Have you ever thought about what it takes to be a leader? Most of us have been labeled a leader in some way, but do we truly know what it means to lead? Lately I’ve been examining leadership beyond the surface level definitions. Leadership is so much more than just being in charge of someone else. I’ve been learning that in order to be a leader one must first be humble enough to serve those that they are leading.
In John 13:1-17 Jesus paints for us a picture of humble leadership. First of all, he is only days away from His Resurrection at this point. Secondly, he is in the presence also of one of his followers about to go rogue. Judas, who will ultimately betray him (which Jesus knew ahead of time) was amongst those that Jesus chose to serve. God had made Jesus aware of what the near future held for him, but instead of running from his mission Jesus humbly accepted it and chose to spend some of his last days serving those who called him “leader”.
After sharing a meal with the disciples Jesus trades his robes for a towel that he wraps around his waist and proceeds to wash the feel of each of his disciples. This was an act of selfless service. The purpose of this act is explained by Jesus in verse 15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
For each and every one of us we are leading and impacting someone else. We can all be called a leader in some fashion. We lead our families, friends, colleagues, congregations, and neighborhoods. If we are called to be leaders in some way then we are also called to humility. That last statement may be disagreed upon in a secular society. After all, doesn’t this dog-eat-dog world tell us that in order to lead you have to get ahead even if it means stepping on some toes or crushing the competition? But Jesus very clearly sounds his reverberating message throughout scripture that this is not a true picture of what leadership looks like.
In Matthew 20:16, Jesus tells his disciples, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This concept defies the very ideal of leadership in our society. We live in a world where it seems like everyone has set their eyes on becoming the best, but Jesus reminds us over and over again that true leadership looks more like trading in our robes for a towel and washing the feet of those we lead.
Today, the act of actually washing another’s feet isn’t quite the same as the act Jesus performed. In the context in which Jesus carried out this act of service men wore sandals and as they walked the dust and dirt of the Earth would accumulate on their exposed feet. When they would walk into a building they would stop and remove their sandals and wash off the filth before ever stepping foot inside. When Jesus took to his towel and bowl of water he was cleaning the nastiest part of these followers.
I can’t think of an experience more humbling than cleansing the filthiest part of another. I get queasy changing some of my daughter’s diapers, but isn’t that what Christ did for us when he died in our place? He died for the worst of the things we were yet to do. And in his act of cleansing the feet of the disciples Jesus included Judas, whom he knew was about to betray him and hand him over to be killed. What a picture of humility.
We may or may not be called to serve our followers through this same act Jesus performed, but the principle here is the lesson. We are called to leadership through humble service toward those we lead. What act of humility is God calling you to perform for someone that you lead today?