Today is Maundy Thursday on the Christian calendar. Christians all over will gather together and wash each others feet, mimicking Jesus’ actions the night of his betrayal. Yet, there is something within this action documented in John’s Gospel that we ought to consider beyond annual ceremony. When Jesus undresses himself, kneels down and washes the feet of his disciples, he communicates a profound statement of what the Christian leader ought to be. While the other Gospels don’t relate the foot washing story, the intent of its message is still conveyed in their own telling of Jesus’ story.
On his magnificent book on Christian leadership, Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders wrote, “True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.” Here, Sanders captures the heart of Jesus’ message to those that would lead the effort of taking the gospel of the kingdom around the known world. Jesus was serious about it, it wasn’t a nice platitude. Serving is how we lead.
This doesn’t mean that we are to become human doormats. Consider what it means to “serve God.” If we serve God, we go about attending to what he asks of us. We derive this in great part from Scripture. But we also have to live with “eyes wide open.” That is to say, we have to pay attention to the voice of God as he speaks to us in natural and supernatural ways; through community, the natural world, etc. In doing so, we uncover what it is that God is asking of us.
It is no different in becoming the servant to others. There are often the obvious requests or needs to be attended to. But we serve our neighbor in the ways not always obvious at first glance as well. Consider John McKnight’s work on asset-based community development. His method intends to, draw out the dignity, the capacity of the other. More than a symbolic gesture, an asset-based approach seeks to discover the worth of those around us and put it to work. Not for our agenda, but for the sake of the other.
As we wash each other’s feet today, consider how you might use this a model to shape how you lead. Do you know the need around you? Do you know how to go about serving the need in a manner that elevates others rather than yourself? Ponder these things as someone washes your feet and you wash theirs.