Follow the Servant-Leader

When Jesus says the same thing over and over, I have to think He wants to make sure we understand it.

A lot of what Jesus says goes against of human nature. Some of it is not what we would call common sense.

So, as you’ve heard, there’s balls, there’s strikes, and there’s scripture. I’d like to say I calls em like they is, but we all know the best I can do is to calls em like I sees em. The good news is they is what they is no matter how I calls em.

Let us hear for ourselves the word of our Lord:

” You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I AM. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do what I have done for you. “

–John 13: 13-15

There are still churches that have foot-washing ceremonies. It really is a humbling experience. But

Jesus was not performing a ceremony on clean feet with warm water and a clean towel. The disciples did not buy clean socks for the occasion.

Jesus actually washed, as in removed the dirt from, at least 24 dirty feet. That included the feet of Judas Iscariot, just before Judas left to betray Him.

If we have trouble taking Jesus at his word, then we must be as human as the people in His days on earth.

He came unto His own, but His own just could not accept a humble Messiah. They wanted a Warrior Messiah, the Lion of Judah, not the Passover Lamb. Some of them thought Jesus was a poor excuse for a Messiah.

Some thought he was no better than a foot-washing house slave.

In that day, a foot-washer was the lowest of the household slaves. No job more degrading than washing feet. Nobody puts foot-washing on their resume under leadership skills. A foot-washer doesn’t fit our image of a leader.

Some of us, especially us guys, think a good leader is more like an action hero.

We really like the part where Jesus trashes merchandise in the Temple and chases the merchants out with a whip. Now there’s a Scripture for Guys Who Like Scripture.

So who is this foot-washing story for?

At the Last Supper, John tells us that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, like a lowly house slave. Jesus tells them, “I have set an example for you, so that you will do what I have done for you.”

Don’t you wish He had said that when He cleared the Temple?

He goes on to say, “No slave is greater than his master, and no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know this, you will be happy if you put it into practice.”

I have a friend who made a big mistake. He was caught in such a scandal that his name was stricken from the roles of his church.

That was many years ago. Some of those people still can’t forgive my friend. But the weird part is that he still goes to that same church!

This guy volunteers for everything, always mopping floors, cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash. It is just so degrading to see him cleaning up after people who dispise him. He ought to have more gumption than that.

My friend has the gall to think he can actually do what Jesus tells him to do. He repented and turned from his sin. Now, he actually loves those who hate him, and physically blesses those who curse him.

Some people call him a wimp, cause he’s just such a servant.

But a lot of Christian work gets done in his church because good-hearted people see his work and follow his example.

Jesus says that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. That must be why they say Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

But aren’t we supposed to be proud? You got to stand up for yourself! You just can’t turn the other cheek these days.

If you don’t stand up for yourself in this world, you’ll get crucified.

In Matthew 20, Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, he must be your slave like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many people.”

If that is the price to pay, then some of us don’t want to be first, or great.

In Matthew 23, Jesus says, “You must not be called Teacher, because you are all brothers and sisters of one another and have only one Teacher. Nor should you be called ‘Leader,’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest one among you must be your servant.”

I read a book by a former pastor on building leadership in an organization. He told step-by-step how he built mega-churches by replacing meek and humble servants with strong, dynamic leaders.

He never said so directly, but the author seems to think that Jesus is out of date. Now this guy is no longer a preacher; instead, sells his advice in business seminars across the country.

I’d say that that ex-preacher has found his true calling at last.

He said the church needs strong leaders. By faith I say he is wrong. The church already has a strong leader, and that is Jesus Christ. What the church really needs is strong followers.

Jesus is the Head of the church; what did Jesus say we should do?

Wash feet?

Take the low seat?

Turn the other cheek?

Humble ourselves?

No one can rise to a leadership position with that attitude! At least, not in any worldly organization.

But Tropical Sands Christian Church is not a worldly organization. I thank God that this church is run by servant-leaders.

I know they don’t care about titles, because they get the job done when they have titles, and when they don’t have titles. So we put those people in charge, of course.

But we give them a title, or two, or sometimes three, because we want to pin them down on a job, or two jobs, or maybe three jobs.

