TEXT: Exodus 18:13-27; Acts 6:1-7
Probably some of you got your bulletin this morning, looked at the sermon title and said, "The sermon this morning is not for me. I'm not a leader." It's true that some people have larger leadership roles than others, but there are very few people who have never been leaders in one way or another.
Certainly if you have a job where you supervise others or if you have been president of this club or director of this group, you would be able to recognize that you are in a position of leadership. But those are not the only kind of leadership experiences. For instance, all parents are leaders. Whether you want the responsibility or not, you are the leader of your children...you are leading them into adulthood. Certainly all teachers, whether paid in a school or working as volunteers in a Sunday School, are all leaders. We recognize those who get up and inspire groups as leaders, but you are also a leader when you lead your best friend through a troubled time, or when you give directions or instructions for someone else to follow.
If you have ever told someone else where to go or what to do, you have been a leader. You may have been a good one or a poor one; it may be something you do frequently or seldom; but I would bet there are few here that have never engaged in any kind of leadership. In fact, if we take the Creation story in Genesis seriously, merely being human is enough to make us a leader. God gave human beings dominion over the earth and all that was in it...God gave human beings the job of leadership over the earth...the land, the sea, the air, and all the creatures that dwell there.
As the CEO of a company works so that the company will thrive and be able to fulfill its mission, so we are called to lead and tend the earth and the creatures, using our gifts and resources to ensure that they thrive and fill their role in God's design. Leadership is our calling as human beings.
Because we are all leaders in one way or another, it seemed that we ought to look carefully at Biblical models of leadership. Does the Bible have anything to say about leadership? Indeed, it does. It says a lot of things. The thing I want to focus on this morning is not the only thing the Bible has to say, but it is the first thing the Bible has to say. God is the Leader par excellence, and the very first thing God does...the minute that Creation is complete...is to delegate authority. God says to Adam and Eve...OK, you guys are in charge of all this...this garden, this world, these creatures...all of it.
The Perfect Leader shares power and authority...real power and authority. God could have taken care of the earth and the creatures far better than we have. FAR better. But God gave us real authority and real power to do as we saw fit, and the delegating of that authority was so important that even when we really messed things up, God did not take it back...God thought about it, way back in Noah's day...but then God thought better of it and let us go on.
Contrast that with an employer I had in Florida. I was manager of the trade book department of a bookstore. The owner of the store put me in charge. I did the buying, supervised the help, did the administration...I was to be the leader of the department. As I surveyed my new realm, I saw that all the bookcases had straight and flat shelves. The shelves were adjustable, and I decided that since the bookcases were only about 5 ft.. high, it would be easier to see the books if I tilted the shelves up a bit. So I had my workers do that. And I heard about it from the owner. What was I doing making such a change without his approval? You would have thought I had decided to make everything in the store 75% off or something. I was told I was in charge, but no real power or authority had been delegated to me.
God...who can do everything better than we could ever dream of doing it....delegates authority...real authority...for better or for worse. We see that in many places in Scripture, and I have chosen two very obvious ones. The first is the story of Moses and his father-in-law Jethro. Moses is running himself into the ground, doing all the work of leading the Israelites himself. He was their spiritual leader, but he was also their entire government. Every single lawsuit got brought to him to settle. Every time Nadab forgot to close the gate for Zadok's sheep and one got out, they went marching to Moses to sort it out for them.
Jethro watches the day-long parade in astonishment. Why on earth is Moses doing all this by himself? Jethro's advice to Moses is sound. Save yourself for the cases that only you can settle. There are a bunch of issues here that anybody with a brain in gear can sort out...get some help. Let others hear the smaller cases and you just get involved with the most complicated ones. So Moses appoints other leaders...lots of others, and gives them real authority to settle the cases brought to them. This frees Moses up to tend to the spiritual life of the people.
We see the same thing in the passage in Acts. We see here the church in its very earliest stages of formation. It had been a group of disciples who lived and traveled with Jesus. Now Jesus was physically gone from their midst and the focus was on spreading the Good News of his resurrection and the coming of the Kingdom of God. That meant organization. There was a task to complete, a mission to fulfill, and the disciples were trying to sort out the best way to get it accomplished.
