Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ordained Leadership in the Church

A paradigm is an intellectual and mental framework for understanding. I like the concept of paradigm. It helps me realize that the way we think about things, the way we look at things, and our perceptions of reality are flexible and changing. We can, in fact, change our perceptions of reality. We can shift our most essential paradigms of thought.

We need a paradigm shift in the church. We need a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking and conceiving, one of the most essential aspects of the church, our leadership. What does it mean to be a leader in the church? How is leadership expressed? Who are the leaders and how did they become leaders? We need a paradigm shift around this most basic and most important question.

Conventionally, and without must serious reflection, we easily and ordinarily hold onto a paradigm of leadership in our church that we see, participate in, and appreciate in many other areas of our society. We hold onto the idea of leadership as paid professionals. In almost every area of our society leadership is provided and leadership is models by paid professionals. Thus this paradigm has controlled our thinking, and defined our perception about leadership in the church.

We must have a different paradigm for leadership in the church. We need a paradigm shift away from our common, modern social practice with its strong emphasis on paid professionals. We need to understand and claim the biblical paradigm of calling and ordination. The paid professionals are not the leaders in the church. Leadership in the church is expressed by those who have been called and ordained.

It is the power and continuing presence of God’s calling which allows the church to exist and thrive in each new day, each new year and indeed for every generation. God will provide leadership in the church through a spiritual calling which is heard and responded to by faithful people throughout the generations. The Bible story is very clear: Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Mary, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Peter and John, and the apostle Paul, Timothy and Barnabas. God calls. The Bible is also clear that these are not perfect people. Sarah responds to her call, “Wait a moment Lord, I am a little too old for this.” Moses responds to his call, “Lord, not me, I do not have the qualifications or experience for this job.” Jesus responds, “Take this cup from me.” It is not, in the first place, the qualities and characteristics of the people that is important. All that matters is that God calls. God calls. Down through ages God calls. And here in this holy place, in the midst of all the ambiguity and challenge of being the church in our modern, fast, sophisticated society, God still calls. The still small voice; the quiet spritual nudge; the warm encouragement of a friend which becomes in our heart a divine word; the witness of the community that reaches out beyond itself into our town and around the world; in those words of scripture that settle in our minds with comfort and challenge: God calls. This is the basis, the only basis, for leadership in the church.

In our tradition, with our emphasis on good organization, but also in most every other Christian expression, the call of God into the heart and soul of individual believers is affirmed and confirmed by the gathered community, by the church. God calls, and the church sets these ones apart for leadership. This is our service and celebration of ordination; the setting apart of leaders in the church. God calls and the church sets apart these ones for leadership in the church. This is the paradigm through which we must understand leadership in the church. God calls and the church ordains and these people are set apart for leadership. It is not about paid professionals; is all about the call of God and the affirmation of the church.

Elders and Deacons; stand in your calling. Because of God’s call, and the church’s confirmation of that call in your ordination and installation, you are the leaders of the church. Please be clear about that. Elders and Deacons: you are the leaders of the church.

Deacons, remember the story of the Book of Acts. The church was growing so quickly that God set apart special people for a ministry of compassion. It is this ministry to the least and the lost, the hurting, the alone, and the oppressed that has always been central to God’s desire for the church. In the ministry of our deacons, this calling to care, support, pray, encourage, and serve continues.

Elders: remember our name. This calling is particularly powerful and important in our expression of church. The very word “Presbyterian” is linguistically derived from the New Testament word which is translated into English as “elder.” All through the ages God has called and the church has set apart elders for leadership in the church. Our Presbyterian tradition has particularly emphasized the leadership of elders. Elders, you are called to lead.
In the modern church, we have also discerned a special calling to set some people apart as trustees. Trustees are not an ordained office; but have a vital expression of leadership in our modern churches. The best way to understand our Trustees is analogous to our Deacons. They take some of the load off of the Elders, so the Elders can focus on bringing the whole church into line with God’s call and God’s purpose for your life together.

The ordained leadership of the church is responsible for leading the church. Get out of this paid, profession staff versus volunteer paradigm. That is not the church. The church is about called and ordained leaders – Elders, Deacons and Ministers – together and equally leading the people of God into the purposes of God for this place at this time. And what does this leadership look like? Remember the ordination question: “Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” That is the leadership we need in the church today. We need leadership that is filled with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. May it be so in this place in the name and to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!