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Leading a Healthy Church Culture - Lesson 7

Leading with a Towel – John 13.1-17

In this lesson, you will gain insights into Jesus' leadership style as depicted in John 13:1-17, where he washed his disciples' feet during the Passover feast. By analyzing this act, you will learn three enduring leadership principles: leading from a secure sense of self, meeting the deepest needs of those you lead, and paying it forward by serving others. These principles highlight Jesus' humility and desire to serve others as a leader, challenging the traditional concept of kingship and authority.

Rick Sessoms
Leading a Healthy Church Culture
Lesson 7
Watching Now
Leading with a Towel – John 13.1-17

Leading with a Towel

I. Introduction and Background

A. Passover Context

B. Expectations of Jesus as a King

II. Jesus Washing the Disciples' Feet

A. Symbolism of the Act

B. Peter's Misunderstanding

III. Leadership Principles from Jesus

A. Leading from a Secure Sense of Self

B. Meeting the Deepest Needs of Followers

C. Paying it Forward


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  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the importance and characteristics of a healthy church culture, the biblical foundation of church culture, diagnosing the health of a church culture, and cultivating a healthy church culture through prioritizing relationships, creating a safe environment, nurturing spiritual growth, empowering the congregation, and celebrating God's work.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the characteristics, importance, and dangers of a healthy church culture, how to diagnose and address unhealthy church culture through biblical leadership and communication, and how to cultivate a healthy church culture through developing healthy practices, prioritizing spiritual formation, establishing healthy leadership structures, and encouraging a culture of grace and forgiveness.
  • You will gain insight into how to lead a healthy church culture by learning about the importance of healthy leadership, building healthy relationships, establishing healthy structures, and implementing healthy practices.
  • In this lesson, the class discusses a fictional case study called "The Shadow of a Leader," which describes the decline of a Christian leader named Dr. Robert Avella, who became obsessed with power and control over time, causing damage to the ministry and losing trust in his team, as they reflect on the early and later stages of his leadership.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the challenges and pitfalls of leadership, particularly when leaders lose focus on their spiritual values, become driven by fear and control, and lack accountability and community support. By understanding these factors, you can recognize and address toxic leadership in various contexts.
  • By engaging with this lesson, you will gain insight into the complex dynamics of power and control in leadership, the prevalence of misused power within the Christian church, and the critical importance of fostering accountability and community to maintain a healthy balance of power.
  • This lesson explores Jesus' unique leadership style in the context of the foot-washing event in John 13:1-17, highlighting principles such as leading from a secure sense of self, addressing the deepest needs of followers, and paying it forward through service to others.
  • This lesson teaches you about the significance of developing a Christ-centered church culture, including the exploration of culture's components and the positive and negative aspects it can have within a church setting. You will also learn about the role of leadership in building a healthy church culture, adapting to change, and overcoming challenges.
  • This lesson provides insight into church culture by examining its components, revealing how assumptions and values impact products and practices, and discussing the importance of addressing these core beliefs and assumptions for lasting change.
  • This lesson examines assumptions and worldviews in church leadership by comparing different mental constructs and their influence on leadership values and roles, while also exploring the machine metaphor's impact on organizational life and the new generation's response to this worldview.
  • In this lesson, you learn the importance of cultivating and nourishing people in a garden model of leadership, comparing it to the machine model, and discovering how various biblical metaphors shape the understanding of the church. Emphasizing core beliefs and values, you realize effective leadership focuses on following Christ and maintaining the right attitudes.
  • You will gain insights into the importance of leadership in creating a healthy church culture, including the role of leadership in setting the tone and creating an environment that fosters spiritual growth, discipleship, and healthy relationships. You will also learn about the characteristics of a healthy church culture, practical steps for building a healthy church culture, and the challenges and obstacles to building a healthy church culture.
  • By studying this lesson, you will gain knowledge and insight into the importance of creating a healthy church culture and practical steps for doing so, including the role of leaders in modeling and promoting a healthy culture, building relationships, developing a shared vision, fostering communication, and encouraging accountability.
  • You will learn about Jesus' leadership and the four pillars of Christian leadership, which are relationship, influence, follower potential, and common purpose. The lesson focuses on Luke chapter 5, where Jesus uses Simon's boat to talk to the people and then miraculously provides a catch of fish, transforming Simon's life.
  • As you go through the lesson, you will learn about the four primary handles for developing a healthy church culture, which are stories, rituals, symbols, and power structures, and how they shape the values that become the real values within a culture.
  • By understanding the importance of what we measure, we can determine what is significant to us. Measuring something objectively makes it valuable, while not measuring something can result in losing its importance. The example of churches measuring attendance and donations is used to highlight this point, and the lesson suggests that churches should also measure other important aspects like outreach, discipleship, and community service.
  • This lesson discusses how Jesus prepared his disciples to establish the church, and how his actions and values during his time with them set the groundwork for the culture of the church; you are encouraged to explore the principles Jesus instilled in his disciples by examining specific stories, such as the healing of the demon-possessed man and the clearing of the temple.
  • Learn to lead a healthy church culture by analyzing current values, identifying actual values, and creating a strategy matrix to establish and support desired values using four embedding mechanisms.

