The four Gospels do not contradict each other, but John’s Gospel in particular gives a unique perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus. As a disciple and apostle, John the author had a mandate to testify to what he had seen and heard. In fact, the essential requirement for apostleship was being an eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry. But we have the same calling to be a witness and the same opportunity to be a unique voice offering something special that no one else can offer.
At the center of everything, when it comes right down to it, how in touch are each of us with the person God created us to be? I’m writing this at the start of a brand-new year, and in the year or two that came before this particular new year people have been talking a lot about truth. Truth has been the topic of many of our news cycles, church sermons, podcast episodes, and dinner table conversations. For better or worse, we, like Pilate in his response to Jesus, have been asking, “What is truth?”
I’ve been reflecting on Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe’s book, The Revolutionary Communicator… As we’ve seen, the book describes seven essential practices modeled by Jesus: attentiveness, seeking connection, asking questions, authenticity, storytelling, solitude, and defining success. As I’ve incorporated these practices into my own leadership, I have seen incredible fruit, but I’ve also faced many challenges that could be perceived as apparent failures.
The most powerful military regime, the most opulent estate, or the applause of a thousand admirers would not have even come close to the greatness of the Eternal Son—if Jesus only chose to reveal his heavenly reality. Instead, Jesus left them with a picture of success he wanted them to remember and emulate: the most powerful man to ever walk the planet removing his clothes, wrapping a towel around his waist, and washing the muck off of the disciples’ feet. True greatness looks like a lowly servant.
Who we become as leaders is every bit as important as what we do. In the language of one tradition, we are called to promise that we will serve the people we lead with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. It is the last of these four promises that concerns us today. For those familiar with the Christian tradition, ending our vows with the promise to serve with love should come as no surprise. After all, love is the greatest of all Christian virtues. Love is the fulfillment of God’s vocation for us as human beings.
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. 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.
Jesus wanted to be sure the disciples knew the most important message of all: Love. No matter how many miracles they might perform, or how big the church might grow, or how many people they might baptize or visit in prison, none of that would mark them as disciples of Jesus. These things weren’t radical to the mind of Christ… What would be astounding to a watching world would be the love that Christ’s disciples displayed for each other.
The words of Jesus, as well as the words found throughout the Bible, are full of the Spirit and life. Yes, they are challenging at times, even unsettling. But as we read, study, meditate upon, pray, and put into practice the words God has given us in Scripture, we will experience more of the Spirit and more of the full, abundant life found in Jesus.
It takes intentionality and effort to “make our dwelling among” those we lead. Being present with our followers takes time and attention… “Flesh and blood” leadership, the incarnational leadership that Jesus taught and embodied, requires something more. It means finding ways to live among—in other words, to enter the world of—those we lead.
If you are like me, you struggle with living and leading in a public world where meaning and community are often hard to come by. We are surrounded by senseless human evil, natural disasters, physical illness, and institutional dysfunction. Most of our world seems to be in darkness. But as the prophet Isaiah prophesied millennia ago, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light!”