By Katie Pearson
One of the most shocking and intentional acts of servant leadership Jesus performed next to His crucifixion was washing his disciples’ feet prior to his crucifixion. While it sounds mundane, this simple gesture illustrates for us what downward mobility looks like in action:
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”- John 13:12-17 (NIV)
Ok, so we can’t go around washing stranger’s feet - or even our best friend’s. That would be weird, right? For Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples was a symbolic act intended to teach them about servant leadership. Here are three lessons we can learn from this act of Jesus.
1. Servant leaders put others’ needs before their own.
The radical love servant leaders have for God results in joyfully giving your time, talent and treasure to those who have nothing to give in return - and those who don’t deserve generosity. As Nouwen said, we can only give freely with no strings attached when we know God’s love for us.
Don’t confuse godly humility with neglecting or negating yourself. Jesus calls us to love others as ourselves. He just wants us to get over ourselves enough to do it out of love, not obligation or pride. Again, it’s the heart space of caring enough about others and fulfilling God’s special assignments in your life to drop your ego and agenda to meet the need in front of you.
2. Servant leaders aren’t afraid to love those who have the power to hurt their ministry.
Jesus made a point of including Judas in the clean foot club after he had betrayed Jesus. Take note he made darn sure the other disciples had this powerful image imprinted on their minds and hearts before sending them out. Jesus went further into suffering than He will ever ask us to go, but He does ask us to extend love and grace (sometimes from a safe distance) to those who refuse to reciprocate.
3. Servant leaders influence by taking the lowliest positions (without grumbling!).
Washing stinky, smelly feet in Bible times was slave’s work. Today, it might look more like cleaning up an overflowing toilet at a church retreat, making amends without receiving an apology, or staying up most of the night to pray or care for a sick friend. We all have our own opinions about the tasks and roles we think are beneath us. Guess what? Your willingness to do it anyway might be the tipping point that makes someone take a second look at Jesus.
Spend some time considering your own circumstances and where Jesus might be asking you to “go low”.
The servant leader’s greatest desire is seeing others achieve God’s best for their lives, even if it means sacrificing their own agenda. This is often the hardest part - but only for a while. It’s one thing to say we care more about others than ourselves, it’s another to truly feel this in the depths of our beings. Only God can transform us into servants that love as He does.
To learn more about servant leadership, register for our Ignite class "Called To Lead" beginning on Thursday, September 15. Katie Pearson will lead us through this six week study on 1 and 2 Timothy.
Check it out here.
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