This course is one of many taught by Dr. Rick Sessoms. It can be taken as a stand alone course, or as a part of the Christ-Centered Leadership Certificate. 

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Leading with a Towel -John 13:1-17
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:00] So we've kind of gone into the valley over the last hour or so after we had the good news of remembering our leaders. We've talked about the the belly of the beast. So now let's look at how it could be. And this session we have entitled Leading with a Towel. And to look at this session with you how if you have your Bibles or you can look on I don't have this on the screen. What is John Chapter 13 verses one through 17. Uh, if you can get close to a Bible and follow along fascinating passages of Scripture, if you if you don't have a Bible, it's it's fairly familiar. So in just a moment, I'll read it to provide a bit of backdrop for this this passage the time was Passover course. It was right at the end of Jesus life. This most sacred of Jewish feast was being observed. Upwards of 3 million people had descended upon Jerusalem for this celebration week. A word had spread like wildfire that through the city that Jesus of Nazareth was going to show up and he was on his way to the feast. It was no wonder then that thousands lined the road as Jesus made his way into Jerusalem, and they chanted Hosanna, Blessed be He. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our Father, David. Now, it's important to remember what the crowds were affirming that day as a by their words and by their actions. Placing palm branches on the road before Jesus was reminiscent of a day 140 years before that day, when this very same welcome was given, given to one Simon Maccabee, as on the eve of his triumphant conquest of the Syrian forces.

[00:01:58] So on this day, the crowds were saying, in effect, Do it again, Lord. Do it again, Jesus. As you did in Simon's day. God save the King. God give him strength that he may that he may purge unrighteous rulers, that he may destroy wicked nations with the word of his mouth. The king that has come to shatter and to smash, to make right what is so wrong? Hosanna cum laude. But we know from hindsight that Jesus was not the kind of king that they wanted and expected. They expected a conquering king. He disappointed those Passover celebrants, those pilgrims that week. He disappointed his own disciples, in fact, that week as well. But in so doing, he fulfilled their most profound need and our need as well. Let me read then the passage, beginning in verse one of chapter 13. It was just before the Passover feast. Jesus knew that he at the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot some of the son of Simon to betray Jesus. Verse three Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power. And that he had come from God and was returning to God. It's key verse. So. So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet, drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Lord, are you going to wash my feet? Jesus replied, You do not realize now what I'm doing, but later you will understand.

