Service is kind of a funny thing. What might be seen as service to one might not be seen as service to another, or we just might not want to be served it puts us in an awkward position.
A number of years back, BP (Before Pastorhood) I was a chaperone on a youth service trip deep into the inner valleys of Appalachia. After a week of hanging sheetrock and other works of service, together with groups of youth from all over the United States, the organizers of this event chose to have a foot washing ceremony as the closing event of the week. It was all set up just right, Music from Michael W. Smith playing softly in the background, the sun was going down and we were winding up a very tiring week. All the ingredients were there for a very emotional farewell service. All went well until it came time to wash the feet. The leader read the passage about Jesus serving his disciples and washing their feet and told the assembled herd of teen agers we were going to do the same…
Awesome right? um… no. There was literally a shriek from a girl who was with the group from Tennessee, and to a one all 12 girls in my group started mumbling “ani’t nobody gonna touch my feet…” And one of our girls flat out got up and started walking away from the service. The group leaders pulled their kids into a huddle and tried to explain the why of what we were going to do and nobody had to do it. Well, that made it a bit better but I would say well under 1/4 of the kids actually went though with it.
Why did everything go so badly when all the intentions and the lesson itself was so good? Well, in a word, service. Washing feet is no longer part of our culture, and it certainly wasn’t seen as a loving act of service for one another. Yes, the fact that they were teenagers might have had something to do with this, but I have had similar experiences with people old enough to know better. Service is a funny thing, it has to be received, and given not out of ritual or form, but out of context and relationship. When Christ washed the disciples feet, he had both of these down pat. How do you serve today, how do you receive service in Christ name?
In our modern phrase, Jesus not only talked the talk about service; he walked the walk. In those days of dirt roads and sandaled feet, it was usually a slave’s task to wash the dust off guests’ feet as they arrived. Jesus brought his teaching about true greatness to life by washing the disciples’ feet himself.
• We’ve seen how often Luke points to the “status inversion” Jesus’ ministry brought. Still, at the end of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples were struggling to grasp the idea. To what extent does your maturing sense of self allow you to intentionally set aside “self” for the benefit of others? What steps help you cultivate a servant’s heart?
• Robert Greenleaf, Max DePree, James Autry and other business leaders have books about “servant leadership.” Do you believe a leader can be effective from a servant stance? Do you find “servant leadership” an oxymoron? A nice ideal, but often not practical? A life-giving alternative to the usual views of leadership?