serving others. They are not able to do most of the things that they want. Their lives are determined by the needs of others.

The leaders of God’s people are called upon from time to time to give their time and other resources to help out the souls that the Lord has put under their care. Sadly, it is not uncommon today to see a leader living far better than those he has been called to minister to. This is not the kind of leadership that the Lord is speaking about in his word!

For instance, some years ago someone shared with me how their pastor was demanding that his church members should contribute half of their monthly salaries so that the church could construct an ultra modern auditorium that would seat 10,000 people. The auditorium has not yet been built at the time of going to press. However, in the interim, the pastor would be seen on television boasting about how the Lord had prospered him. Here is a glaring example of using people for personal gain and glory. 

Jesus Christ—a perfect example of servant leadership

Verse 45; “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Lord Jesus Christ concludes his teaching on leadership by giving himself as an example. By so doing he wants his followers to shift their focus from the Gentiles and unrighteous rulers to himself. It is important to note how the Lord links the teaching on leadership to the models that exist at a given time. He believed that his teaching and his way of life were to convey the same message. If the church is to succeed in following the example of our Lord Jesus then it is important that those in leadership show the way by their lives! He says he came to serve and to give his life for many. Below are a few examples from his life that show he was a servant leader.

 In his birth

When the Creator of the universe came to this world, he did not choose to be born in Herod’s palace or the residence of the Roman governor. Scripture records in Luke 2:7 that there was no room for him and his parents at the inn, and thus he was born in a cattle stand. Foremost in the Lord’s mind, was the hopelessness and helplessness of the people that he was coming to save, not his status.

One of the striking things about the recent British elections was that the newly elected Prime Minister, David Cameron of the Conservative Party, was persistently accused by his opponents that due to his privileged upbringing he was not like one of them as he portrayed himself to be. For a leader to serve those under his care he needs to go to the level where the people are. Christ was like that in his birth, as he became one of us. 

During his ministry

There are numerous occasions in his earthly life that shows that Jesus came to serve others and not himself. After feeding the five thousand plus in John 6:1–15, the crowds wanted to make him king. He declined the offer.

In John 13, we read the story of what happened in the upper room when the Lord took the position of the lowest servant in the house and began to wash the feet of his disciples. What an example of leadership! The fact that this was one of the very last things that he did when he was with them goes to show the importance of the lesson that his disciples needed to bear in mind.

The story of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:36–45 is another occasion. Faced with the prospect of a painful and gruesome death, he decided to submit to the will of the Father for the sake of the human race. He made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up his life to die on the cross of Calvary. The Apostle Paul points to Christ as an example for believers in Philippians 2:5–8. 

In his death

The death of the Lord Jesus demonstrates the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make for the sake of others. He did not die for any sin that he had committed—Scripture is very clear that he was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21)—but for the sins of the world. What leadership! What service to his creation! 


From the short discussion on our passage, it is very clear that servant leadership is one that the Lord Jesus Christ practiced during his time here on earth. It is the one that he wants his followers to apply in their lives. As people of God we have no business imitating the world or their style of leadership, for to do that is to bring confusion in the kingdom. The Lord has set us a good example and he wants us to follow him. Let us, therefore, be obedient to him and follow him in servant leadership!


  1. Henry M Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
  2. Roland A 2001 Pulpit Commentary, A Roland Rio, WI Ages Software®, Inc., USA