Of course I had heard the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet before that time, but here was my pastor, on his knees in the dirt, washing feet that hadn’t seen a bar of soap in days. Who were we to deserve that kind of attention from the leader of our church? And as he washed my feet, he looked up with a genuine smile I can still see today and said, “Kaker,” - which is my family’s nickname for me – like I was an individual – a unique and important person, worthy of this attention.
Now I had experienced leadership prior to this time – playground observations on who’s best able to influence playmates to engage in the folly he or she wants – but I’d categorize those leadership examples more as bullying or manipulation or temper tantrums, resulting in others capitulating (isn’t it easier that way sometimes?). THIS however, was new and different. Servant leadership – leading through humility, service, and love – this was a new experience.
Of course at the time I didn’t fully understand the lesson for what it was, but looking back on it, I’ve seen the impact the gesture had on me. My leader took care of my needs – it didn’t matter that he was my pastor and I a child of barely 14. He was humble, and treated me as an individual. He served from his heart. In that moment, he became a great leader in my mind. Someone I would follow relentlessly. He also shaped my image of leadership – that memory has returned many times throughout my career, especially in moments where servant leadership is called for, but clearly not easy – but that’s a topic for a different day.