Foot Washing as Youth Ministry: Trading Success and Self-Image for Selfless Community

In my final paper for Theological Foundations of Youth Ministry with Kenda Creasy Dean (attached below as a PDF file), I explore a theology of foot washing, arising from the John 13 Passover text, and its implications for youth ministry.  I begin by briefly sketching the current landscape of youth ministry before I introduce the concept of foot washing as my theological foundation for youth ministry, its history in my church tradition, and the ways in which a theology of foot washing addresses the cultural and developmental needs of adolescents without sacrificing the counter-cultural nature of the gospel and a God who kneels to serve. Although limited by length constraints, I conclude with practical implications for creating a youth ministry environment rooted in a theology of foot washing.

Thanks to Kenda for an incredible semester of soaking up her wisdom and experience, my mom and JP for their constant help in revising and editing, and my dear friend Samantha Slaubaugh, whose heart for service continually inspires me to live out this ideal.

Foot Washing as Youth Ministry

Destroying Strongholds

Each of us has a stronghold built around our lives.  Each of us has a defense.  Some more apparent than others, perhaps, some more difficult to detect, but they are there nonetheless.  They are there because at some level or another, we each have deep underlying insecurities, and we want to protect ourselves from the world.

Why are these insecurities there?  They may be there because you’ve been abused.  They may be there because you feel inadequate.  They may be there because you have known poverty, or loss, or any number of worldly struggles or suffering.  But at the heart of it lies one simple reason: they are there because of sin.  They are there because this world is broken, because we all fall short and are incomplete without Christ, but none of us has been able to bridge the gap so completely that we are whole this side of heaven.  Desperately seeking safety that can never be assured on earth, we try to guard ourselves.

What’s wrong with being guarded?  Strongholds are walls that we have built to keep others out.  It may not seem that way, but sometimes we do it subconsciously.  Guarding yourself comes at the price of relationships, both with God and other people; the higher your wall, the more superficial your relationships will be.  First and most importantly, strongholds keep us from God because God is supposed to be our stronghold (Psalm 27:1).  Therefore, anything else that we depend on is an idol of our own making.  When we build walls, we replace God’s protection with our own.  Our lips say that we trust God, but our actions prove otherwise.  Second, strongholds keep us from having deep relationships with other people because we only let them see what we want them to see.  When they look at us, they don’t see the beauty of our soul; they see a wall.  And who can love a wall?  When we build strongholds, we forfeit the depth of love and acceptance for the shallowness of popularity.

What are your strongholds?  Some of you may know right away.  For others, they’ve so long been a part of you, so cleverly disguised and hidden even from yourself, that it may require discernment and guidance from the Holy Spirit to seek out these strongholds and destroy them.  Prayerfully consider the following questions:

What am I most afraid to let go of?

What do I turn to when I feel uncomfortable or threatened?

What do I feel like I most need to prove?

What makes me feel the most exposed?

What do I fear will happen if I lose my protection?

Answering these questions will give you valuable insight into what your strongholds are and why they are there.  If you can understand why you do what you do, it becomes easier to work through your emotions and get rid of the strongholds that keep you from God.  If you don’t, there may come a day when they are taken from you.  God is jealous, and His love is a tough love; if anything is keeping Him from your heart, He will stop at nothing to win you back.  When His people Israel continued to chase after other things, seeking security elsewhere, God decided to put a stop to it: “Israel has forgotten their Maker and built palaces; Judah has fortified many towns.  But I will send fire on their cities that will consume their fortresses” (Hosea 8:14).  With their strongholds burned to the ground around them, Israel had nowhere else to turn but to the Lord.  When all of their sin and weakness was exposed, they had to face their utter helplessness and depend on God.

Destroying strongholds can be a scary business, not only because we feel exposed, but also because we’ve worked our defense mechanisms into the fabric of our being for so long that we feel they’ve become a part of our identity.  If we strip them away, what will be left of us?  If our stronghold defines us, who are we without it?  The beautiful part is that God doesn’t leave us there; He transforms us into something new and beautiful.  As He did for His people Israel, He will replace our facade with a true identity, the security of which can never be taken away.  He will give us a new name: “I will say to those called ‘Not My People,’ ‘You are My People'” (Hosea 2:23).  Once the stronghold is torn down, we are no longer captives within our own walls.  We are free to know and be known, to love and be loved.

