What would you say is one of the single most impactful moments in leadership history?
Is it one of George Washington’s great conquests? What about one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s amazing messages or demonstrations? Could it be Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt and to the rim of the Promised Land? It must be Joshua’s strategic battle at Jericho and his calculated entrance into the land promised to God’s eclectic group of people, right?
Though, I believe, the finished work of Jesus Christ wins hands-down, there was one other leadership moment of Jesus’ that sets the tone and maintains the bar for us all as leaders.
Nestled within the gospel of John, we find a story of Jesus with the likely cast of characters, the disciples, but with some unusual tools for a leader, especially a soon conquering King. What was Jesus’ gear of choice for this historic leadership moment? A simple basin of water and a towel. With these basic preparations we find the Leader of leaders displaying for all leaders throughout all generations the art of true transformational leadership.
As leaders, we long for those we are privileged to lead to reach a place of transformation that, in turn, transforms the lives of others. In my opinion, there should be no other leadership goal.
Yet, I’ve learned that true transformation in others inevitably begins and ends with my towel moments: those moments in my leadership that display and confirm the Holy Spirit’s power to transform an ordinary person like me and enable all spectators to believe He can actually change ordinary people like them.
With multiplying transformation in mind, here are 7 leadership principles I’ve located within John 13:1-27 which challenge me and I hope encourages you to always lead with a towel.
1. LOVE TO THE END
Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (1).
As leaders we are all called to do a lot of stuff. Some of the stuff even hinders and distracts us from doing the right stuff. Yet leading with a towel understands that there is one thing we cannot lead without – love! We are called to love, but no just love – love to the end. Leadership begins and ends with love!
2. SERVE IN SPITE OF BETRAYAL
During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him… (2).
If Christ was betrayed, guess what? So will we. Yet leading with a towel is for you to find the will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve those who may one day betray you.
3. LEAD WITH DELEGATED AUTHORITY
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God… (3).
As leaders we can’t ever forget that we hold delegated authority in our hands. It comes from God, and we too will go back to Him and give account for our use or misuse of our assigned authority. Leading with a towel suggests that we clearly embrace accountability.
4. LEAD WITH VULNERABILITY
…got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself (4).
I don’t how much of His garments Jesus laid aside, but it was enough that He needed to cover Himself with a towel. It’s clear that Jesus was exposed to the degree He required a towel. We would never know if leading with a towel is required of us until we are (self) exposed as leaders. This self-inflicted vulnerability (openness) before those we serve solidifies our leadership rather than weakening it.
5. DON’T RESIST GENUINE ENGAGEMENT
Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me (8).
In this verse, I hear Jesus’ desire to truly and genuinely engage with Peter and His other disciples. It’s similar when Paul wrote to the Church in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13: …our heart is opened wide… Now in like exchange… open wide to us. When we are leading with a towel it gets extremely uncomfortable. Our hearts are open wide. Nevertheless, it’s the conduit of love that enables us as leaders to get so close that we honestly become a part of those we lead.
6. REMEMBER HIS EXAMPLE
If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you (14-15).
Can you imagine the feet of the twelve? The dirt and even the smell of those dusty, grimy, crusty feet. Can you drift with me and think about the one reclining and eating with you – knowing that he has already betrayed you? And with full knowledge of all of this and more, Jesus still without hesitation, whips-out His trusty towel to serve. A leader leading with a towel remembers he has a High Priest (Jesus) who was tempted in all things, as we are, yet without sin. No matter the setting or sacrifice we must remember: so did the Teacher, so do I!
7. INVITE THE WILL OF GOD
…So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly” (26-27).
No matter how well Jesus served some of His most intimate friends, He understood and had to embrace the unavoidable. When we lead any group of people there will always be our inevitable cross that we must all embrace. Leaders who are leading with a towel invite this painful part of the will of God. Rather than resisting it, they say, “What you do, do quickly.”
I’m learning that if one follows Christ’s model of leadership they don’t need much to lead well. I’m confident that I simply cannot lead, not even myself, without the authority of God’s Word ever present in every area of my life and ministry.
But there is one thing most leaders like me forget – their towel. The towel supports the effectiveness of the basin of water like leading with a towel supports the water of the Word of God by reaching and scrubbing those hidden areas of my life through vulnerable service. My towel keeps me in a healthy posture of humility, as I kneel before those I unconditionally serve. I submit to you, that I just can’t effectively lead others into a deeper transformational relationship with God in Christ without my towel.
Where’s your towel?