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Then & Now - Week of May 17

  • 2021 May 17

Leading With the Towel

John 13

One of my favorite shows on television is Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. It's a great show, because Mike finds the hardest, dirtiest, smelliest jobs, rolls up his sleeves, and enters into the everyday work life of American's working men and women.

If Dirty Jobs existed in the first century in Palestine, Mike might have spent a day with common servants in a rich man's house. One of their worst tasks was to wash the feet of their guests. In that culture, much of the travel was by foot, and so you can imagine the ugliness of scrubbing down dirty, blistered, cracked, smelly feet.

When Jesus called his disciples into the Upper Room, for his last words to them before he would go to the cross, he dismissed the servants. It would be an intimate time of fellowship and instruction. But there was a problem. Nobody was there to wash the feet.

Immediately, the disciples began arguing over who would be the greatest in Jesus' coming Kingdom. I imagine this began after they looked around and saw nobody there to do the menial tasks. It didn't occur to any of them that perhaps they might get up and serve their friends.

Suddenly, in the middle of their meal, Jesus rose from his place, picked up the towel, wrapped it around his waste, and stooped to wash each foot. The disciples were astonished. They were almost angry. What kind of Messiah washes feet? Should a man who raised Lazarus from the dead, fed the crowds with a little boy's lunch, walked on water, healed the lepers, and made the blind see—should this man be washing feet? Honestly?

But Jesus was establishing a new way of doing leadership. Kings were known for their brutal, repressive style. Jesus offered a new way. Leading with the towel.

It was a message to the very men who would launch the new era of the Church and to us. Leadership is about servanthood. It's not about gathering power, accumulating perks, stepping over people on the way to the top. It's about stooping down and with grace, applying God's truth to the hurts, sins, faults, burdens of God's people.

Sadly, the leadership models haven't changed much throughout the centuries. It's too easy for humans to leverage their spiritual gifts and talents for their own benefit. But God calls us to something different, a model not demonstrated often by worldly leaders.

As a young person, it's okay to strive for greatness. But let your path wind through humble ministry to others. Don't push for position so you can snap your fingers and tell people what to do, but so you can serve them. And right now, serve the people in your sphere of influence. Wash the feet of your parents, your siblings, your classmates.

Leading with the towel is what marks you as a leader God loves and a leader God can surely use for His Kingdom.

Daniel Darling is an author, pastor, and public speaker. His latest book is Crash Course, Forming a Faith Foundation for Life. Visit him on Facebook by clicking here, follow on him on Twitter at, or check out his website:

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