He said, ‘You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.’ ~ Matthew 20:25-28, MSG
After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table. Then he said, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life. ~ John 13:12-17, MSG
Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. ‘The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ. Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.’ ~ Matthew 23:1-12, MSG
One of the major problems in today’s institutional “church” is that there are far too many title seekers. Globally there are men (and some women) seeking these “church” titles: Bishop, Senior Pastor, Junior Pastor, Education Pastor, Youth Pastor, Pastor of Young Adults, Senior Worship Leader, Master Teacher, Elder (today, an adviser to the clergy, but in the first century an elder was an overseer or Bishop of an ekklesia, which is not the same thing as a “church” ), Deacon (in the first century, the believer doing outreach ministry—the Christian actually keeping the ministry of service to others command), Music Director, Choir Director, Director of Ushers, and so forth.
Sadly, most of the people seeking these and other “church” titles often are the kinds of individuals Jesus the Christ says seek the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in “churches” (the ones always sitting at head tables—usually jockeying for position). Additionally, most of today’s title seekers are just like those hypocritical “religious” leaders back in the Lord’s day—those Pharisees and Scribes—for too many of the wannabe spiritual leaders in this century also do things for public flattery and public recognition. Then too, just like the majority of those first century hypocritical Pharisees and Scribes, in every local “church,” most of this century’s title seekers are the ones who like to demand to be called Doctor, Master Teacher, Reverend, Bishop, and so forth, no matter if those titles are earned, or not (cf. Matthew 23:5-7).
What is disturbing to this blogger about this title-seeker trend are the institutional “church’s” beautifully worded mission statements, which describe for “church” seekers the biblical basis for local “churches’” ministries (i.e., what each local “church” does), as well as the concisely worded vision statements, which express an inspirational long-term desired change resulting from individual “churches’” actual ministry work. Now, not only do the mission statements usually mention what a particular local “church” is committed to doing, but also often within many mission statements there is either the phrase “by the Holy Spirit’s enabling power” or “through the Holy Spirit’s enabling power,” which gives the impression that the spiritual leaders, who mostly are in the larger local “churches,” seek the Holy Spirit FIRST before they make any decisions about how their “church” commitments will be realized.
Why all of that is disturbing to this blogger is because, in reality, many of the people who are getting the work done in their individual local “churches” are the title seekers who neither are functioning in accordance with biblical commands nor are being led by the Holy Spirit about how to develop their commitments in their mission and vision statements. Indeed, many of today’s title seeking spiritual leaders and their title seeking staffers often are treating “church work” the same way secular companies are treating their worldly jobs—like a brand that is being peddled!
Be that as it may; something else disturbs this blogger, and that is, where mission statements are concerned, most of the local “churches’” leadership AND servant-hearted community development commitments, for example, tend to be all about helping to produce servants-leaders who will “work” within local “churches.” Hence, while these are excellent commitments, and while these commitments do need the enabling power of the Holy Spirit before men and women could humble themselves and serve others, the disturbing problem is that these mentioned commitments to discipleship trainings, which are meant to teach “church” members how to become the kind of biblical spiritual leaders who minister to a lost world, instead are more about preserving these local “churches.” Expecting the title seekers to take part in any recommended discipleship training is all about making sure these local “churches” are raising up future Senior Pastors, and etc., AND LESS about aiding every believing “churchgoer” as he or she ministers to each other, LESS about teaching believers how to lead the sinners within each local “church’s” community at large to Jesus the Christ, and LESS about helping the world in general know God. In other words, these and other excellent commitments to spiritual developments are promoted and encouraged ONLY because the powers that be in today’s local “churches” are concerned about adding more pew sitters on their individual “church” roll, some of which might be members who, with the right amount of training, could move up a “church’s” leadership ladder!
Unfortunately because the above statements are true, the bottom line is that there is nothing biblical about most of this century’s institutional “church’s” top-down leadership hierarchical structures, which in most of the local “churches” mainly consist of, for example, Leadership Teams: Senior Pastor and his or her administrative, congregational, and outreach staff members, and a slew of other pastors, deacons, trustees, and/or elders serving alongside the Senior Pastor. They are the powers that be—the ones who establish and enforce all of their “church’s” rules and programs. Usually beneath the Leadership Teams are the Committees, and under the Committees are the various Ministries and their Teams. Now, what’s glaringly unbiblical about today’s institutional “church’s” leadership hierarchical structures is that many of these “church” leaders are PAID for their “service to others.”
In contrast, in the New Testament, there weren’t any PAID ekklesia “positions” for spiritual leaders, there weren’t any PAID ekklesia “positions” for staff members, and there weren’t any PAID ekklesia “believers” who were ranked higher than others. Biblically speaking, leadership for the first century ekklesia didn’t involve one chief leader making all the decisions, nor did it involve just a few believers making decisions for EVERYONE else. Also first-century leadership in each ekklesia didn’t involve one person nor a few people exercising authority over EVERYONE else. More important, those early leaders, were leaders because they were the ones who actually were serving others, and the best of those servants were the ones who modeled the kind of servant-life that others were Spirit led to want to emulate (cf. Matthew 20:26-28; Luke 22:26).