[00:04:01] No, said Peter, You shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. Then Lord Simon, Peter replied, Not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well. Jesus answered a person who has had a bath and needs only to wash his feet. His whole body is clean and you are clean. Though. Not every one of you. For he knew who was going to betray him. And that was why he said not everyone. Was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. Do you understand what I've done for you? He asked them. Do you understand what I've done for you? He asked them. You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that your lord and teacher have washed your feet. You should also wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master. Nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave the world and go back to the father having loved his own, who were in the world. He loved them to the end. This truth is is made graphically clear a few days later. Jesus and his friends had gathered for a meal. Now, since the streets and roads of Palestine were were plain dirt and dry, whether they were deep in dust and in wet weather, they could become plain mud.

[00:05:48] And because the cows and the horses and all these roam the streets, you can imagine that it was not just mud and dirty mud, it was stinky mud. And it was all that. And the shoes people wore on that day were mostly sandals, flat, sole. So every walk in the street soil, the feet. That's why just inside the doorway of homes set a basin of water with a towel. The custom was for a servant course to greet visitors and wash their feet. But on this night, Jesus gathered with his disciples for the meal. The dishes. The dishes were there. The wash basin said unemployed. Where was the servant? Of course, the disciples had their minds riveted on more noble thoughts. The talk of the week had ignited their imaginations of the Kingdom of God. Dreams of thrones and power and glory. In fact, Luke tells us that they were conflicted about which one of them would be the greatest in this kingdom. The wash basin sat unused. Everybody in the house had dirty feet. And dirty hearts. So Jesus got up on the table, prostrated himself, and commenced to wash the feet of his followers. Here's Jesus, the King of kings. Washing filthy feet and drying them with a towel. Here is the king whose leadership, whose symbol of authority is a towel. At least three enduring principles are taught. But you just used the towel that night. And I'll mention just three. There's probably more. But here's one. Jesus let out of a secure sense of self. The first truth in that is, is that the tower dramatizes Jesus whole life and ministry. Washing his disciples feet, of course, was no isolated event. On the contrary, what he did that night in the upper room vividly portrays the whole ministry he made from the father and the journey he made into the world.

[00:07:56] Back to the Father. He knew where he had come from, where he was going and who he belonged to, and that made all the difference. Daryl Johnson pointed out a symbol of symbolism in Jesus act. John records that Jesus rose from supper just as he had risen from his eternal throne. He laid aside his garments in verse four, just as he had laid aside his glory in heaven. Just as he had laid aside his privileges as the Son of God. Then he washed mortal men's feet, performing the most menial act of service. Just as the next day he died, the degrading death of a common criminal. When Jesus had finished washing their feet, John says in verse 12, He took up his garments and returned to his place of honor. Just as he was taken out from the grave and seeded again with God, the Father Jesus use of the towel that night illustrates what the early church later would sing about. And then in the him that his record in Philippians to who being in the very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name Rose above every name. The name of Jesus. Every nation bound in heaven on Earth and under the Earth, in every tongue, confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. So that's first He led out of a secure sense of who He was. Secondly, Jesus met the needs, the deepest needs of those He led. Watch this.

[00:09:37] Jesus said in verse 12. Do you understand what I have done for you? Now, that wasn't just a rhetorical question. Obviously, they had not understood what he had done for them. Peter didn't understand. According to verses six and following Simon said, Are you going to wash my feet? Jesus said, You don't realize what I'm doing, but later you will understand. No, you're not. Wash my feet unless I wash you, You'll have no part with me. Well, then wash all of me. Not just my feet, but my hand and head, hands and hand as well. This is not just a leadership lesson in humility. Peter could have understood that. Follow this. The need of these disciples was far beyond their dirty feet. There's a spiritual need, a profound, deep need. Who was going to sit? Where was the question on their minds and in their hearts? See a guy on his knees humbles me. For if my only view of God is that of a supreme king at the top rung rung of a ladder. Then I'm always wondering how I'm going to get to him and worrying how I'm doing. Am I making progress toward him? What can I do to make my way up to him? In the name of religion, I become preoccupied with myself compared to where everybody else is on the ladder. But not so when the King of Kings is kneeling before me in Self-emptying love. The king, the kind of love that knocks me off the ladder and out of the center. Jesus was helping Peter and the disciples to understand that we meet the living God at the bottom rung of the ladder. Jesus was revealing the King's own idea about what it means to be a king.