As the organization grew, there were more things that needed tending, including the care of the new converts. They could hardly represent Christ if they were neglecting the poor and the widows and orphans. But the twelve disciples were trying to do it all themselves, and the job was too big. Before long, they found that their whole purpose and mission was being undermined. They were so busy caring for the people who had already been converted that they were no longer fulfilling Jesus' direct command to them to go and make disciples of all nations. There was no time left to preach and teach because there were so many needs to tend to.
In this case, the Disciples can see the problem themselves. They call the congregation together and say, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word." They are not saying that the task of caring for others is beneath them. They are not saying they don't care about the plight of widows and orphans. They are saying that they have been sent to do a particular task and other people need to be recruited to do the other necessary work.
The thing I find the most amazing about this passage is the next sentence which reads, "What they said pleased the whole community." I can tell you that in the vast majority of churches in America today, if the pastor...groaning under the weight of trying to care for the sick, help the poor, counsel the distressed, administer an organization, preach every Sunday and teach during the week...if the pastor got up on a Sunday morning and said, "It is not right that I should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables," those words would not please the whole community. The higher-ups would get letters, the pastor's popularity would drop, and people would leave in a huff, deciding that the pastor was an uncaring, snobbish person who should probably find another job.
For the most part, the church today has forgotten that once we come to faith, God gives us a job to do. We have a calling, a mission...some very particular way that we are to contribute to the Body of Christ in the particular place where we are. It is not the pastor's job to do all ministry for the congregation. The pastor is called to tend to the spiritual life of the congregation, and to delegate all the other responsibilities.
That is what this morning is about. Many of you have accepted particular positions in the leadership of this congregation. These positions are real positions of authority. You do not have to bring every case to me. Many if not most issues you can settle yourselves. I need only be involved in the ones that need a pastor to decide. That is why every person who accepts a position in the church needs to be a person of faith and prayer. You are making real decisions for the House of God and the Body of Christ.
For us to grow and thrive, I cannot oversee every case to decide whether God is in it. The real responsibility of administering this congregation falls to you, except in the largest and most complex of cases. Some groups here already operate this way, and the more that happens, the healthier we will become.
Also this morning we are commissioning a special group of people called Stephen Ministers. They are named after Stephen, who is the first person chosen for the group that the Apostles have asked for in Acts. Stephen and six others are the ones with the special calling to "wait on tables," to care for needs in the congregation so that the Apostles could be freed up to preach and teach. This ministry recognizes that most people going through a difficult time do not need the specialized skills of the clergy. They simply need the caring presence of a Christian friend who will listen without judgment and encourage without demanding. They do not work with a person in addition to the pastor, unless there are specific needs that only clergy can address. In most cases, the Stephen Minister is the primary caregiver. The Stephen Minister and not the pastor is the one who brings the healing presence of Christ to a person in need.
But whether you have accepted a position of leadership in the church or not, the leadership example that God gave to us at Creation and that Moses and later the Apostles continued, has a message for everyone. God does not call anyone to be all things to anybody else. Because your spouse needs a friend, a lover, and a business manager does not mean you have to be all of those things. Some very unhealthy relationships can develop when we try to be all things to our spouse.
The world is also full of pains and heartaches that could have been avoided if parents had been willing to delegate more responsibility to their children. Most parents manage to hand over responsibility for getting dressed, doing chores, and going out with friends.. But with adult children it often gets trickier. Can we hand over responsibility for raising our grandchildren? Can we hand over responsibility for financial matters? Can we delegate their choice of spouse or religion?
And what about in our universal role as leaders of the earth and its creatures? Must we do the work of the earth ourselves? Can we give back the role that ecosystems play in cleansing and refining our atmosphere, truly giving land back to the earth for reforestation or wetland? Can we delegate wild herd control to predators, letting wolves rather than hunters keep the deer population at healthy levels? Can we limit our own desire to go faster, to live anywhere, to have unbounded profit in order to allow the earth and its creatures to fulfill their mission in God's creation? Can we delegate to the earth what the earth can do better than we?
Each of us is a leader in some way. God...who, it should be noted, leads by example...showed us that good leaders delegate. They give real authority to others so that all can become a part of God's work in the world. God is not a loner. God wants everybody involved, and wants everyone to have a real, functioning, vital part in God's ongoing work of creation and re-creation...in birth and resurrection. Can you follow God's lead?
©2002 Anne Robertson