Humble Serving (Like A Shepherd)

John 13:1–17

Last Sunday’s study on John 13 and Jesus washing the disciples' feet caused me troubles.

The passage itself was clear enough, but I always try to have a grasp on the big picture as well, and this passage puzzled me.

It is set on the night prior to His crucifixion, so the end is at the door. These final words would, of course, be important words. These followers would experience their leader and hero being put to death the next morning. They’d see the resurrection firsthand. Then they’d see Him lifted up in His ascension as He went back to His Father. A few days later, they would be part of the birth of the church on Pentecost and the arriving of the promised Helper!

With all that coming so fast, it seems there are many things they needed so badly . . . yet He gets down on the floor and washes their feet.

Why was this act so important right then?

As I continued to pray over this, I was also reminded of His teaching on leadership in John 10, where He painted Himself as a shepherd. This would become the leadership model for the early church—a curious image as we think of the church storming and taking society. Shepherds don’t seem to storm anything, but He pointed out their faithful watch over and care for the sheep, leading them here and not there, protecting them often from themselves, as they are prone to wander. Not exactly a picture of a warrior. Linked to that picture is our current picture of humble service, or as I called it, servant-leadership.

But He turned the illumination on, and I saw that humble serving and shepherding are really inseparable. If you desire to lead, from a uniquely Christian way, humble serving is at the center.

Look at the work of a shepherd. Walking the sheep, leading then towards better grass and away from toxic plants. Towards running water and away from predators. Tending their wounds and gathering them to safety at night. None of it very glamorous.

It made me think of motherhood. The beautiful scene of a mother holding a sleeping baby in her arms is so precious. Yet the vast majority of a mother’s work is not very glamorous either! Day and night feedings, day and night diaper changes, illnesses the baby can’t explain so they cry loudly. Watching 24-7 as they learn to crawl and get around and towards dangerous things. Humble serving makes up a huge part of being a mother.

Or a shepherd.

This certainly applies to the more official leaders in a church, like elders, pastors, and ministry leaders.

But if every member understands this call to humble serving, they come to church and through the week, asking, “How can I help?” “How can I help our church grow in Christ?” “How can I encourage?”

As we list these, one is reminded of all the “one another” commands in the New Testament. So, as we understand this, everyone is called to servant-leadership!

In Jesus’ final teaching, He knew this was what would cause the church to grow and flourish in a fallen world. It was vital for them to understand as things developed in the coming days.

It is vital for us these days as well, as we continue to see society grow darker.

Our leading will not be by force. It will be as the church serves one another amidst this dark society that our Christian uniqueness and virtue, fruit of the Spirit, and love will act as salt and light in the darkness and draw people to Jesus.

What a practical help His teaching is to us even all these years later.

Let’s pray for our church to keep growing as servant leaders.

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