“Get to the back of the line.”
I once asked my brother-in-law, Des Steyn, what he thought was the most valuable lesson that he learned during his time in the South African Army. He didn’t have to give it a second thought. He said, “Volunteer for nothing!” He did explain the reasons why, but to this day I can’t relate. The look on his face suggested that the problem was not so much being asked to be a hero who may never return from a secret mission, it was more like, “If you are dumb enough to put your hand up, don’t complain if you end up cleaning out the ablutions block—after all, you volunteered!”
Being ‘number one’ is a hard impulse to suppress. The thought of missing out rates next to abandonment on the scale of feelings no one wants to feel. In Matthew 20:20-28 we discover that James and John were not going to leave getting the top jobs to chance. They, with the help of their dear old mum, approached Jesus to secure the executive positions in the coming Kingdom (probably fearing that the odds-on favourite, Peter, would secure them for himself and his little brother, Andrew). “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” That ‘cup’ was a cup of suffering. However, they were confident in their abilities to be the first Kingdom CEOs, and fearlessly stated, “We can.” Jesus, knowing their future, assured them that they would “indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left” will be decided by the Father.
The other 10 disciples missed the point and got angry. Jesus pulled them all together and told them that ‘me-first leadership’ is the stuff of despotic leaders who treat everyone as if they are doing them a favour by oppressing them. As for Kingdom leaders: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” As far as we know no one put up their hand to volunteer as a slave at that point. Not too many days later Jesus would show his disciples that the true soldier of Christ steps forward to clean—each other’s feet—without having to be asked. Jesus said, “I have set you and example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). You see, it’s a Kingdom leader who tells himself to “get to the back of the line.”