As One Who Serves
Contributed by Edgar Mayer on May 7, 2001 (message contributor)
Summary: Leaders serve.
Sermon on Luke 22:14-27; Pastor Edgar Mayer; Wilsonton/Glencoe Parish; 6.5.01; 4th Easter.
For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar.
"Heavenly Father, please give us leaders who follow you. Amen."
As One Who Serves
A church without leadership cannot survive. A church without people who shepherd the flock to new pastures and understand the mission – a church without competent leaders cannot operate in the midst of an ever-changing world. So then, are you a leader of the church? Do you see yourself as someone that influences the hearts and minds of others?
If you hesitate to give an answer, then you are not alone. In six years of seminary training I never intentionally learned about leadership skills or qualities. I came to understand myself as a pastor rather than as a leader assuming that my theological training, call and ordination, the pastoral office set me up to provide oversight in any given parish context. I had a lot to learn.
Who is a leader? In our church we do not use the word "leader" a great deal but at the moment, on all church levels, we talk a fair bit about authority in the church and the view is expressed that pastors should be the ones that hold and exercise authority. They preach the word of God and administer the sacraments. They hold an apostolic office which is divinely instituted and they present Christ to the congregation. Power seems to belong to pastors and therefore quite a few of our clergy disapprove of lay-people voting against them at synod and are scandalized that the "sheep" can ignore the voice of their "shepherds". A few of our pastors are so upset that they consider leaving our church and becoming Catholics because at least in the Catholic church the question of authority and power finds a definite answer. Obey the pope and comply with the hierarchy.
We Lutherans are different. Pastors hold an important office but they are not infallible. As a matter of fact lay-people have equal access to God and are priests themselves as the Bible says. I read: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, ... " (1 Peter 2:9). And Luther spelled out the rights of every baptized Christian priest, that is: "to preach the word of God, to baptize, to celebrate the sacrament of the altar, to minister the office of the keys, to pray for others, to sacrifice, to judge doctrine and to distinguish spirits." Therefore pastors cannot be sole leaders in any given congregation because they deal with people who also preach, baptize, forgive, pray and judge doctrine – not always in the same public forum as pastors but nevertheless.
Who is a leader in our church? Please consider whether you are one. You may not preach the word from the pulpit or hand out Holy Communion but there are homegroups to support, dramas to write, newcomers to visit, ... Someone may identify new opportunities for outreach, train others in new skills and expand our collective horizon. How may the good news of Jesus Christ become real in our midst? What does the Holy Spirit want us to do? These are difficult questions and require all the creativity and intelligence we have.
Please, please take on a leadership role. Do I have to say "please" again? Maybe not. In Jesus’ time there was no shortage of keen would-be heads of churches. When Jesus sat down with his disciples to share the last meal before his death, a dispute arose among the disciples as to which one of them was considered to be the greatest. Leadership aspirations went to their heads. "I want to be boss. I know what is best for others."
Become a leader but do not get caught up in this illusion. Jesus deflated the bubble. He said to the disciples: "The kings of foreigners lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves."
Leaders do not lord anything over people. Jesus is not impressed by royal commands which coerce people and beat them into submission. He says: "You are not to be like that." We better listen because lording things over people doesn’t work anyway. Even kings, tyrants and dictators eventually suffer a backlash from oppressed people and usually end up dead. You cannot impose what people reject.
Hence – genuine leaders understand what at first sounds like a contradiction. Jesus said: " ... the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." The greatest should be like the youngest who has the least clout to get anything done. The greatest serves. The greater you become, the more you serve.