Summary: Building God’s Church through Leadership(Bob Russell - When God Build’s a Church)

Super Bowl Seat

A man had 50 yard line tickets for the Super Bowl. As he sits down, a man comes down and asked the man if anyone is sitting in the seat next to him.

"No", he said, "the seat is empty".

"This is incredible", said the man. "Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Super Bowl , the biggest sport event in the world, and not use it ?"

Somberly, the man says, "Well... the seat actually belongs to me. I was supposed to come here with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first Super Bowl we have not been together since we got married in 1967."

"Oh I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible. But couldn’t you find someone else - a friend or relative or even a neighbor to take the seat?"

The man shakes his head, "No. They’re all at the funeral."

Did you hear that passage that we read about Moses? I love it because it is so real. I have felt exactly like that. Here is Moses leading all of the Hebrew people. Great job, right? Hardly. Everybody has something to complain about. Moses turns to God and says, “If this is what I’m in for, just kill me now. Put me out of my misery.” God responds and says, “You need to learn to delegate. Get some help.”

That is exactly how it feels sometimes to be a leader of a church. I can say this because this isn’t my livelihood. I’m trying to get out of this job.

Ministers walk a strange tightrope. To us, it often seems that a congregation is a huge bureaucracy. Everything needs to go through three committees that only meet once a quarter. Even then, everything has to be done by consensus. It takes months to make decisions like changing where the church buys copy paper.

Sometimes ministers go to the opposite extreme. They don’t clear anything with anybody. They operate as if they were the entrepreneurs running a business financed by their own money. They do first and ask permission later. For example, I heard about a minister who didn’t like organ music, so he took it upon himself to sell the church’s organ during his first week after being called to a new church. The church organist showed up on Sunday morning and was greeted with a synthesizer keyboard.

What is the right balance? How much of the direction of the church should be set by the elders and church board and how much should be set by the minister?

Every congregation and every minister has their own unique personality. There is no one right balance between the two. Different traditions work this out in different ways. Still, there are some general principals that can guide us.

Let us look at our own history. In the early days of our denomination, and of Park Christian itself, there was no one in a formal pastoral role. Instead, we had the two E’s – elders and evangelists.

The evangelists were professional members of the clergy, but they acted more like missionaries than pastoral ministers. The evangelists traveled from place to place. In new locations, they would start new congregations. At other times the would drop back by from time to time to conduct a revival and to check on things, but they never stayed long. The evangelists could be arrogant and authoritarian, but every one knew they were temporary. They would leave and the congregation would decide what to adopt and what to ignore.

The elders came from the opposite extreme. They were people in the community who made their livings in other ways. They rarely had any formal religious training, and were often uneducated overall. Their strength was their genuine commitment to the congregation.

As a side note, I think that bi-vocational ministers are often a throwback to this old model. I think it is the model that Linda and I most closely follow.

The weakness of the preaching elders was that they were often woefully unprepared for the tasks that they faced. Religious positions that were “creative” to the point of being totally divorced from church tradition were proclaimed from rural pulpits across the land.

Park was fairly typical of most congregations in this era in that there were two preaching elders who took turns leading the congregation on Sunday mornings. Everything we know says that Park was blessed with individuals who did a good job of opening the scriptures and meeting the needs of the families within the congregation.

In the late 19th and early 20th century it became increasingly apparent that congregations over a certain size, around a hundred people or so, benefited from having fulltime educated leadership. The key element in our own transition from a reformation movement into a new denomination had to do with our commitment to providing education and credentialing for the clergy. If you are going to support a system of colleges and seminaries and if you are going to set standards for who is ordained, you are, in fact, a denomination. There is no way around it.

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