[00:11:34] And finally is Jesus calls us to pay it forward. What a powerful principle after washing their feet. Jesus said to his disciples, You call me teacher and Lord. And rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another's feet. Some Christian traditions have foot washing services and and I like those foot washing services. I've taken part and enjoy them very much. They take this command from Jesus to mean that we are literally to wash each other's feet. But when Jesus washed his disciples feet. Jesus focus did not seem to be on the ritual itself. When Jesus washed their feet, he was saying, I lay down my life for you. Jesus ultimate intent in this act of washing another's feet can only be fulfilled after the worship service has ended. Listen again to how Jesus puts it. If you if I, your Lord, washed your feet, you should also wash my feet. Is that what he said? That's what I would have expected for Jesus to say if Jesus had said, Now that I've watched your feet, you wash my feet, we would be standing in line for the privilege of being the first with a towel and basin to wash Jesus feet. But Jesus said, Now that I've watched your feet. You watch one another's feet. See, I am a debtor to Jesus, the King, for what he has paid for me. If I understand Jesus instructions here, my neighbor my neighbor is now the appointed agent authorized to receive what I owe the master. Now, the point that Paul makes in his letter to the Ephesians makes sense in chapter five, verse 18. Paul exhorts us to be filled with the spirit.

[00:13:34] Then he develops the signs of spirit filling the last sign in verse 21 as being subject to one another in the fear of Christ. The Greek word for subject literally means standing under. Paul is telling us that the mark of a life filled with the spirit of King Jesus is a standing under. It's a placing my life at the disposal of other people. Paul then works out this, submitting this standing under in three spheres of our common life in the verses that follow in marriage. In family and between employer and employee. In these three spheres, both parties, according to verse 21, are to stand under. Now, now, what is that? What does that mean for leaders? It means that my wife is the appointed agent authorized to receive what I owe. Jesus Christ, my king. I watched Jesus feet as I wash her feet. My two children are the appointed agents authorized to receive what I owe our King. I washed Jesus feet as I wash their feet. My colleagues in Freedom to lead and our partners are the appointed agents authorized to receive what I owe the King. I watched Jesus feet as I washed their feet. Washing the feet of those I lead means believing in them enough to empower them with the authority and the resources and the information, as well as the accountability they need to be the best they can possibly be. Washing the feet of those on lead means creating an environment like Jesus did that is safe enough for them to risk and sometimes fail in their risking and encouraging them to risk again. Washing the feet of those I lead means that I don't have to be the source of every good idea. But we discover the dream together.

[00:15:36] Washing the feet of the people I lead means creating an atmosphere where they are free to tell me the truth, especially when the truth is not very good news for me. Washing the feet of the people I lead means allowing people to express their passion. Washing the feet of people I lead means defending those privately and publicly who don't compromise. Principle for profit. It means treating each person with the sacred understanding. They are uniquely crafted in the image of God, their Creator, not in mine. It means enabling them to make decisions and pursue their God given visions. Washing their feet means celebrating their accomplishments. It means serving them not so that they will serve me. But so that they will pay it forward and the list goes on. Now, perhaps as leaders, there's a tension in us. As I say, these things. As a leader. This way of relating to people is not normal. Such a way of relating to people reverses the order. Somehow it is subversive. It destabilizes. It upsets me is that's the tension we feel. That's precisely what the king of king intends. We are now feeling not just understanding, but we're feeling the gospel of the Kingdom. His order turns everything right side up. He changes our whole concept of power and of authority, of status. Remember what he said to his disciples when they were arguing about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of God? He said, You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lorded over them. But it is not so among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever wishes to be number one shall be slave to all. For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.