We are free when we are His.

excuses, excuses…

Journal entry written for youth ministry class:

God called Moses in a pretty dramatic way.  Every time I read this story, there’s a part of me that thinks, “Wow, I can’t believe he kept making excuses when God made his calling so obvious.” But to be honest, I’ve done the exact same thing even when I knew without a doubt what God was calling me to do.

Moses’ first excuse centered around the question of his identity. Isn’t identity what we all want to find? “Who am I, that I should go?” Moses asked God. God answered, “I will be with you.” Did God answer Moses’ question? Not directly. Who was Moses, anyway, that he should go? No one, really. He was a murderer, he ran because he was a coward, and he ended up with the less-than-glamorous job of tending sheep. Moses was nobody, so of course he was going to feel insecure about taking on a task that required authority and leadership. But God wasn’t concerned about helping Moses discover his identity so he could feel good about himself inside. Because in the end, it didn’t really matter who Moses was. It mattered who God is. And who am I, that I should go? No one, really…until God calls me out for His purpose. We’re so consumed with discovering “who we are”…but that’s not really the point, is it? If God is with us, that’s all the answer we need.

Moses’ second excuse was concerned with God’s identity. “Well, if God is going to be with me,” he must have figured, “what does that mean for me? Who is God, anyway?” Is God actually powerful enough to be everything I need? In class today when we were talking about calling, our discussion group was talking about how afraid people are to rely on God and how we always think we need a back-up plan. So even when God revealed His identity to Moses and reassured him of what would happen in Egypt, Moses wasn’t finished.

Moses’ third excuse was the worry of what the Egyptians would think of him. Would they believe him? Would they think he was stupid? Moses already seemed pretty insecure, and he was afraid his ego couldn’t take the kind of rejection he anticipated. Looking back on some things I’ve felt led to do, the fear of what others think is always a huge obstacle to get over. “What if this is ridiculous? What if it doesn’t work and I end up looking like a failure?”

Moses wasn’t finished. He had a fourth reason he shouldn’t go – he was ill equipped. God was asking him to speak, and he felt uncomfortable speaking. This is another excuse I can definitely relate to; one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is in 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” God said to Paul. And I could hear him saying it to me all summer at camp, when I didn’t think heights and outdoors were really “my thing.” I felt ill-equipped…but just as He did for Moses, God showed up and overcame those weaknesses to display His strength through me.

Undone

“Lord, You are taking me apart a piece at a time, until I am completely undone before You. My sinful nature will fight You every step of the way, but I want to know You, Lord. To know Your heart. To be only Yours.” — journal entry from january 24th, 2012

I’ve spent my whole life shaping myself. My personality. My image. My style.

In middle school, I went through that awkward phase where I just tried really hard not to be ugly (it was a losing battle).

In high school, I just wanted to fit in.

And in college, it’s been all about “finding myself” and shaping my identity.

It’s been a long and arduous process. A journey. A road with many ups and downs.

And every time I reach a point where I think, “Okay, this is who I want to be,” God just looks and me and says, “Well, this is who I want you to be.”

And that’s when it all comes undone. Everything that I thought was important is stripped away and I’m left back where I started, empty-handed.

At the core of who I am is the girl that He created. His image. But not everything I have become conforms to that image. So bit by bit, He chips away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus.

Over time, my heart has been hardened by failed friendships and relationships and people who have let me down. It’s difficult to trust. It’s difficult to love.

My eyes have been blinded by the lies of the world and its distorted interpretations of the truth. I can’t see clearly and don’t know how to process what I can see.

And my hands — my hands have been covered in dirt, caked in mud, as I dabble in the things of the world and define myself by its standards.

But little by little as He breaks through my resistance, the layers fall away. I’m being transformed into something beautiful.

And now I’m standing in the presence of the Almighty God. I can see — and now I long to see more. My heart has been opened — but it can’t let in enough of His love. My hands are now clean, raised to the sky, reaching for more, more of Him.

Here I stand, 19 years of effort stripped away.

Here I stand, exposed but covered by grace, broken but beautiful.

Here I stand, undone.

Published in: on March 15, 2012 at 12:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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