I love to share practical tips for helping pastors create a culture where volunteer leaders can thrive. But as we head into the Easter season, I want to get theological. During Lent and through Holy Week in the days leading up to Easter, Christians around the world ponder themes of humility, sacrifice and servanthood. These are not just attributes that are important during the Lenten season, they are also the prevailing character qualities for volunteer leaders, and really all Christian leaders, year round.
Jesus was clear that the way of his Kingdom is the way of servanthood. He presented a new and radical vision for leadership. His words are as arresting today as they were to his original audience. He said in Matthew 20:25-28,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
He rejected leadership by fear, intimidation, and coercion and firmly established that true leadership is servanthood. This doesn’t prohibit leaders from making bold decisions, or setting aggressive agendas or holding people accountable to what they said they would do. Jesus did all those things. He demanded hard things from those he led. But he also showed that servanthood is the way to greatness.
But why did Jesus set it up this way? And what was the secret that allowed him to consistently walk in sacrificial servanthood all the way to the cross. John 13 provides the answer. This moment in the upper room provides one of the clearest pictures of Jesus’ servant leadership. And reveals the secret to Jesus’ servanthood. It provides the key for pastors, Christian leaders, and volunteers alike to embody a life of servanthood in their ministries. You know the story. John 13:3-5 says,
… so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
That’s what he did. It’s hard to imagine the creator of the universe. The one who made every foot in the room and the water to wash them with on his knees before them performing the most humble, even humiliating of tasks. Most of us don’t walk in this kind of servanthood because of pride. “It’s beneath me.” Or fear. “It’s too vulnerable.” Or insecurity. “What will everyone think?”
What is the secret that allowed Jesus to embody this kind of servanthood? The key comes at the beginning of verse 3 in John 15. We gain insight into Jesus state of mind right before the foot-washing.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God…
What was the key to Jesus’ servanthood? It was his identity. He knew who he was. He was completely secure.
- He knew the authority he’d been given
- He knew where he had come from
- He knew where he was going
The path to servant leadership traces back to identity. These things will only be confirmed as you press in to your own relationship with Christ. Do you want to embody a life of servanthood? You have to know who you are first. You must understand your authority that has been given to you by God. You must know where you came from. And you must know where you’re going. Then and only then will you be secure enough to be a servant.