[00:17:45] The king of king kings who leads with a tower, inaugurates a kingdom of foot washers. It deletes the image of clamoring for power, people climbing over each other to get to the top. Jesus example even puts to rest the notion that I wash your feet so that you wash my feet, rather I wash your feet so that in turn you can wash another's feet. That would set us apart. Christ centered leaders is brought into being by self. The Self-emptying love of Jesus. When leaders belong to King Jesus. We can no longer write on our resume. I don't do feet. That's precisely what leaders do, because that's what he did. And that's what he does. That's liberated leadership. It's a leadership that fulfills the highest priority of the needs of those we lead. And I'll come back to that over and over and over. It's the leadership that fulfills the highest priority and the highest potential of those we lead. Perhaps the best test of a crisis in a leader is to ask are those we lead growing as people? Are they becoming healthier? Are they becoming wiser? Are they becoming freer? Oh, they're becoming more likely themselves to become Christ centered leaders. And what is the benefit of my leadership on the poor, on the underserved, at least in society, those who cannot serve me in return? You know, the 20th century was blessed by a woman who obviously had her feet washed by this king. And some may argue with her theology, but it's kind of tough to argue with her life. Theresa, BoJack Sue was born and raised in Albania. For years she watched the FT in the hands and the heads and the body is the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and Manila and other cities.

[00:20:02] The gun also taught you started touch those who are not poor. And one such man was Malcolm Muggeridge. He was formerly a prominent broadcaster with the BBC in London. And so touched by was moderated by her that he wrote a book in our honor entitled Something Beautiful for God. In that book, he wrote these words to choose a Mother Teresa, to choose as Mother Teresa did, to live in the slums of Calcutta. Amidst all the dirt and disease and misery signified a spirit so indomitable, a faith so intractable, a love so abounding that I felt abashed. Muggeridge went on to tell of an experience he had in Calcutta, to which he responded by retreating to his comfortable hotel room and complaining about the wretched condition of the city. Then he wrote these words. I ran away and stayed away. But Mother Teresa moved in and stayed. That was the difference. She a slightly built none few rubles in her pockets. Not particularly clever or gifted in the art of persuasion. Came with Christian love's shining about her. In 1968, Muggeridge conducted a television interview with Mother Teresa. Muggeridge confessed that from a technical standpoint, the interview was terrible, but the public response was overwhelming. In reflecting on that interview, Muggeridge wrote, Discussions are endlessly taking place about how to use a mass medium for Christian purposes. All manner of devices are tried. From dialogs with learned atheists to pop versions of the Psalms. Here's the answer. Just get someone shining with over whelming Christian love. Yet someone for whom the world is nothing. In the service of crises. Everything. Get someone reborn in a servitude to the ego in the flesh and reborn into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Christ centered leadership is liberating.

[00:22:27] Liberating as it is. Doesn't just happen. And you and I both know that. Even if we want to be, you and I are probably not going to wake up tomorrow morning having become a Mother Teresa. But with the Apostle Paul and with Malcolm Muggeridge, we can pray, Lord, what I do is not the good I want to do. And the evil I do not want to do. This is what I keep on doing. Who will rescue me? I'm unable to pull it off, Lord. At least with any consistency. In those times when we're when we're unable or unwilling to take up the towel, when we find ourselves in that place where this kind of leadership just doesn't make sense. It usually means that it's time to let the king wash our feet again. To let the king, who loved his own to the full extent of his love. Wash us again. To let this king, who knew where he'd come from and where he was going. This king who knew he was in the absolute center of his father's will, This king whose heart is overflowing with love for you just now. It's time to let him wash our feet again. For the degree that you and I allow him to love us and to serve us. To that degree, we can wash the feet of those we lead. Into the glorious liberty of the Kingdom of God. So lift up your gates, you ancient doors that the King of glory may come in. Who is this king of glory? The Lord Almighty girded with a towel. He is the king of glory.

 

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