Sunday, May 24, 2009

Called to Leadership

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

There are many kinds of leaders, some gentle, some tyrannical, some fun and some not so fun. Some are honest and others are crooks. When you think of a leader, maybe you think of Donald Trump or George Steinbrenner, both of whom are well know for saying: “You’re Fired!” Barack Obama, like Ronald Reagan, is known for his charisma, while Abraham Lincoln was known for his strategic vision. Some leaders are known for being micro-managers, while others take a more hands-off approach. You may have noticed, that everyone I’ve mentioned is male, which may derive from the fact that the glass ceiling remains in place. It may have, as Hillary Clinton suggested, begun to crack, but we’re still waiting to see how or if women will change our leadership styles. One of the issues that women wrestle with, in ways men have not, is how to balance work and family. We’ve just assumed that men will put work first, family second. But for women, the choices have always been more complicated – especially for younger women.

How do we lead in the church? Do we follow the models from corporate America? Is the pastor the CEO, with the Council functioning as a sort of Board of Directors? Or should we look at other models? Several years ago people began to talk about the Servant Leader. There was a famous book by that title, and Robert Greenleaf pointed to Jesus, suggesting that he was a good model of leadership. Ultimately, however, I’m not sure how influential that model really was or is on the church. My sense is that Peter Drucker has been more influential than Robert Greenleaf.


Today is, in the church year, Ascension Sunday, and our attention is drawn to the first chapter of Acts. In the first eleven verses, which we didn’t read, Jesus gives the gathered Disciples one last word. We might even call this word, the church’s marching orders. He tells them that they will receive the Spirit and then they’ll go and “be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” These words were given not just to that original gathering, but as we’ve learned in our Bible study on Acts, these words were meant for the church in every age.

As a Missional people, Jesus has commissioned us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, beginning here in this place. Now, according to Luke, Jesus told the Disciples to wait for the Spirit to come and empower them for service. But while they waited for this empowerment, they continued to pray and worship, and consider the life and teachings of Jesus. It was during this interim period that Peter stood up in their midst and pointed out that the church’s leadership team was short a person.

Peter told them that while Jesus had called twelve apostles, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and Judas’ tragic death at his own hands, had reduced the apostolic band to just eleven. Surely they must raise that number, so there could be balance, and so Peter asked that the church put forward a candidate to fill this important office.

If you continue reading, you will discover how they made this choice. With our own congregational meeting just two weeks away, it might be worth looking at a different model, one that we might find a bit odd. That’s because their model was something like flipping a coin. Luke says that after the community put forward several candidates, all of whom fit the criteria for the office, they cast lots and the lot fell on Matthias. From then on, Matthias would be the twelfth apostle. Of course, we never hear anything about him, ever again, at least not in Scripture. Tradition says that he went to Ethiopia and preached the gospel, dying a martyr for his faith. But we really don’t know what happened to Matthias.


While I’d love to speculate about Matthias’ fate, what I’d really like to talk about this morning is what this passage says about Christian leadership. Before we go to Luke’s list of qualifications for Christian leadership, I thought it might be helpful to offer some definitions. Robert Banks and Bernice Ledbetter, people I know from my days at Fuller, point out that leadership and management skills are needed in the church, but they’re different. Management, they write, has to do with “coping with complexity,” while leadership involves coping change. Leadership, they suggest, is more proactive than management. Of course, church leaders do both, but very often we end up doing more management than leadership.1

Max DePree, the former CEO of the Herman Miller Company, suggests that the primary job of a leader is to define reality. In choosing Matthias, Peter told the church, our reality is defined by the resurrection of Jesus. That’s our message. Because Jesus is alive, we're alive!2

William Willimon says that while not every church member is a leader, everyone has "a stake in leadership, all of us have a responsibility to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, all of the church needs leaders who help us to meet the challenges of discipleship in our time and place." Although we may not all be leaders in the usual sense of the word, each of us is called to bear witness to Jesus in what we do and in what we say. So, in that sense we all help define reality! 3


With this background and set of definitions in mind, as we consider our own calling to live and work in and through the church, in the service of the kingdom of God, especially as we prepare to choose new leaders for the congregation, Peter’s message offers us some interesting suggestions as to the qualifications for Christian leadership.


Peter’s list of qualifications includes two spiritual characteristics. Judas' replacement had to be a witness to the resurrection and had to have walked with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. Although none of us can fulfill these requirements, I think there are some modern equivalents. Both of these requirements speak about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Those who lead and serve in the church, Peter says, are to be people who have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Of course, since we're all different, we’ll live out this relationship differently. Some of us are loud and demonstrative, like Peter, but others of us are quiet and reserved – maybe Matthias was that kind of person. We need both in the church, because the key here is not style but what goes on in the heart.


You can't lead if people don't accept your leadership. Although the church in Acts 1 used an interesting form of decision making, they recognized Matthias's calling, invested him with the authority to lead, and then released him to witness to Jesus. Is this not what we’re called to do as a church? Whether we use elections, appointments, installations, or ordinations, what we’re called upon to do is recognize each others gifts and callings, and then enable each other to bear witness to Christ in our lives.


Peter knew that leadership is a team effort, which is why he asked the church to find a twelfth apostle. This congregation is no different. We are a team of witnesses to God’s work in the world. Each of us has different gifts and callings, and we need each other if we’re to achieve God’s purpose for our congregation. As pastor, I have certain roles to fill as a leader in the church, but the ministry of the church is much bigger than what I do. Indeed, the letter to the Ephesians suggests that God gives pastors and teachers to the church to equip the body for the work of the ministry, not to do the ministry others are called to share in (Eph. 4:11). So, while some of us have very visible roles and others work often behind the scenes, each of us is necessary for the work of the ministry of this church.


I want to reinforce that last statement about the importance of those who work behind the scenes. Now I don’t know whether Matthias was an upfront leader or a behind the scenes one, but the very fact that we never again hear from him reminds us that not everyone gets recognized for their contributions. Many servants of the church disappear into the fabric, and we need to lift them up. We need to be reminded that the unsung heroes are the foundation of the church’s ministry. Each in his or her own way, helps the church grow, mature, expand, and serve God’s kingdom, whether inside or outside the walls of the church.

Max DePree says that if defining reality is the first task of leadership, the second task is saying thank you. So, as we near that point where we change leadership teams, I’d like to stop and say thanks to everyone, whether serving out in front or behind the scenes, who has contributed to the work of the ministry this past year. Well done, good and faithful servants of God.

1. Robert Banks and Bernice Ledbetter, Reviewing Leadership, (Baker Books, 2004), pp. 16-17.
2. Max DePree,
Leadership Is an Art, (Currency, 2004).
3. William Willimon, quote from
Pulpit Resource – exact reference unknown.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
Ascension Sunday
May 24, 2009

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