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Core 52 Chapter 30 - Leadership

Feet. I believe God gave them to us strictly out of necessity and design. Other than that, I could do without them.  The repulsive smell of them. The atrocious “nook and cranny” gathering points between your toes. The borderline vulgarity of the thickness and discoloring (maybe because I’m older?!?!) of those wretched toenails.  The rough and calloused heel from wearing flip flops for too many years. Just even typing these feelings out is making me squirm in my seat and quiver with unequivocal “heebie-jeebies.”  Let me make it clear – I hate,…uh, strike that,… I strongly dislike feet.  My idea of eternal torment would be to have a never ending cycle of dirty, disgusting bare feet touching me from head to toe. (Now you know what motivates me to do what is good and just and right!)

And yet, with all of that my Savior calls me to something above all of it – the fear, the smell, the texture. He calls me to humble service, which, when necessary, includes feet. He calls me to model His example of service to all those I see, know, hear, converse with and relate to in my daily life. He calls me to have no limit to the extent to which I will serve those around me whom I love with the love of Christ.

It seems strange to think this conversation is going to turn in to a conversation about leadership.  Some might say in order to go from humble service to leadership would require a hard left turn. Some would say leaders are those who get the most people to follow them, no matter what it takes. Some would say leaders rule with power, authority, fear and control. I would say they are not even reading the same playbook.  Robert Greenleaf is a famous author who first coined the phrase “servant leadership,” in the realm of leaders in the corporate market.  One observation he made about successful leadership was that “leadership must first and foremost meet the needs of others.”  I think we all know where he got that from.

In Mark 10:45 Jesus makes the shocking declaration (remember the audience of the first century, the cultural circumstances, the Messianic expectations of many Jews) that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In this week’s CORE 52 reading, Mark Moore highlights the role of servant for today’s faith leader as the simple act not of “humiliation but exaltation in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, if you want to lead, it begins at the back of the line. It starts at the bottom of the pyramid. It is rooted in giving of yourself to the benefit of others.

In all my years of youth ministry, I think one of the most meaningful and impactful things I ever did was a simple illustration of service.  It wasn’t taking students to a summer conference, nor was it going to a foreign land to work as a missionary.  It wasn’t any great sermon or devotional thought I shared or any meaningful small group talk I ever gave to any age group.  It wasn’t the introduction of many famous and infamous youth ministry games and icebreakers to create a fun and welcoming atmosphere. Although, all those do help in teaching this overarching truth.

The most impactful thing I ever did involved a pitcher of water, a basin, a few towels and several sets of 17 and 18 year-old dirty, sweaty feet.  Each year as we prepared for our graduation time for the seniors in our youth group, I would send one final message to them not with words, but with actions. I would humble myself and wash their feet. Yes, disgusting, filthy, vulgar, repulsive feet.  If they learned anything from me over their extended period of time in youth group, I wanted them to learn this one truth – Jesus loved them, Jesus died for them and Jesus now calls them to humbly serve Him – even if it means washing feet.

Leadership is not about power or authority. It’s about humility, love, compassion and service.  The world needs leaders. The church needs leaders. Your workplace needs leaders (not to overthrow your boss, but to love your coworkers). Our schools need leaders. Your family needs a leader.

Lead today. Start with the feet. Look to serve instead of how to be served.  Lead like Jesus.

- Pete Ramsey