Leadership in the church is supposed to be different. Jesus said among the gentiles the leaders exercise authority over each other but it won’t be that way among you. The greatest among you will be your servant and the one who is first among you will be your slave. For even the Son of Man came into the world not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. One of the greatest pictures of leadership ever seen was the night Jesus gathered with the twelve to eat the Passover meal. They were reclining around the table when Jesus got up and took off his outer garments. He tied a towel around his waist and filled a basin with water and began washing their feet. As far as we know he said nothing to them about what he was doing. There were no snide remarks about “If no one else is going to wash our feet I guess I’ll have to do it myself.” He just started down the line. I don’t know how many he had already washed when he came to Simon Peter. But in typical Peter fashion, Peter objected. “What are you doing?” “You will never wash my feet.” “If I don’t wash your feet you have no part with me.” “Don’t just wash my feet, wash my hands and my head also.” “You are clean. You just need your feet washed.”
When Jesus finished washing their feet he took off the towel, put up the basin and began to explain some things about life from what had just taken place. “You call me teacher and Lord and so I am. If I your teacher and Lord have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” “I’ve left you an example. If you know these things happy are you if you do them.”
Leadership in the world is all about whose in charge. We like to think of the head man or woman and being CEO is a big deal. Most companies have a pyramid leadership plan with the CEO or board at the top point and different leaders are down the pyramid until you reach the bottom that is wide and is where all the regular workers are found. Jesus plan was to turn the pyramid upside down. Jesus is at the point and the greatest servant of all at the bottom. The apostles and prophets were just above him. Other leaders such as elders and evangelist are above them and the people are at the top.
I’ve heard discussions of who has the authority in a local church. Is it the preacher or the elders? I suspect the Lord laughs when such a discussion even takes place. Since he has “All authority in heaven and on earth” that doesn’t leave much for anyone else.
The phrase “among you” is common in New Testament discussions of the work of elders or leaders in the church. In I Peter 5:1-4 Peter said, “The elders among you I exhort who am also a fellow elder. Shepherd the flock of God among you, taking the oversight of them.” In I Thessalonians 5:12-15 Paul told the church to “respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord. Esteem them very highly in love for their works sake.” In Acts 20:28 Paul told the Ephesian elders to “Take heed to yourselves and all the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to shepherd the church of God which he has purchased with his own blood.”
Did you notice the emphasis on whose flock the local church was? Each time it is made clear that it is God’s flock. The flock doesn’t belong to the pastors, the shepherds or the preachers. They are blessed by God to work among the people. But it is his flock.
Leaders working behind closed doors in an office somewhere isn’t the picture the Lord offers. Nor is it the picture of them hanging out at Starbucks. Shepherds smell like sheep because they have been hanging around with them all along. It is easy for the people to respect the leaders because they are out among them working.
By the way, don’t think of foot washing as something done in a worship assembly in some kind of formal setting where people all already have clean feet. This wasn’t just some symbolic gesture to look like serving. It was dirty, messy feet that needed washing. Each time when he finished the water was filthy and needed to be changed.
We’ve turned far too much of the service done as leadership into symbolism and lost the whole picture of servanthood. The old joke is of the man coming into town breathless asking if anyone had seen a group of people pass through lately? “I must find them because I’m their leader.” While it is funny, that picture is just as accurate for a leader in the church as the one with the leader way out front and the people trailing along behind him. If you want to find the Biblical leader, look for someone who is hurting and you will find the leader there loving, caring and helping in every way possible. Obviously the hurting won’t always be physical. Jesus stood tall as the greatest leader of all when he was on his knees in front of one of his apostles, scrubbing their dirty feet without saying a word. “Lord make me a servant. Lord make me like you. For you are a servant. Make me one too.”