Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. (John 13:3-5)
Relate: “Who is the leader there?” One of my mentors asked me that question when I was being a bit stupid early on in my days out of college. I had recently moved down from Rochester to Binghamton NY. In part it was to kick start a college ministry group that in the past year had “grown” from over sixty down to about five. I had known and been friends with quite a few of the former members of the group but by the time I had arrived on campus they had all graduated and moved on. Those few that remained all thought they should be the ones in charge and resented this new stranger coming in from the outside to “fix things”. Add to this that I was barely a year or two older than any of them and not really that sure of myself and you can easily see how their five way power struggle turned into a six way power struggle with me thrown into the mix.
So I called up my mentor, the same guy who had asked me to go there in the first place, and unloaded on him how “nobody ever listens to me”. When I had started to wind down he asked me that question. “Who is the leader there?” I gave the obvious answer, “I am.” His next statement was probably one of the most profound things I have heard about leadership and it comes straight out of John 13. He said, “Then don’t try to lead. Try to serve, and it will become much easier for them to follow.” Mind blown. I think it wasn’t until that phone call that I truly began to lead that group.
React: Since that time I have had to remind myself of this truth over and over again. I have also had plenty of time since then to watch how others lead. I have noticed that the less secure someone is in who they are, the harder they try to assert whatever authority they think they have. Effective leaders rarely have to remind others who is in charge. Instead they are always looking for ways to serve, develop, and empower others. They don’t have to grasp for power. They don’t have to insist on titles. They simply serve, and people line up to follow them. The disciples were constantly bickering about who was the best or the greatest. Jesus knew He was the answer to this question. So He simply grabbed a towel and started washing. It wasn’t so much the physical act that we need to emulate, it was his ability to find a need and fill it. It was his heart that constantly sought to bring out the best in others that we need to learn. If we want to lead like Jesus, then we need to learn how to serve.
I am so glad that You are who You are. It would be so easy to force me into submission, I could never have the power to resist. It would be so easy to force everyone to believe and obey. But You didn’t do that. You didn’t give us what we deserve. You didn’t need to assert Your authority because it was never in doubt. Instead you grabbed a towel. Instead You clung to a cross. Now I am saved because of it. Help me to lead others just as You did. Give me the confidence to know who I am in You so that I never have to be stupid enough to grasp for my own power. Help me to be a servant.