Servant leadership

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all [Mark 9:35 NRSV]

One of the losses of COVID restrictions has been mission trips.

I love mission trips. I love the growth I see in people who participate. I love seeing the positive difference, the emergence of hope that can happen when a group of people come together to make a difference. 

My first mission trip led me to Northfork, West Virginia, when I was fifteen. Our New Orleans youth group headed out in two packed station wagons and spent a week working long hours for a woman who raised 17 children in a three-room house with no running water. Thus, I began a decades long relationship with the Highland Education Project, a ministry of the Episcopal church in McDowell County (then the poorest county east of the Mississippi). It was a blessing to again return with members of All Saints’ in 2012. 

Some twenty years later, on another mission trip to West Virginia, this time to Pennsboro, WV, the coordinator spoke to the teens asking, “How would you feel if you were not able to take care of the house you lived in? What about if a bunch of people you didn’t know showed up at your house to fix it? What if they were horsing around and ruined the flowers you worked hard to plant or laughed at the difficult circumstances they saw? Have you ever thought about the honor they offer in allowing you, a total stranger, to come to their home?” 

Pondering those questions, shifted my understanding of mission trips. It is often easy to see what another needs, but not so easy to be aware of our own needs. At their best, mission trips are not a one-sided benevolent offering, but a mutual exchange of blessing. Those who allow themselves to be served in this way offer a tremendous gift in humility, vulnerability, and trust.

On the night before he died, Jesus took a towel and began to wash the disciples feet, taking the place of the lowest slave in the household. Earlier in the week, to the shock of his disciples, Jesus had allowed his own feet to be washed by Mary of Bethany. Now, facing Jesus with towel and basin in hand, Peter protested “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus replied, “If I do not, you have no place in me” and Peter assented.  After all had been washed Jesus asked simply “Do you know what I have done for you? If I your teacher wash your feet, so you also should wash one another’s feet.” [John 13:2-15 paraphrase]

Service done with the recognition of ones’ own need comes from a different place in our hearts. Even as we are called to serve, may we also embrace the opportunity to grow through the vulnerability required in being served.


  • Who has inspired you to serve others?
  • Who mentored or taught you to serve the world?
  • What are the characteristics of servant leadership?
  • What is the role of Christian faith in servant leadership?