Leadership and Service: A Bible Study in Mark 10 and John 13

Written by: 
Jeff Barneson

Each fall the incoming class is welcomed to the Harvard Business School by the dean with words which are flattering and true:

“You are the leaders. You are the best, the brightest, la crème de la crème, the cream of the crop … The future is in your hands, and we are looking for great things from you.”

We are leaders, whether we’re at Harvard or not. By virtue of our gifts and opportunities we’ve had, others will look to us to provide leadership in a variety of business, community, and church positions.

The Scripture and Background

These two snapshots from the life of Jesus give us a glimpse at how Jesus led — and how he calls us to lead:

Mark 10:35-45

Two disciples approach Jesus and request of him positions of leadership.

While we cannot with certainty know their motivation in coming to Jesus, it may be that they were ambitious truly to do good. Perhaps they were only looking for security (a secure position in an expanding “industry” where Jesus would be CEO).

It may be that the other disciples became indignant because they hadn’t thought to ask first.

Jesus says he is unable to grant the positions they seek.

Jesus contrasts the gentile approach (“exercising authority”) with that which should characterize his disciples (“servants” and “slaves”). He points to himself as the prime example.

John 13:1-5, 12-15

The night before Jesus was to be crucified, he washed the disciples feet. Historically it was the job of the lowest person (servant or slave) to wash the feet of visitors. Jesus strips himself and washes the feet of his disciples.

This was to be an example for the disciples — the Lord and teacher took the position and performed that tasks of the lowest.

Issues Raised

What is the relationship between position and leadership?

If Jesus rejects the model of authority and “lording it over” as illegitimate among Christians, is it right for us to use that model in “the world” (corporations, schools, institutions, etc.)? How should we function in institutions which don’t acknowledge God and play by different rules?

Does following Jesus’ example mean that our leadership must renounce power as a means of accomplishing goals (the towel vs. the throne)?

Discussion Questions

What are the most popular current models of leaders and leadership styles?

From the passages, what are some of the elements of the leadership that Jesus describes and demonstrates? What does he mean by “servant” and “slave”?

Is this model of leadership practical? Can it work in the marketplace or in an office? What are the points of tension and common ground with current leadership models?

What could it mean to “wash the feet” of your classmates? Your roommates? Your professors?

Read this statement from The Samaritan’s Posture by Gordon Cosby. Is it possible to “advance” in the corporation and still maintain a “downward journey”? How?

“Part of the scandal of the gospel is that when you meet the abandoned, crucified Messiah, he grabs you and you belong to him. Wherever you are in privilege and power and status and opportunity, you start the movement down, not up… . One keeps going down and down until one is identified with the victimized poor wherever they are scattered throughout the earth. Wherever you see them and hear about them, you know that your lot is cast with them, that they are your people.”