Serving in the Spirit (8:30am)
Topic: Leadership Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:6–16:13, 1 Timothy 3:1–3:13
Each year when we elect new deacons and elders, I find myself giving thanks for those who have faithfully served their terms, and for those who will be joining the Boards as new officers. It’s always amazing to me how the Spirit of God raises up the right mix of people for the particular time, blending them together in unity. Each voice contributes to the whole; the totality provides discernment for the life and mission of the congregation. I’m grateful too, for the nominating committee, and their work of seeking people to serve.
Certain principles guide us in the selection and work of those who lead in service. First, Christ is the head of the church. Christ leads and directs the congregation. Those who serve, seek the Lord’s will—or they’re supposed to. Sometimes, in the busy-ness of doing, we can lose sight of this primary focus. We may become so convinced of our own plans, or blocking the plans of others, that we forget whose work it is, and whose church it is. In the deepest sense, it’s not our church: it’s the Lord’s church.
This truth is emphasized throughout scripture, of course. And it is strongly affirmed in our Presbyterian Book of Order. Christ is the Head of the church, and all authority belongs to Him. Accordingly, we govern ourselves not through individuals but through ordered groups. No one person gets to call the shots—except the Lord. In a positive sense, the gifts of many together bring a richness to the whole ministry. When all are empowered to speak and contribute, the resulting decisions better reflect the will and wisdom of God. When we forget to allow freedom of conversation, we miss the very reason that people have been placed on the board. Sometimes a dominant few basically run things, and ride roughshod over the opinions of others. Some think they’ve reached a consensus when in fact they’ve merely silenced the opposition. In an increasingly uncivil society, the church can show courtesy and civility and respect to each other.
Christ is first. Then comes call. It came to David of old. It comes to each one of us. We might not think, “The phone rang. Must be God calling me.” In the process of working it through, we might ask, “Do I sense the time is right for me? Will my schedule or my life situation allow me to respond fully? Do I feel joy when I consider it?” These are some of the marks of call—when we can answer in the affirmative. When that inner feeling is confirmed by congregation or presbytery or synod or General Assembly, that’s our way of saying Yes as a church.
We also affirm that no human barriers should prevent anyone from being called. Our theology strongly declares that God is sovereign—free to call anyone of God’s choosing. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” The main factor in call is not outward appearance but inward Spirit, the discernment of the body, the voice of the Lord. The church believes that the call should demonstrate the new creation in Christ, which transcends all differences of ethnicity, gender, orientation, disability, or condition in life.
Our emphasis on people acting together in unity reflects a certain caution about human nature. Prone as we are to sin and error, our polity holds that no one individual should hold power over others. We serve as a corrective to each other—although we are well aware that whole nations can be wrong, and can sometimes go happily holding hands, together…right over a cliff. This theology of caution influenced our U.S. constitution, where checks and balances are built-in to try to restrain the dark impulses of authoritarianism and dictatorial rule. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the intent.
One way of reading this Timothy text might result in this interpretation: “If your life is a mess, you’re disqualified. Only those who have it all together need apply.” Part of being human means, “Nobody has it all together.” If our kids are acting out, or we’re remarried, or not married, or a woman—our understanding of God’s gracious call means these are not deal breakers in any way. Joyfully celebrating our differences, and committed to working through ordinary people, God calls and empowers each of us for service.
The last point I would make is this: Christ calls us in order to bless the community. The call is always for the sake of others—not for our own aggrandizement. Everyone has a ministry. As we know, once an elder or deacon, always an elder or deacon. Many who are not on any board, or have never been ordained, are nevertheless wonderful examples of caring, leadership, devotion, and giving. Jesus said to us all, “I came not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life for others….Whoever would be first among you must be the servant of all.” The question is always, How can I serve—right now? What urgent matter of justice or compassion is beckoning me? How can I share a word of hope, or a word of love? How can I embody Christ for others?