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Marks of Vitality: Empowered Servant Leaders

Marks of Vitality   •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  23:16
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Jesus sees the great need for leaders to share the good news with those who long for it and empowers disciples to go out and change lives in his name. This is not simply the role of the Good Shepherd or elders or pastors, to lead this coming of the Kingdom. As a vital church, we are called to empower servant leaders to go out and proclaim the good news, giving each other the tools necessary to change lives in Jesus' name as well.

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The New Revised Standard Version The Harvest Is Great, the Laborers Few

The Harvest Is Great, the Laborers Few

(Lk 10:2–3)

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The Twelve Apostles

(Mk 3:13–19a; Lk 6:12–16)

10 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

Intro

How do you take on the insurmountable? How do you cure diseases and cast out spirits and re-write a whole way of living?
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
In this Lenten Season, we are looking at the marks of Vital Congregations. What does it mean for a church community to vital, vibrant, awake, and alive?
So far, we’ve answered that question by looking at 3 Marks of Vitality: Lifelong Discipleship, Authentic Evangelism, and Outward Focus.
In simple terms, lifelong discipleship is the ongoing, daily formation in the way of Jesus. It is the daily prayers, breaking bread, serving those in need, and glorifying God with out lives. It is the “wash your hands” of the faith — again and again, always being formed and cleaned and on the way.
Authentic evangelism is simply sharing the good life we’ve found with others. It is the come and see of our faith — come and see this community that cares about me and has given me purpose. Come and see how lives are being changed by encountering Jesus.
Outward focus is exactly what it sounds like — it is seeing Jesus at work outside the walls of a church building. It is seeing and then being Jesus in every place we are called to go. It is extending the power and love of the Good Life into all places. This one is particularly important as we are unable to gather inside our building right now — great thing! The Church is on the outside!
In today’s Scripture, we catch a glimpse of the 4th Mark of Vitality: Empowered Servant Leaders.

Dividing the Labor, Exponential Growth

Let’s hear the first part of the Matthew text again, as it is a lovely picture of why we need to have empowered servant leaders in our communities, just as Jesus empowered his disciples to do the Good Work in his name.
The New Revised Standard Version The Harvest Is Great, the Laborers Few

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Jesus is traveling all around the countryside, the cities, the villages, teaching and sharing this news of the good life. Authentic Evangelism and an Outward Focus.
I feel so much as I read verse 36… “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Oh goodness — these people need help. They’re lonely, they’re sick, they’re hungry, and they’re longing for someone, something, a way to live that will set them free. Ugh, I feel for them, don’t you?
And Jesus recognizes this.
And thankfully, Jesus responds not by taking all of their burden upon himself, but by using the striking image of a harvest to call others into service.
If you’ve ever been around a farm at the time of harvest, you know the work is impossible to accomplish without many hands to help. I think about seeing coffee farms in Guatemala, extremely steep mountainsides, covered in coffee shrubs. Huge pieces of land, thousands of acres. And managed by one or two farmers and their family. Impossible for them to pick every berry before they rot on the tree. Impossible.
And so, they have to divide the labor. They have to call in people from all around the valley, people who can help make the labor easier for the whole by becoming a team. And so many hands go out into the fields to pick and harvest and gather.
The harvest is plentiful and only possible with everyone pitching in to labor.
And so the Lord begins sending out laborers into the harvest.

The Work of the People and Presbyterian Polity

Built into the way our church is structured, or as we Presbyterians say “ordered”, is a heart for this kind of empowerment. We wholeheartedly believe that all are called to serve God and the mission of God’s church. That there are many gifts and many ways those gifts can impact the world, through the church.
That’s why we are governed, not by a pastor-CEO, but by a community of elders. In our church, we have 9 elders who rule over matters of the church — it makes the many things we have to do, the work of God’s people, easier because there are many people using their gifts.
The same goes for how we get about the work for caring for each other. I imagine many of you got a phone call this week from a Deacon of our church. In this time of plentiful need, we have an amazing team of people who reach out and connect with our congregation and find out what people need. This is part of how we order ourselves because we believe in empowering servants to lead our congregation.
You might say this Mark of Empowered Servant Leadership is baked into our church’s structure. And it is such a good thing.
But we must always be reminding ourselves of how important it is to empower leaders. It is one thing for us to divide out the work, but it is a whole other thing to actually strengthen and empower each other to grow in our faith so that we can do the work of the people in God’s reign.

