Once upon a time, when I was in 8th grade, my church was having a time of prayer. They invited all the young people who had just returned from a mission trip to be available to pray for others. While there, one of the pastors of the church—someone for whom I had great respect and admiration—came up to me and said, “Hi, Gabe, would you pray for me?” Astounded, I thought, you want me to pray for you? That doesn’t sound right. This pastor who I really looked up to came to me, an awkward, goofy 12 year old, for prayer.
This memory reminds me of when Jesus told his disciples he was going to wash their feet (John 13). Peter had much the same response I had when my pastor came to me for prayer. Peter responded, “Jesus you want to wash my feet? No way!” But Jesus insisted on humbling himself and serving his disciples in this very lowly manner and showing us what true servant leadership is all about.
This is the Jesus who has turned water into wine and healed the roman official’s son with just a word. This is the Jesus who fed thousands upon thousands by the sea of Galilee with a few loaves and fish, and healed the blind and the lame. This is the Jesus who the disciples saw walk on water, for crying out loud! This is the Jesus who went to the tomb of a man dead four days, calling out to him. The dead man came staggering out of the grave still shrouded in burial clothes.
And this same Jesus laid down his clean outer garments, put on a towel, and stooped to do the unclean, menial work of the lowest of servants.
After Jesus washes their feet, he challenges his disciples to go out and do the same. Jesus tells them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14.)” Leadership like this takes true humility, flowing out of deep love of God and a rich understanding of mission.
Jesus challenges us to follow his example.
As a church leader, it is easy to get bogged down in all the tasks that need to get done. If you’re like me, I far too often find myself so task oriented that I forget the most important task of all—serving people in meaningful, practical ways. Servant leadership requires church leaders to be intentional, looking for ways to put others above ourselves. As church leaders, we set the example for others in service to follow. It’s all in the simple things, like carving out time to visit, writing a personal note, helping someone move, taking someone a meal, or even asking a goofy twelve-year-old kid for prayer.
When we intentionally put others above ourselves, we are actively living out the Gospel, walking in obedience, and following in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s the most important work we can do.