Today, however, where the task of performing so-called menial work is concerned, for example, the washing of local “church” leaders’ own members and/or their visitors’ feet, the spiritual leaders in most of this century’s local “churches” usually aren’t the ones humbling themselves to the level Jesus the Christ demonstrates. In other words, too many men and women in the institutional “church’s” hierarchy of offices or positions are not meeting the mark—are not living like the kind of spiritual leader Jesus the Christ lived. In the Word of God, the Lord shows that a genuine spiritual leader is someone who is willing to do the humblest of tasks, like the “washing of feet,” and to do said task either for his or her “church” members, or for the people living within the community in which his or her own “church” is found. The life Jesus the Christ lived, thus, is the reason why it is more important for believers to be seeking a towel (seeking servanthood) instead of seeking a title (seeking leadership; wanting to be the greatest of all His believers)!
Servanthood is far more important to God, and so is the reason why believers do what they do for Him, especially since serving others is how believers serve God. These biblical truths are why something so simple as the washing of someone’s feet carries multiple meanings.
The three principal meanings behind Jesus the Christ’s washing of His disciples’ feet are as follows: 1. foot washing demonstrates Jesus the Christ’s level of humility and the degree to which He is willing to express His commitment to servanthood (a serving others ministry; a pouring out of one’s self), especially since the Lord was the Last Supper host, His disciples were His guests; and especially since the washing of either the guests, strangers or travelers’ dirty, filthy feet, before the guests, strangers, or travelers entered a house, was the lowest Gentile slave’s responsibility; 2. foot washing demonstrates Jesus the Christ’s heart attitude, which contrasts His disciples’ heart attitudes, for they were bickering over who is the greatest disciple; and 3. foot washing symbolizes the best interests of others that Jesus the Christ expects His called-out disciples (and by extension, all of His disciples from then to now) to serve. Therefore, by washing His disciples’ feet at His own Last Supper, the Lord is saying to His original disciples, and to today’s disciples, that He does not expect anything “special” from His followers that He Himself hasn’t already done. Put differently, Jesus the Christ is saying that He expects all of His called-out ones to embrace humility at all times, and to serve not only one another, but also others. Once again, for the Lord, His disciples/followers are leaders, because they are the ones who actually are serving others. Furthermore, for the Lord, the best leaders are the servants who model the kind of servant-life that others who are Spirit led will desire to emulate (cf. Matthew 20:26-28; Luke 22:26).
Without doubt, Jesus the Christ is saying the exact opposite of what today’s worldly institutional “church” is saying genuine leaders are. The worldly institutional “church” is a man-made organization responsible for the established top-down leadership hierarchical structure—one in which the lowest person must climb to the top of the ladder before he or she will be considered a leader. In contrast, Jesus the Christ is saying that in God’s Kingdom leadership structure is turned inside out and upside down. That’s why the Lord teaches that leadership is servanthood, and the better a believer serves the more opportunities Father God will give that leader to serve others. In other words, Jesus the Christ teaches by example that God’s sons and daughters who serve best also will be His best leaders. Thus, every believer should know that if he (or she) is last (the lowest servant) yet desires to be great in the Kingdom of God (the best servant) that person first must serve wherever he or she is, and once he (or she) learns how to be the best servant he (or she) can be to everyone, the lowest servant who leads by example will become the best servant-leader.
Because leadership is about serving the best interests of others, this biblical truth is also why believers always should be seeking a towel instead of seeking a title. Having a servanthood aspiration no doubt is the reason why Jesus the Christ gives to His Body of Believers the human spiritual gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. These human gifts are neither offices nor positions. They also do not represent a hierarchical (top-down) form of leadership. They are human spiritual gifts who exemplify the ways believers are to function in the Body of Christ—these human spiritual gifts are the servanthood ways believers are to do the Lord’s ministry work. They are to do the spiritual responsibilities divinely sanctified for either the apostle, or the prophet, or the evangelist, or the shepherd, or the teacher, or any number of combinations thereof; e.g., some first-century elders (overseers, bishops; functions NOT titles) also would serve as shepherds-evangelists-teachers; see Ephesians 4:11-13; Titus 1:5).
Having said all of that, let there now be NO doubt about the way the Lord wants His Body of Believers to be organized. First off, the Scripture says the Lord is to be the HEAD of the entire Body of Christ, which means He also is the HEAD of every local ekklesia or assembly (cf. Ephesians 1:22, 4:15; Colossians 1:18). Secondly, each supervised by elder(s) local ekklesia or assembly is to be independent and free from any internal or external interference from a hierarchy of individuals, or other bodies, associations, and etc.; as well as, free to manage itself without fearing interference from outside authority and control (cf. Titus 1:5). Lastly, the Body of Christ, which includes every supervised by elder(s) local ekklesia, is to be governed by ONLY spiritual servant-leaders who either function in the Body of Christ as elders (overseers or Bishops, some of whom also might function as shepherds), or deacons (cf. Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Titus 1:5, James 5:14).
The point here is that we were not created to seek titles, because being a member in the Lord’s Body has never been about any of us having an earthly title to go along with an earthly position. The Divine Truth is that we were created to seek ways we can serve God, and Jesus the Christ, who was Holy Spirit led, teaches by example that the best way to serve God is to serve the best interests of other human beings. Therefore, by serving others, we earn our greatest honor, which is to be men and women who serve God and the Lord.
The bottom line is that if we really want to understand the Word of God and how we are supposed to live that Word, we must look to Jesus the Christ and the life He lived to know what God wants us to do and how He wants us to be, which is always HUMBLE. Thus, like our Lord, we should be more about servanthood (seeking a towel) and less about leadership (seeking a title, and the position that goes along with that title). For sure, in several places of the Word of God, we are told that we are leading when we humbly are serving others, and that when we please God by how well we serve others, God will be the One who updates our leadership status, and NOT we ourselves (cf. Matthew 20:26-28; Luke 22:26; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).
Selah . . . pause and calmly think about that! Amen!