Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Gordan Runyan
Religion columnist 

Leaders called to service, not power


June 6, 2018

Matthew 20:25-28 says: But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark and Luke also document this teaching, in response to a particular sort of bad action by the disciples. They had a habit of arguing about which one of them was the greatest.

Which one deserved to be in charge once Jesus had fully accomplished his mission? You can almost see the Lord rolling his eyes, or, as the kids say, smacking his head.

After decades of studying my Bible, I have only begun to realize what a radical statement Jesus was making when he said, “It shall not be so among you.”

He was overturning everything humans thought about power, authority, obedience, and service, like he upended the tables of the moneychangers. The history of Christianity shows how slow we have been to grasp this.

What Jesus was saying was that, in his kingdom, the leaders would have the same sort of power to conform their “subjects” to their own will as a slave has to make his master do what he wants. They would have none: None, that is, other than the power of peaceful persuasion, married to a life of real service.

He wasn’t commending a “servant’s heart.” He wasn’t saying that a husband should just make sure to boss his wife around with good intentions. He wasn’t suggesting that a church leader should impose compliance to his will through threat of excommunication — as long as he does so with a heart of service. He was saying that leadership would be exercised through real-life acts of servitude, apart from any institutional power to enforce the leader’s will.

This isn’t the way our churches are organized. Our churches are organized with the goal of making sure that the head guy calls the shots. He’s God’s man. He’s untouchable. You just sit there and listen. If that becomes hard for you, we’ll send other “servants,” men with titles like elder and deacon, to gently nudge you back into conformity. If it comes down to it, our last act of service will be to escort you to the door.

At the Last Supper, Jesus clothed himself like a slave and went around washing the disciple’s feet. He had every right to order them to serve him. But, he modeled real leadership with a lowly act of service and the direction that they ought to mimic him.

Christian business guru David Peacocke has coined the phrase, “He who serves leads.” This is the scriptural teaching. I challenge you to hold on to this idea as you pursue your own Bible reading. You will start to see it everywhere. It may convince you, as it has me, that there is a lot we need to change.

Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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