Last? Our society conditions us to value being first; first in our class, first across the finish line, or first to decipher an unknown. We reward the biggest, fastest, smartest, or prettiest. We do not consider finishing second as at all like winning. We celebrate winners and describe second place finishers as losers.
Jeremy Kingsley’s book, Be Last: Descending to Greatness, reverses the order of life as we envision it. He writes in a time when our compulsion to be first, to “lead the way,” troubles us. The author’s assertion about life and its purpose is thus a timely reflection on the words of Jesus: “ ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’ ” (Matt. 20:25–28).* Again, “ ‘But many who are first will be last, and the last first’ ” (Mark 10:31).
What does it mean to be last? Kingsley charts a road to greatness through biblical accounts and devotional application mixed with the narratives of his own experience. Eight themes of greatness form the organizational skeleton of the book: service, mercy, sacrifice, love, humility, submission, witness, and confession. The last two chapters form an appeal for an application of the first eight themes.
This book is not positioned as a comment on leadership theory, nor does it pretend to be a theology of leadership. Be Last does not identify and confront secular leadership practices nor announce itself as a call of Christian leadership to accountability. In identifying the life of every follower of Christ as a call to service, mercy, sacrifice, love, humility, submission, witness, and confession, Kingsley tactfully affirms that leaders and followers are in one community, respond in Christlike ways to serve within their various roles, and in humility are able to reverse roles. Greatness is expressed not in being first but in serving. And service becomes everyone’s opportunity. Leadership centers around committed and loving service; not about position, honor, or power.
Kingsley writes in an easy to read style with his ministry focused on young adults and students; a passion evident in the voice of his writing. This book can be recommended as a good one for young adults and teens troubled by the materialism and striving of Christians in society. Be Last will be most appreciated when approached for devotional use. The narratives drawn from his experience contribute to the appeal for transformation within our lives, and the scriptural applications lend to devotional reflection.
* All Scriptural references are from the New King