The cost and rewards of leadership

“True leadership may or may not involve position and honour, but it always exacts a price” – Dr George Flattery


Matthew 22:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 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. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Observations and reflection Questions

  1. What did this mother ask of Jesus? And why do you think she asked it?
  2. Jesus answered “you do not know what you are asking” – what did he mean with this answer? [consider the rest of the text in your answer]
    1. How may this be true of all aspirations to leadership?
    2. What caution is implied in this answer of Jesus, pertaining to the aspiration of leadership?
  3. Did Jesus condemn the mother (or her disciples) for desiring the office of leadership?
    1. What does this teach us about aspirations to leadership?
  4. In asked “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”
    1. Which “cup” does Jesus refer to? [hint: Matthew 26:39]
    2. What does Jesus imply by asking this question to his disciples?
    3. What does this teach us about the cost of leadership?
  5. Because the other disciples were indignant towards the two brother’s aspirations to leadership, Jesus taught a lesson on the nature of leadership. Rephrase that lesson here in your own words, starting your sentences with these phrases:
    1. (Verse 25) What secular attitude towards leadership is….
    2. (Verses 26-27) The Christian approach to leadership is…
    3. (Verse 28) Jesus example of leadership is…
  6. What was Jesus’ reward for “the cost”/”the cup”? [hint: Philippians 2:5-10 and Hebrews 12:1-2]

Personal Reflection and Application

When two of his disciples asked Jesus for positions of leadership, Jesus did not rebuke or deny them their requests, but he immediately touched on the crucial points: we should think of the cost before we offer ourselves for leadership, and understand that leadership is essentially empowerment for service.

  1. What is leadership NOT? Give three to five thoughtful answers.
  2. What is leadership? Give three to five thoughtful answers.
  3. What does (or will) leadership cost you, even more than those following you – and why? Give three to five thoughtful answers.
  4. What is the reward of leadership? What makes the cost worthwhile? Give three to five thoughtful answers.


Prayerfully consider your aspirations of leadership, your attitude towards leadership, the cost of leadership, and the reward of leadership.  Then ask the Lord for more opportunities, greater influence and greater wisdom and empowerment for effective, godly leadership.  May God’s Kingdom come in you and through you!