Be a Drum Major for Service

By Todd A. Smith

            We all have fallen victim to the drum major instinct. 

The desire to be important and superior to others, whether it is based on our position in society or our position in the workplace everyone wants to be praised and appreciated for their talents and accomplishments. 

But often this desire is misused on trivial and counterproductive themes.

            On Jan. 21, Americans, both young and old, will celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Americans from all walks of life will listen to King’s soaring rhetoric from some of his most celebrated speeches during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Nevertheless, many fail to give enough credit to the sermons he delivered to the congregants of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta every Sunday.  The sermons that Martin Luther King, Sr. encouraged his son to “make plain” so all could relate to its message.

One such sermon delivered on Feb. 4, 1968, entitled “The Drum Major Instinct” still resonates today as many in our society desire to be praised, but do not involve themselves in the service that deserves praise.

King’s drum major instinct sermon finds its biblical basis in Mark 10:35-45, when James and John asked Jesus to sit on his left and right side in glory.  The two disciples wanted a position of power, but Jesus taught them that true power comes in serving others and not oneself.

In “The Drum Major Instinct,” King acknowledged that we all suffer from out of control egos.  All of us want to be great at what we do.  We all want to be the drum major leading the parade, but letting our ego get out of control leads to arrogance, immorality and self-destruction.

We encourage the drum major instinct in our celebrity worship in this country.  The material life that is promoted in the entertainment industry causes many of us to live beyond our means so we can outshine our “haters” and keep up with the Joneses.

It causes us to boast about our accomplishments in life, although we know our blessings come directly from God’s grace and not our own ingenuity. 

The drum major instinct even causes some to engage in criminal behavior because the attention they receive from their crimes makes them feel important. 

Furthermore, it causes many to devalue others in a way to increase their value in society, which can lead to a snobbish outlook on reality.

Although we all have this “character flaw,” Jesus and King taught that the drum major instinct is not negative if we use our desire to be the best in a positive way.  Jesus urged his disciples to desire to be the best servant of others, not just the best in our worldly pursuits.

King preached that Jesus wants us to be important and the best or first, “but I want you to be the first in love.  I want you to be the first in moral excellence.  I want you to be the first in generosity.”

King so desperately wanted us to get to the Promised Land, and we become so inundated with his last speech on this Earth that we often forget what he meant by the mountaintop.

The mountaintop he spoke of was not a day when we only cared about material wealth and academic accomplishments, but when we all cared about loving our brothers and sisters and giving back to those less fortunate.  His Promised Land was a day when our entire community was dedicated to service to others.

And as King preached, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.”

You just have to use that drum major instinct within us to make the entire world a better place, not just our own particular world or life, a better place.

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