A Picture of Servant Leadership

Text: John 13:1-17

“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:43)

The greatest leaders focus on serving the interests of the people they lead rather than building their own reputation. They don’t need strokes to their personal egos because they find such fulfilling satisfaction in seeing others rise. For them, the win isn’t about getting something from others, it’s about inspiring the best for others.

Two years after JetBlue was founded, the new company was flying high with the top rating in airline quality. It was growing so fast it needed to hire 2,000 new employees. They received an astounding 130,000 applications. One of the factors that helped JetBlue become employer of choice was the leadership of founder and CEO, David Neeleman.

Neeleman spent one day each week flying on his planes serving alongside the crewmembers. He passed out snacks, drinks, and blankets with the flight attendants. He sat in the cockpit and chatted with the pilots. He even helped clean the planes between flights. He set an example of leadership by showing that what he expected of others was not beneath him. “You can’t ask employees to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself,” he preached.

Great leaders lift others by serving in humility.

In John 13:1-17, Jesus gave us a “flight plan” for servant leadership. He has spent three years teaching his disciples to become world changers. His departure is at hand. In the next 24 hours, he will be hanging on a cross. But before he lays down his life for the sins of the world, he uses this last precious time with his disciples to remind them how to influence the world. He quietly kneels down, and in an unprecedented scene of humility and condescension, does the job of the lowest servant in the household. He begins to wash the feet of his disciples—feet soiled with dirt, grime, and manure—undoubtedly ripe of detestable odor.

This was an unfamiliar and awkward picture for the disciples…perhaps even a bit embarrassing to have Jesus so close to their personal stench. According to Jewish relations and rabbinic traditions, it was absolutely unthinkable that the Teacher would wash His disciple’s feet. Yet Jesus wanted his followers to never forget this imagery; He taught them that though worldly leaders may flaunt their authority and power, it should never be so among His followers; if anyone wants to be a leader, he or she must become a servant (Mark 10:42-43).

Humility is what we are called to imitate in Christ and demonstrate in service to others. Our names are not as important as the mark we leave on others. Or in the words of my 14-year old son, from an essay he wrote this past semester, a “leader is not necessarily someone who is known to the world, but someone who makes God known to the world.”

We make God known to the world by seeking the benefit of others without needing something from them. This is the hallmark of great leadership—humble, selfless servitude. In what ways can you use the towel of servant leadership to inspire the best for others this week?


Heavenly Father, thank you for the example of servant hood we see in Jesus. Help us to see others in a way that doesn’t need something from them, but in all things seeks the best for them. Help us to take on the form of servants, seeking the interests of others. In the power of the Holy Spirit, help us to lead and serve the way Jesus modeled in John 13. In His name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What image comes to mind when you hear the phrase “great leadership”? Why?
  2. When have you seen an example of servant leadership fleshed out in your world?
  3. What does it mean to you to seek the best for others rather than needing something from others?
  4. How do you think you would’ve responded to Christ’s feet washing episode had your dirty feet been in the mix that night? What do you think this experience would’ve produced in you?
  5. In what very practical and personal ways can you humble yourself to serve others this week?

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