Striving for Last Place – Servant Leadership in Mark 9:33-37

Sam - sailing in Sydney

Sailing with Sam in Sydney

A few months ago when I was speaking at a Youthwork Conference in Sydney, Australia for Youthworks Outdoors, I got a chance to do something that I’ve never had the opportunity to do… go sailing. I was a bit nervous because I knew that I was probably the least experienced person in the boat, and knowing Aussies they’d make me step up and get some enjoyment of watching me get out of my comfort zone. So, in true form, they gave me the tiller (which is a long stick that controls the rudder), and away we went. I was like a kid… couldn’t take the smile off of my face.

The wind would be steady at times, and then other times would surprise us with big gusts… When a gust would come up, I’d have to pull the tiller toward me to keep from capsizing. The boat would lean hard… all of my shipmates were below me skimming the waves while I sat on the high side, trying to hold the boat from tipping too far. One thing I quickly learned was how important it was to keep my eye on the target where we were going. It was really easy to freak out when the boat tilted up and people on the bottom were getting water splashed on them… but my job was to keep the boat on course… the best way to do that was to keep my eye on the target on shore where I was headed.

Sailing with Sam

Probably the thing I remember most about this experience was the attitude and demeanor of our sailing guide, Sam. He was a model of servant leadership. Although he was extremely skilled far beyond anyone else in the estuary around us, he displayed patience and genuinely displayed joy as we discovered some new skills.

Jesus often had to remind his disciples to keep their eye on the target of servant leadership as well. Like Sam modeled for me, Jesus reminded his disciples that true greatness is to strive for last place and be the servant of all. I don’t know about you, but when I am around leaders with that kind of servant’s heart, I am willing to risk more, and by risking more, I discover that I can do things that I never had the confidence to try. You may not get a chance to sail with Sam like I did, but I wrote up a brief list of reflection questions from Mark 9:33-37 that might help you become more intentional in your servant hood. I wrote these questions for a group of high schoolers that I led on a backpacking trip near Steamboat, Colorado a few weeks ago, so I thought I’d share them for you to use personally or with a group that you might be leading toward greater servanthood.

RELATED POST: Servant in the Shadows | Acts of Service Create a Culture of Christ

Mark 9:33-37

“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Reflection Questions

  • According to the passage, what were the disciples arguing about on the road?
  • What are some ways Jesus defined greatness in this story?
  • Describe how Jesus illustrated greatness in how he related to a child?
  • In what ways do you at times put others down to make yourself feel more powerful?
  • How does the way we treat those who are younger or weaker than us reveal how mature and strong we are in God’s eyes? (Especially younger siblings)
  • In verse 35 Jesus called his disciples to be the very last and a servants of all. In your life back at home what are some ways you might practice this? What is stopping you from living like this?

Camp fire or Meal Question for H.S. Kids: What do you want to be remembered for when you graduate High School? What would you want someone to write in your yearbook about you?
Camp fire or Meal Question for Adults: What do you want your kids to remember about you when you are gone? What would you want someone to write in your obituary?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

7 thoughts on “Striving for Last Place – Servant Leadership in Mark 9:33-37

  1. Servant leadership seems to be one of the buzz words in our culture right now, regardless of any connection to Christianity. It is even what businesses and corporations are striving for so obviously there is something there. However, apart from Jesus can it really be done? Probably not to the same degree. Which is why keeping your focus on where you are going is so important, which for us is the Lord and His Kingdom. Without that, it is far to easy to get bogged down on the trials and difficulties that will inevitably come.

    Then and only then can you learn to truly be a servant leader. Following the way of Jesus requires that you to lay down your own agenda, to put yourself last, and to value those around you as the Lord does. Only through learning from Jesus through scripture, drawing close to the Father in prayer, and staying attentive to the Holy Spirit can you allow Him to lead you into His Kingdom while serving others so that they come as well. That is what we are after and that is what makes servant leadership not a secular thing, but a life changing, Kingdom coming, hopeful journey.

    Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement to follow the way of Jesus!

    • Thanks Melissa, great insight! I love your quote: “However, apart from Jesus can it really be done?” Great question…

  2. It is hard to put into words my feelings on keeping sight of where you want to go. I might just be overly tired or sensitive to that idea at this very moment but it resonates deep within me. It is easy to lose sight of the target when you want to focus on the near misses in life just like it was while sailing. It reminds me of the story when Jesus was walking on the water out to the disciples who were in the boat and Peter wanted so badly to go out to him. He was fine until he lost focus on Jesus and started to sink when he focused on the wind and waves around him. I think that we lose sight of Jesus more than we care to acknowledge while we are in ministry. We get caught up in our surroundings and forget that we are just along for the ride wherever the wind (God) may take us. If we are able to keep our gaze fixed upon Him then we will be less likely to get caught up in our selves and own self worth. It gives us perspective that we are here to serve others with a selfless heart and attitude.

    I admit that it is easy to want the recognition for my service working with youth and when it happens it feels great. Youth ministry especially can be like gusts of wind in your sails that can nearly dump you in the water at times while other times it is a steady breeze. We are called to live out our lives in such a way that points others to Jesus and the love and forgiveness that can be had in him. It comes down to the question:s what do you want your legacy to be, and how do you want to be remembered? I hope and pray with all my heart that people will remember me as one that lived for Jesus and loved those around me with a selfless heart.

    • Thanks Ben for your thoughts. I really like your question: ” It comes down to the question:s what do you want your legacy to be, and how do you want to be remembered?”

  3. Working with youth at church, I love this story from Mark. Not that the youth at church would be considered as young as perhaps the children in Jesus’ example, but I believe the same principles apply. So often churches tend to want to separate the youth from the adults by sending them to the farthest corners of the building (or even providing another building away from the “church proper” for the youth to use). Or youth are allowed into the “adult” events, as long as they use the right words, wear the right clothes, and maintain the proper volume. Jesus seems to speak against this.

    In the context of servant leadership, how will the youth (and children) learn how to function as servant leaders unless they see it modeled for them by the rest of the church. How will they understand its value unless they experience the church leaders functioning in a servant role. In order to see and experience, they must be included within the same contexts, and they must be allowed to come as they are. This is not to say that their choice of language, or dress is necessarily appropriate as a Christian, but how can they be expected to grow in their faith to understand this inappropriateness if they are not included as part of the functional body of Christ.

    Leadership should not be about power and personal gain, but instead should be looking for growth within the group being led. As a servant leader, we need to put our own egos in check, and always be looking out for the best interests of others. Once the group realized that you are truly concerned about them, they will be willing to follow you because you have earned the right, not because you carry a title.

    • Thanks for your insight Alan. I really like your thought: ” As a servant leader, we need to put our own egos in check, and always be looking out for the best interests of others”

  4. Thanks Ashley, great thoughts and great encouragement. Interesting reading your campfire question… I sometimes fear that my strengths are shown during short-term, temporary communities but wonder how I’ll be remembered by those close to me who see me day in day out. Over lunch one day you spoke about your desire to work 2/3 of the day and have family time on the remaining 1/3 whether that was morning, arvo (Australian for afternoon) or night. I want so much to model servant leadership to my family by working hard (and often long) at my ministry but if I’m never at home then they will only see my absence not my service… Tricky balance but one that I really appreciated your input on. Thanks again for making the trip out to Australia, it was great having you here for the 2 days.

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