The Liturgy of Gathering

I’ve used the phrase, “the work of the people” a few times this morning, and it is intentional.
I want to talk about liturgy this morning. Liturgy, the ways we practice our faith, the rituals and methods for how we gather, how we form ourselves in the way of Jesus, is so vital to the empowerment of servant leaders.
The word Liturgy means “the work of the people.” We use this term to describe how our worship services are ordered and when you pull back for a moment and consider it, as we gather in worship, we are being invited into a formational work of the people.
The work is the prayers, the Scripture, the hearing and responding to the word, the fellowship and care for each other. It is work, not in a begrudging sense, but because as we do the liturgy of gathering, it forms us, it works in us, and it empowers us to be disciples of Christ who are equipped to go out and share the news of the Good Life with others.
You probably know I’m fascinated by how habits work. Habits, repeated rituals that we do day in and day out, form us into certain kinds of people. My habit of how I start the day will impact how I feel through the morning and carry me into my work. The habit of how much I snack at night will impact and form my waistline. Habits form us.
Liturgy is about habits. It’s about training in the way of Jesus, in the work of the people, again and again so that our hearts and minds are more formed into the habit of love and care and compassion.
Think once again about the harvest. If you’ve ever picked berries, you know that you get into a routine, a habit. Thumb and fingers pick and drop them into your palm and then, without thinking, your palm dumps into the bucket. Again and again. It is a habit, a way, a work of the people, a liturgy, that we have been formed in so that we are more efficient as we pick.
Jesus is empowering his disciples to go out and care for the harassed and helpless, to go be shepherds to a longing people. He is forming them in his way, so that they might go and enact liturgies of care.

A Liturgy of Care

If we are going to be a healthy church, we need to gather and practice through the liturgy as a community to be formed more deeply in the way of Jesus. We need the prayers, the bread and cup, the passing of peace and reconciliation, the Word and the songs. We need this to form us and empower us.
Before I wrap this up, I want to give a quick note to the “servant leaders” part of our focus today. When we are formed in the way of Jesus, we find that we are humbled, softened, and grounded as leaders. We do not become people who say “ok, I’m going out, I’m gonna take the hill, and I don’t need anyone.” No, we find that as we become empowered by the work of Jesus in us, we become molded into the heart of Christ, which is the heart of a servant.
Philippians 2 reminds us that Christ took on the form of a servant, suffering alongside humanity, to the point of death. It was only through this that he was then exalted and given the name above every name, the seat at God’s right hand. Christ is a servant and when we become like him, we become servants.
And in this being like Christ, we can also find our grounding, which allows us to lead.
Friends, right now, as we stand in the face of a global pandemic, we can most certainly see that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. It is obvious and we see it looming, the struggle and potential for a great wave of unrest and illness to sweep over us.
So we must remember to take vs. 38 to heart: We must ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
What does this look like, in the face of global pandemic?
First, it looks like continuing to meet together to be formed in Jesus’ way. To keep praying and worshipping and seeking Jesus. To keep up the liturgy, the work of the people, which forms our hearts.
And then, it looks like enacting liturgies of care in our world. The harvest is a harvest of care and compassion for all who live in fear. Our liturgies in the world can be practices of checking in, rituals of grocery buying and delivery, habits of daily pausing to pray for the sick. Liturgies of care are for all of us, all empowered by the Spirit of God to go out into the harvest.
Each of us, each and every one of us, is called into the harvest in some way right now. We MUST do this together, all of us.
I love how Jesus calls all 12 disciples and gives them the authority to cast out spirits and cure diseases and sicknesses. It’s not just the special leaders, the Johns, Peters, and Jameses. No. It’s the Philips, the Thaddeuases, and even the Judases. Jesus gathers the whole crew and empowers them to do the good work.

Closing

And so we gather, all of us. Not just the special ones who’ve been ordained or just the seminary taught ministers or the people with the time and energy to devote to ministries of compassion. We gather, all of us, to be empowered and become servant leaders in our own ways.
So how are you gifted to serve and lead today? What can you do? What is the Spirit, the Lord of the harvest, stirring in you?
Pray about this. Because we desperately need you and your gifts. The harvest, the work of the people, the liturgies of care, are plentiful — there is so much fo us to do in God’s name. Now and always. So please come to the water of life, as we heard Jesus sharing with the Samaritan woman a couple weeks ago. Come to that water, do the work, be formed, let your thirst be quenched.
And then let’s get out there and harvest. Draw people close. Listen to the lonely and the brokenhearted, the fearful and the sick.
As I said last week and I’ll probably keep saying — this is our time to rise as a church. This is the occasion for us to step in to the place of the world’s great pain as Christ’s loving ambassadors. May we.
Peace. Let us pray.
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