Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

26 Jan

Online Article-Foot Washing: A Vision for Mission Trip Leadership

Posted in Uncategorized on 26.01.12 by Merlyn

Published at Youthworker Online (A part of Youthworker Journal) January 2012

Foot Washing: A Vision for Mission Trip Leadership

Like many youth workers, one of my favorite parts of doing youth ministry are mission trips. They are powerful, fun, and incredibly effective. It is an amazing opportunity not only to learn and serve, but to have the kind of time with our youth we wish we had all throughout the year. In most of my ministry contexts, mission trips have been one of the most significant programs in the youth ministry. The power that comes in serving others is unquestionable, and the impact and importance of service for children and youth is only increasing. Recently, all significant books in the area of youth ministry discuss about service.

Over the years, the most important image from Scripture that casts a vision for mission trips in my own life in ministry is the story of the foot washing in the Gospel of John. The power and implications of this text are far too deep and wide to fully examine in this article, but it’s a text that all Christ-followers, especially those serving in ministry leadership positions, should carefully examine and reflect upon. Every mission trip under my direction has included a foot-washing service, usually towards the end of the trip. For the majority of those trips, the foot-washing portion of service has been conducted exactly the same way. During the service, I personally go around the room and wash the feet of each and every youth and adult leader from our group. After washing their feet, I take some time to pray for them. It’s a prayer I trust the Holy Spirit to provide, but I also take time all week thinking about how I can best pray for them. After finishing washing the feet and praying for each person on the team, I invite the team to what I call ‘open bucket time.’ I tell the team (youth and adults) they can use the next several moments to continue to pray, but also if they desire to wash one another’s feet. Some of my most meaningful moments as a Christ-follower, a leader, and a youth worker have happened during this time. Whether it is watching youth reconcile with one another by washing each other’s feet, siblings engaging in the intimate act of foot washing with one another, or having youth wash my own feet, the power, humility, and intimacy is overwhelming. I cannot take credit at all for this service or this model, as I (and we), are simply imitating what Christ did in the upper room for His disciples. We are simply honoring his call to ‘wash one another’s feet.’ This moment in the upper room is one of the most intimate moments in Scripture. Foot washing is a powerful imitation of Christ. It is the physical expression of what our lives as Christ-followers should be. It is the image of what missions and service should be all about. Our culture and our youth are perhaps more narcissistic and entitled than ever before, yet we desperately crave community. We need meaning and significance, we need to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and we need to know that what we do and who we are makes a difference in the world. In this simple act of foot washing, Jesus has given us an answer to all of these challenges and needs and as long as our heart is focused on the God of the universe who got down on his hands and knees and washed the feet of his disciples, we will find an answer to all these needs and more. We will find a model for discipleship, service and leadership that can and will change the world.

As a Christ-follower, leader, and youth worker, there is no greater act for me than to get down on my hands and knees and wash the feet of those I love, serve with, and lead as we all seek to be imitators of our Lord Jesus Christ. The foot washing is more than just a powerful moment to be imitated; it is a model and vision for missions and leadership in the church and the world.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 13 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (

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