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Honoring Leaders
One of the things I appreciate about Rick Mercer is that he does not discriminate.
No matter what your political stripe, you will be mocked and what you do will be held under a microscope.
Yet, I also get a sense that even though he mocks political leaders, he also respects them.
I think it is very unusual that a comedian can get political leaders to be on his program.
He talks to them and teases them and laughs with them and in so doing seems to respect them.
Leaders need to be held accountable, but there is a significant gap between holding a leader accountable and disrespecting and mistrusting a leader.
This is true whether we are talking about political leaders or church leaders.
I have to admit that my reason for choosing this topic today is the fear that we sometimes cross the line from holding leaders accountable to disrespecting and mistrusting leaders.
My reason for this fear comes from things I have heard over the years and particularly in the last half year.
Therefore, I thought it was important for us to be reminded about what the Bible has to say about how the church functions and about how to relate to leadership in a way that has God’s approval.
Although I will refer to many texts, Hebrews 13:17 is our focus text.
There we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.
They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.
Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
I.                   How Our Church Functions
Carla’s brother is one of the pastors at Skyline Church in San Diego California.
They have 20 people on staff at that church.
One time when I was telling him about how we make decisions in our church he just couldn’t understand it.
He told me that they have one membership meeting a year to approve the budget and that the meeting lasts about 10 minutes.
Obviously they have a very different style of church government.
Historically there are three dominant models of church government.
One is where one person is the head of the church and has the power to give direction to the church.
The Catholic Church, with the pope at its head is probably the best known example of this kind of a church.
When we read in the Bible about kind of authority that Peter and Paul had, we see a reason why that kind of church government has developed.
A second style is what is known as an elder model.
In this form of church government, it is a body of elders that leads the church.
The Presbyterian Church is one example of this kind of church government.
When we realize that Paul appointed elders in every church we can understand where the precedence for this kind of church leadership comes from.
The third style is the congregational model and our church has such a model.
The Jerusalem council, in Acts 15, where the whole church engaged in resolving a conflict is a demonstration of this model.
Right from the beginning of the church there were systems of organization of the church.
The church was never simply a loose collection of individuals who got together occasionally for worship.
There is strong precedence in Scripture for a deliberate community of people who do the work of God together.
However, the brief summary of different models of church government tells us that there is not only one model of church government which is clearly Biblical.
Our history and our study of Scripture have brought us to have a congregational form of government.
What does that mean in terms of how we function as a church and how we do the work of God well?
Matthew 18:16-18 says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Admittedly, this is not the easiest passage in the Bible to interpret, but I have become increasingly convinced that it speaks to the way the church functions.
As a body, we pray and we come together in order to do the work of God.
As we pray and recognize that God is in our midst and as we work at agreeing, the things we agree on are the things which God wants for us because He is in our midst.
That is what it means to function as a church in a congregational form of government.
How do we do that well?
In order to do that well we must pray and participate.
If we don’t pray about the work of the church and seek God together, then we won’t have the mind of Christ on the decisions we make.
If we sit back and don’t attend meetings and if we don’t speak when we do have meetings, then we have not been a part of agreeing.
So the first step of being a congregational church is that we must participate in the process.
The second step is that when we as a congregation decide on something, then we need to submit to that decision.
Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
There is a story in my family history that has had an impact on my life.
Many years ago the church which my great grandparents attended was making a decision about purchasing another building.
There was a church available and they were deciding whether or not this was the way to accommodate the growth.
I believe that my great grandfather was the church treasurer, so he had a leadership position.
He did not agree with the decision to purchase and spoke against it.
The day for the vote came and the congregation decided that they would purchase the building.
When the decision of the church became clear, the family story goes that my great grandfather said, “If the church has decided, then I will support it.”
That is what it means to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The Role of Leadership
!! A.                 There is a Place for Leadership
With such a strong model of congregational government, one might well ask “what is the place of leadership in the church?”
With a passage such as Matthew 23:8-10 we might wonder if we should even have leaders.
There we read, “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.
9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”
Yet leadership is clearly prescribed in the Bible.
It is founded on the concept of giftedness and the recognition that every person in the church has a gift.
I Corinthians 12:28 teaches us that God has appointed different people to do the different tasks in the church and there is no question that leadership is among those tasks.
That verse says, “And in the church God has appointed…” and goes on to list leaders such as apostles, teachers and those able to administrate.
A similar message is found in Ephesians 4:11-16.
This is a key passage which demonstrates the role of leaders.
It says, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” This passage tells us that the work of the church is to be done by the people of the church and the function of leadership is to prepare God’s people to do that work.
In other words, all of us work, and those who are leaders have a role to play in facilitating the work.
Another place we can look to see that there is a role for leadership is in Timothy and Titus.
Both of these books give lists of the leaders the church has and the qualifications for those leaders.
!! B.                 The Position of Leaders
So if no one is to be called “rabbi” or “father” or “teacher” and yet people are called to be, how do we bring these two concepts together?
Matthew 23:8-10 is written in a very particular context.
It does not imply that there should not be leaders, nor that they should not function as leaders, but it is intended to describe the nature of leadership in the Christian church.
One of the pitfalls of leadership is to strive for power or to function with power.
The message of this passage is that the leadership style of those who are in Christ is to be a servant leadership.
Jesus describes Christian leadership in Luke 22:27 by pointing to his own leadership when he says, “I am among you as one who serves.”
So what we learn about the position of leaders is that they are servants - servants of Christ and servants of the church.
!! C.                 The Responsibility of Leaders
What is the responsibility of these servant leaders?
Of course that depends on the gifts they have and the role they have in the church.
In Acts 6, a group of people were called by the church in Jerusalem to serve food to those who were poor.
This particular job was identified because the apostles wanted to continue to concentrate on their primary job which was preaching the Word and praying.
Ephesians 4 has an interesting list of leaders – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
We can see significantly different roles in each.
One to lead the church forward into kingdom building, another to hear and communicate a Word from God, another to spread the gospel, another to care for the flock and another to teach God’s word.
So we need to recognize that there are different kinds of leaders in the church.
But the Bible has some important things to say about the responsibility of all of these leaders.
In Acts 20:28-29 Paul speaks to the overseers of the church of Ephesus and says to them, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.
Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.”
Here the responsibility of leaders is to keep watch and the particular concern is the watch care over truth.
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