Foot Washing: A Model for Leadership in the Church

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

Foot Washing: A Model for Leadership in the Church

Over the years in my own ministry, the story of the foot washing in the Gospel of John is the most important image from Scripture that casts a vision for what it means to lead and serve. The power and implications of this text are far too deep and wide to fully examine in this article, but it is a text that all Christ-followers, especially those serving in ministry leadership positions, should carefully examine and reflect upon. I have enjoyed utilizing foot-washing services in a variety of venues throughout my ministry, most often on mission trips. During the service, I personally go around the room and wash the feet of each and every service participant. After washing their feet, I take some time to pray for them. I also invite the participants to participate in what I call ‘open bucket time.’ I tell them that they can use the next several moments to continue to pray, but also if they desire to wash one another’s feet. Some of my most meaningful moments as a Christ-follower, leader and pastor have happened during this time. The power, humility and intimacy of this act is overwhelming. I cannot take credit at all for this service or this model, as I am simply imitating what Christ did in the upper room for His disciples. We are simply honoring his call to ‘wash one another’s feet.’ This moment in the upper room is one of the most intimate moments in Scripture. Foot washing is a powerful imitation of Christ. It is the physical expression of what our lives as Christ-followers should be. It is the image of what service and leadership are to be. Our culture is perhaps more isolated, narcissistic and entitled than ever before, yet we desperately crave community. We need meaning and significance, we need to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and we need to know that what we do and who we are makes a difference in the world. In this simple act of foot washing, Jesus gives us an answer to all of these challenges and needs and as long as our heart is focused on the God of the universe who got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of his disciples, we will find an answer to all these needs and more. We will find a model for discipleship, service and leadership that can and will change the world.

I am in awe every time I stop to reflect on what that evening with the disciples must have been like: an intimate meal, the last one together, a celebration of the Passover. A foot washing service must have been one of the most humbling moments these disciples who had grown so close in their travel and ministry together could possibly experience. It was an indication of a betrayal and a hint that what they had experienced over the past several years was coming to an end, as was the life of Jesus. Then Jesus offers them the bread and the cup, a fitting end to this powerful evening, a symbol of his life and death and a practice that would bring the disciples and the church back to Christ over and over again. When I think about the notion that Jesus would get on his hands and knees to wash the dirty feet of the disciples I am in awe. When I reflect on what it must have meant to those gathered in the upper room given all they had experienced and were experiencing that night, I am brought to tears.

As a Christ-follower, leader, and pastor, there is no greater act for me than to get down on our hands and knees and wash the feet of those we love, serve with, and lead as we all seek to be imitators of our Lord Jesus Christ. The foot washing is more than just a powerful moment to be imitated; it is a model and vision for service, mission and leadership in the church and the world.

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