"From Official to Gifted Leadership"

September 29, 1996 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Ephesians 4:1-16

Congregational Megatrends Series #5

To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about this upcoming CROP Walk we’re having in the Jacksonville-Long Green Community the last Sunday of October. Why my anxiety? Well, it hasn’t been done here before - this is a completely new effort for this neighborhood. Will it fly? Will the Christians in all these local churches band together in this appeal, raising funds to alleviate world hunger? Will a larger sense of "community" grow amid all these housing developments? Maybe my nervousness is due to the fact that it was my idea in the first place. Perhaps it also has something to do with my foolish decision to be overall coordinator of this event.

Deep down, though, my anxiety may reveal the struggle to trust. Do I trust the people who have thus far answered the call and taken charge of certain aspects of the walk? Is Mike from St. John’s Lutheran handling all the physical arrangements? Will Michelle from Wilson Methodist, and all her helpers in each congregation, recruit enough walkers? Can Shelby from our church handle the headache of finances? Will Carl from Chestnut Grove Presbyterian get the word out in all the local papers? Do I trust that I will take care of my own responsibities? After all, I’m not exactly the most "organized" of persons. Do I trust myself?

More than that, do I trust God? Not with the intangables beyond anyone’s control - such as the weather - but with this effort itself. Ultimately, the trust (or lack thereof) we place in those who use their gifts in the body of Christ, is trust placed in the One who gives persons the abilities they need to do what needs to be done. How much we trust others in the body of Christ is a measure of how much we trust God. The two are not separate.

We know that our God is so very gracious. God made us, you and me, and gave us the breath of life. From the good earth is provided all we need, from the hand of the One who created it. Furthermore, God gave his only son, a part of himself. God gives us Life (with a capital "L"), a free, eternal gift flowing from the willingness of Christ Jesus to die for our sins. God continually graces us with his presence through the Holy Spirit, and gives each of us a gift, a special ability. Yes, God is very gracious. However, do we really trust in the Giver and the gift?

Again, if you’ve been following my sermons this month, you know that we’re in the middle of a series on changes happening in the church, what we might call Congregational Megatrends. Thus far we have looked at transitions taking place in evangelism, christian education, and missions (some pretty central tasks of the church). In this high tech - low touch society, we’ve noticed that relationships are more and more essential for the church to do what it has been called to do. More than ever before the individual believer is the most important element. From friendship evangelism to mentoring to hands-on mission work, you are key at the turn of this century for this church to live up to its calling.

Today’s topic is leadership. Perhaps, you are thinking ahead of me, and see the thread that is being woven through the fabric. So be it. Church leadership in the 21st century will depend upon each believer using their God-given gift for the work of ministry. Hasn’t it always been that way? Not necessarily.

We’ve been through a period in church history, where there’s been a real emphasis upon clergy - even in the Protestant wing of the church, which began as an alternative to Priest-centered and controlled religion. The Bible belongs in the hands of the people, the reformers taught. The sacraments come direct from God through Christ, not some person in the apostolic succession. For all their protesting, though, Protestants became quite a bit like the Catholic church from which they rebelled. Over time, there grew an ever-greater separation between clergy and laity. Our tradition was yet another protest beyond Protestantism, de-emphasizing the leadership of an elite, and calling for an equality of believers. All should be known simply as brother or sister, not Reverend and flock.

In this country, our denomination had an organizational structure suited for the frontier. We were not dependent upon a college-educated clergyman to establish the church in new locations. It went with our spiritual ancestors into the wilderness. The problem they faced was, with the absence of a unifying clergy, how does the church stick together and not scatter into a thousand pieces? The solution was an Annual Conference.

In the 1800's there was a degree of pride among Brethren over what they called the "free" ministry, that is leaders who were called out of a particular congregation, to serve in that setting. Pay was not an issue, for none was expected to give up their day job. Furthermore, they worked in teams, dividing up responsibilities. While there are still Brethren churches which follow this model, the majority moved toward the mainstream, becoming like other Protestant churches. In this century we followed the trend toward theologically trained, full-time, professional Pastors. I stand before you today in that line. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it, the day of the professional pastor may be nearly over, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is financial.

The "megatrend" the church faces, is a shift from channeling its ministry through a professional pastor to setting God’s people free to minister. Now, please hear me well, for the shift goes beyond the employed "professional" to the organizational structure itself. If this trend is correct, there is a move taking place already away from "official" leadership to "gifted" leadership. What this means in practice is that instead of seeking out persons to fill already established leadership positions, that is: to take on an "official" role in the life of the church, the church of the future will instead seek out the gifts God has given each member and organize itself to make the best use of those gifts.

This doesn’t sound all that new, does it? In the first place, when we look to the New Testament, that’s the pattern we see. I have said, haven’t I, that the church that is coming into existence is facing a world similar in many ways, to the world our spiritual ancestors faced in the first century or so after Jesus was resurrected. If that is so, then many of these leadership patterns we have so often passed over may be be more relevant than we ever thought possible.

We need to give much more attention to spiritual gifts. It doesn’t have to be from a Pentecostal or Charismatic perspective, though these brothers and sisters have at least been working at it with more diligence than others in the wider church. We’ve done a good job of "talking the talk" of equiping the saints (i.e. all of us) for ministry, of discerning the gifts we each have been given. Hey, we even have a line in our bulletin every Sunday that says that the ministers of the church are the people. We’ve talked the talk. We need, now, to walk the walk.

In Sunday School, in small groups, in mentoring relationships, can we focus more intently upon discerning the gifts, the God-given abilities we each have (according to scripture)? I challenge us to do so. I confess, it’s not easy. I have yet to find I process that feels right. Many of the books and surveys I’ve encountered on the topic tend to be too individualistic, as if these gifts have no connection to the church, they’re only discovered (and often used) privately. Ought they instead be discerned within the gathered body of believers? After all, as the apostle Paul wrote in this morning’s scripture: these gifts are "for the work of ministry,." for "building up the body of Christ," for "unity of faith," for operating as a whole body, not the sum of many individual parts.

Furthermore, these gifts need to focus not just upon the inside of the church, to only take care of those who are already among the saints. More than ever, in this present society, these gifts need to face outward, to address the needs that surround us.

Speaking of outsiders, it’s time we look at our homework assignments. I’ve been giving one every week. We started out thinking of 3 persons who might be in need of a deeper relationship with God, persons unconnected to any church. The next week I asked you to consider at least one way each of these 3 could benefit from such a closer relationship. Last Sunday, we brought them into our prayer life, entrusting them into God’s hands, asking that he would communicate with them concerning their need. This week’s homework is likewise simple, and tied to prayer. However, we’re asking God to show us our role in reaching out to these persons. A sample prayer, which I encourage you to put in your own words and pray daily, is printed under the sermon title: "God, if there is any way I can help these people have a stronger relationship with you, let me know."

I trust you will do your part. Yes, it does come down to trust. God entrusts each of us with a gift, whatever that may be. God trusts in us to use it wisely, in ways that build up rather than tear down, that reach out rather than hold out, that make for growth rather than decay, movement rather than standing still. Do we trust each other enough to jointly discern and put into action our spiritual gifts? Do we trust ourselves? Do we trust God?

1996Peter L. Haynes

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