33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9: 33-35
Authority comes from being a servant. Not from doing acts of service, but from being a servant.
This is easily verified in places where a pastor goes in and does many acts of service for congregation members. He goes to parties, baptizes, goes out of his way at weddings and funerals to accommodate families, works like the dickens--and then expects congregation members to do as he says at all times. Such a pastor usually gets in hot water very quickly. He'll say that the congregation needs to do something or change something. It won't be popular, and folks will run him out. He will be left scratching his head thinking, "After all I've done for them, why do they treat me this way?" News flash: Probably because you expected them to do what you told them to do and your acts of service were of the "I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-listen-to-me" fashion.
Contrast this with authentic servanthood--the kind of servanthood which seeks to serve without anything given in return--the kind of servanthood Jesus speaks about with the disciples. He's not telling them to be a servant to get something in return. He's telling them to purposely place themselves at the bottom of the rung. He's telling them to purposely put themselves where they will get kicked, stepped on, fussed at, and so forth. He's telling them to purposely put themselves in the places of least honor and respect. Why? Well, because that's what He's doing too, and by doing so, He will be seen to have the greatest authority.
It sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but let's go back to how it works in a church setting. Say a pastor comes into a congregation. He doesn't look to change people or the way things are done. Instead, he sets out to love the people entrusted into his care. He goes out of his way to accommodate folks at weddings, funerals and baptisms. He visits the hospitalized and shut in. He doesn't make many demands. He offers insights when asked. He works to build up the strengths of the church and the people he serves. He gets stepped on at times. He gets fussed at at times, but such things do not ruffle his feathers. He continues to love and serve those who get upset. He rarely takes credit for things that go well, always choosing to lift up what his congregation members have done and giving credit to God for all good sermons, kind words, or prayers. The more this pastor does such things, the more authority he will have. He will earn respect as he seeks to be servant instead of ruler.
Oftentimes, I have heard the phrase that one needs to "Respect the office (position) even if you don't like the person who is in it." I think Jesus reworks that phrase by telling us, "Start at the bottom as a servant. Gain the respect by being at the bottom. Once folks see your great love and the respect you give them. They will respect you and your authority."
I think that's how it works.
I hope I can do it.