You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
I feel strongly that this is another of those parts of the Bible that is well known, but little understood. So many Christian groups seem to embody a style of leadership that is the opposite of what Jesus lays before us here: bombastic, self-promoting, controlling, abusive. And often it's not just the leaders who inflict this on others, but the people themselves who collude in embracing this "lording it" leadership. Sometimes it can be a lot easier to have a "non-servant" leader, perhaps because then there's no danger that the rest of us might also be called to this sacrifical way of life.
And it is sacrificial. This is one of several places in the NT where we're called to follow the death of Jesus as an example for our Christian lives. Often I think we can present servant leadership as a "nice" option. And certainly to be humble is a good strategy for earning the trust of those whom you lead. But it doesn't always work that way. The servant leader is also the vulnerable leader. Reflecting on these words, it seems to me that Jesus is not just saying, "you can't lead unless you serve", but also something much more challenging:
"if you're going to serve, then people will crucify you".
This rings true for me. Leadership in the body of Christ is a great privilege, but it's no bed of roses (unless somebody forgot to cut off the thorns). It can be painful and very costly. That was Jesus' own experience. For every person who really gets it, and gets up and follows, there's another who would rather just put the boot in. The way of the cross is something which leaders are called to live in a very intense way.
I think about this as I prepare to take some people in church through a leadership development course this year , and when I meet my fellow clergy and church leaders in different places. It's not a cause for despair - after the cross comes the resurrection - but it does go with the territory, and we need to be ready for it.