…he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:5

 

Yesterday, we reflected on Jesus as a revolutionary communicator who connected with people by coming near to them. In today’s passage, we see Jesus coming near in powerful and vulnerable ways by taking on the role of a servant.

A man's dirty and muddy feet.As a pastor and speaker, I can sometimes rely too much on my words to exercise leadership. Jesus, as a revolutionary communicator, was certainly an expert with his words, but his life modeled putting those words into action. In this story, Jesus does the unthinkable by taking on the slave role and washing the feet of his followers. Dusty roads, open sandals, animal droppings—I don’t need to describe in detail the kind of residue that Jesus was cleaning off to give you the sense that he was performing the lowest duty in that society. I’ve tried to think of a contemporary and cultural equivalent to a foot washer, and perhaps the modern caregiver who wipes their clients’ bottoms should be considered. Either way, an esteemed and respected leader would never stoop so low to perform such a demeaning duty, even today. This is exactly Jesus’s point. Leaders connect to others by demonstrating humble, servant leadership.

My friend Andy Bales lost part of his leg not long ago. Andy serves tirelessly as the CEO of Union Rescue Mission, the largest gospel mission of its kind. Instead of sitting at his office desk and spending most of his time cultivating donors, Andy likes to be on the streets of Skid Row. Because of Andy’s commitment to be near the 58,000 homeless men, women, and children who sleep on the streets in Los Angeles every night, he contracted an infection while serving those whom he calls his friends—which ultimately led to having a part of his leg amputated. Instead of complaining about this, he actually thinks it gives him the ability to serve others better. Andy says, “I resemble Job. I’ve had some heart attacks. A kidney transplant. Spent two years in a wheelchair before the amputation. I know the Redeemer lives. I’d give my other leg and more if we could get a roof over everyone’s head.”

I know Andy would never tell any leader that they need to go to his lengths to demonstrate servant leadership. But he would encourage every leader to consider Jesus, who didn’t rely solely on words to influence others. Jesus connected to people by demonstrating specific acts of love, especially to those whom he led. He drew close to people and surprised them with acts of service. We can do the same no matter what our organizational chart says. And perhaps we might be surprised at how our influence actually grows when we choose to act like a servant.

Something to Think About:

“This bending low is not only for those whose position has put them ‘above’ others. It can create connection for anyone, even those who find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole—the intern, the outsider. Regardless of status, every one of us delights to encounter an individual who cares enough about us to meet us where we are, who hazards the time and energy and risk it takes to come near, to be present with us and understand us, and to speak our language with sincerity” (The Revolutionary Communicator, 44).

Something to Do:

Max De Pree says, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Make a plan to specifically do these three things in your organization this week: 1. Define reality. 2. Serve others. 3. Thank people. Notice how intertwining your words with actions affects your leadership influence this week.

Prayer:

Lord, forgive me for thinking anything is below me because of my status as a leader. Help me to joyfully serve those I lead and to take specific risks that you are nudging me to pursue this week. Show me also if I need to rest and recharge. Thank you that my status in your kingdom doesn’t depend on my hard work but has already been secured by your work on the cross. Amen.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Servant Leadership (John 13:1-20)