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

Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and a Touch of Compassion

The thought first came to me while watching a video on Mother Teresa. I still find it difficult to articulate. But if I could attempt to describe it, it would be something along these lines: We are compelled to serve others in humbling ways simply because their humanity, in all its brokenness and — well, humanness — deserves recognition.

It came to me during a shot of Mother Teresa caressing the fingerless hand of a leper. Something inside me drew back in revulsion, and then was ashamed at my reaction. I tend to shy away from what is gross or uncomfortable, but after all, the hand is suffering and can’t help how it appears. It is a very human part of a soul whom I am called to love, and I must love it because it is a part of them. I must honor the mundane and even the downright unpleasant, because it is a part of God’s good creation, and it is a privilege to care for it.

We cannot shy away from the unattractive parts of our humanity, or pretend they don’t exist. We must embrace the blood, the sweat, the tears, the snot, everything that makes a person human.

I find feet to be creepy and disturbing, but they deserve to be washed with all the respect and tenderness of Jesus.

Hands deserve to be held.

Faces deserve to be touched.

Eyes deserve to hold a steady gaze.

The broken, the diseased, and the deformed yearn to be touched, and to be the one whose touch brings a smile to their face or tears to their eyes is just as great a privilege as holding the hand of a boyfriend or girlfriend — because in so doing, we affirm their humanity and our own.

The second time I thought — or rather, felt — this concept was when I saw these poignant pictures of Pope Francis blessing a man whose face was disfigured with a rare skin disease.

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It was fascinating to read comments like these from non-Christians who were touched by a picture of authentic love: “I assumed that any religious figure in public life was a fraud, but this guy makes you want to go to church to hear more. I’ve never felt that before.” And they say this because, from what I know of Pope Francis, he spends more time simply living like Jesus than pontificating stuffy religious principles. And profound theological insights, unless they manifest themselves in service which is profoundly practical, are not profound at all. We must spend at least as much time washing the feet of society as we do theorizing about heady ideas.

Very few speak the language of theology…

…But every broken person longing for a touch understands the language of love.

When, like Jesus, we engage in the brokenness of the world, it declares that humanity is worth something. Love is not only a feeling or a stagnant reality. Real love declares a truth, and in so doing, creates it. It does not merely exist, but by its very nature it calls into being the reality which it chooses to profess. In other words, by loving those whom the world considers unworthy, we declare a new reality — that they ARE worthy — and our very act of loving them makes them so.

Jesus took up His cross and declared that we are worth dying for.

As we selflessly love and serve and give, we profess the same reality — and in so doing, bring the Kingdom to earth.

In the Hands of the Potter

Romans 9:21 — “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”

All of us desire recognition, if not fame; we all want to feel like we are doing something impressive. But first and foremost, we are to serve.

By human standards, we feel insignificant if we lead quiet lives, but God sees it differently; He calls each of us to serve Him in a different way.  We have different roles to play in His plan, but He views each of us as vitally important in bringing His will to fulfillment.

Published in: on January 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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