I just thank God that those men and women keep rowing the boat. Without em, we’d be dead in the water.

If they don’t accomplish enough, let’s just say the field is ripe for harvest, but the workers are few. A handful of people can only do so much.

Now some of us have figured out that the leader really is the servant. If nobody follows the leader, the leader gets to do all of the work. We may or may not want the title, but we surely don’t want to do all that work. We don’t have to be leaders, or servants.

On the other hand, there are some good-hearted people in this world who are called to teach, but they don’t want to be called “Teacher.” There are some who are called to preach, but they don’t want to be called “Preacher.” There are even some who are called to sweep, but they don’t want to be called, “Sweeper.”

The world needs all that talent and service. How do we bring it out without saddling someone with a label she or he doesn’t want? What do we call these people?

The apostle Paul called himself a servant of Christ. In closing his letter to the Romans, Paul writes “I commend our sister Phoebe to you, being a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord, as is worthy of the saints, and may assist her in whatever thing she may need of you.”

Sounds like Paul gave this woman a lot of authority.

Our English Bibles sometimes translate the word as “minister” when it describes a man, especially a male leader, and “servant” when it describes a woman. But the word for both “minister” and “servant” used by Jesus and Paul is usually “diaconia”, or “diaconos.”That’s where we get the term “diaconate.”

Paul calls Sister Phoebe a “minister” of the church, just as surely as he called himself a “minister” of the Gospel.

So it matters what we call you. “Minister” makes you puff out your chest, square your shoulders, watch your P’s and Q’s. “Servant” makes you feel sorry for yourself.

But in most of the New Testament, it’s the very same word; a minister IS a servant.

Maybe you are not a leader because you don’t feel worthy to be a leader. Maybe you are not a servant because no leader has asked you to serve. If so, then please mark this date in your calendar.

On this date, the sixth day of May, in the Year of Our Lord 2001, I, Joel Tucker, duly licensed lay preacher in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Florida, hereby proclaim you a fellow minister of the Gospel.

I hereby proclaim you empowered to share God’s love with all the world with all the talent and strength God gives you.

I proclaim you empowered to preach repentance and forgiveness.

I can proclaim this as true because God’s word says it is true.

With Christ Himself, I bestow upon each and every one of you the grandest human titles I know: Sister. Brother. Minister. Diaconos.

With the Apostle Paul, I bestow double honor on those who serve as Elders and officers, past and present. You are the voice of experience.

And I salute the Deaconate, past, present and future. You are the voice of Christian service.

We are a family, and as a family we have been called to serve the Living God. Christ calls us Brothers and Sisters, fellow servants in the body of Christ.

Even if you’re humble, even if you’re meek, even if you just want to be a servant, this family is responsible for helping you find ways to serve the Living God, as a member of this family.

I bet you already know our servant-leaders. You can see who is pulling the plough. I say follow the servant.

Our servant-ministers would actually enjoy helping you find ways to serve the Lord. Think about it. Talk to them.

The question is not are you a minister; the question is, what is your ministry?

What is your calling?

Maybe you are called to teach, to preach, to visit the sick, or to balance the books. Or maybe you are already there, already serving the Lord.

If so, Jesus says you are blessed. Now that you know this, Jesus says, you will be blessed, or happy, if you put it into practice.

Let’s get happy, shall we? Let us learn to follow the servant. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

If you would like to join this church, we will be happy to elevate you to the position of servant. You can join us in ministry to the world, in the name of Jesus Christ.

You may come by baptism and confession of faith, by transfer or for dual church membership. You may come forward to join this church, or to rededicate your life in service to Christ.

If the Lord leads, please come forward as we sing our Hymn of invitation, “The Servant Song”.

Delivered at Tropical Sands Christian Church
 – May 6, 2001.

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About Joel Tucker

Joel Tucker is senior pastor at Tropical Sands Christian Church. He served as associate pastor five years and became senior pastor in 2006. Currently, he also serves as moderator of the Southern District, Florida Region. He holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Auburn University. He enters ministry after 20 years in corporate communications and five years of computer programming. In worship, he plays sax, bass, uke, squeezebox and bass fiddle.
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