Theme: What are some of the marks of leaders in the Bible? What does that kind of leadership mean to me?
In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt
(Note: the transcription is from a different service than the MP3, so you will find slight differences.)
Notice for a few moments as we have a video clip from the movie Remember the Titans.
Harry: I’m Harry you’re Julius. Let’s get some particulars and get this over with all right?
Julius: No matter what I tell you, you ain’t gonna never know nothing about me.
Harry: Listen, ain’t running any more of these three-a-days, ok?
Julius: No, what I got to say you don’t really want to hear cause honesty ain’t to high upon your people’s priority list, right?
Harry: Honesty, you want honesty… all right… honestly, I think you’re nothing! Nothing but a pure waste of God-given talent. You don’t listen to nobody man, not even Doc or Boon. Shiv or push on the line every time you blow right past them. Push em, pull them, do something. You can’t run over everybody in this league. Every time you do you leave one of your teammates hanging out to dry, me in particular.
Julius: Why should I give a hoot about you? Huh, or anybody else out there? You want to talk about a waste, you the captain, right?
Julius: Captains, supposed to be the leader, right?
Julius: You got a job?
Harry: I have a job.
Julius: You been doing your job?
Harry: I’ve been doing my job!
Julius: Then why don’t you tell your white buddies to block for Reds better, because they have not blocked him for a plug nickel and you know it. Nobody’s playing, yourself included. I’m supposed to wear myself out for the team? What team? No, no, what I’m going to do is I’m going to look out for myself and I’m gonna get mine!
Harry: Hey man, that’s the worst attitude I ever heard!
Julius: Attitude reflects leadership, Captain!
Well, since I first came here, September 7th, I guess was my first sermon. We have been focusing in on one series, which is “God’s mission, God’s method.” And so we have looked at a lot of things across the last two months. We began by recognizing again that this whole thing, this effort of saving us and saving the world is God’s doing. We are invited into this. We use our gifts. We enjoy it. We have the joy of being involved responsibly. It’s a great experience, but the fact is, it’s Gods doing. We don’t control it and he can bring us surprises. We have also remembered again together that it always focuses on Jesus. You know, we might be embarrassed about that sometime in a society that is so diverse, and other people don’t see Jesus the same way we do. And we might be embarrassed about that sometime, but again if we are to be the church, we don’t have much of a choice because God in history has done unique things through Jesus to save the world. And he invites us in to what he is already doing to proclaim it and to be faithful we have to share. We have also talked about how being a devoted church, being the church that God wants us to be involves us being devoted to certain important things about our life together.
The first is that we are a community, that we have been called to live together. We are not just reconciled to a right relationship with God. We are reconciled to right relationships with each other, and we each are gifted to contribute to the whole of what this body does, and it is so together that God wants to impact the world. We also remember that we are called to growth. That it’s not just a matter of turning your life over to Jesus, sitting in a pew and waiting out your time until Jesus comes again. We are called to grow. We are called to mature. And that means we need models of the faith. We need mentors. We need help and that we are also models to others. We have talked too about the fact that in Christian life together; we are called to service. And so, that means that we have to give. Give of our time. Give of our money. And since our lives are so crowded, sometimes that means that we have to put something down first before we have even the freedom to be able to serve other people. We have also been reminded that we need to be a missional church. That its awful comfortable to get together with people that you already know, to hear a message that you want to hear, to sing songs that lift your heart and then to just want to continue in that huddle. But God doesn’t allow that. He’s always calling. He is always sending. He is always telling us to go and share this with other people who need to hear it. And all of this, all of this we offer to God in worship because God is truly the center of life, the center of everything. And so part of our corporate life together is giving the glory, just a tiny bit of the glory that is due to God, offering that back to Him, being caught up in a voice of praise that is happening right now in the heavens. It happens now in small measure on earth and will happen for all eternity. We are called to worship.
Just last week we thought about the fact that it’s not easy to live the Christian life. We would like to live the Christian life in a controlled environment where everything is safe, but life isn’t that way and sometimes to put Jesus first means that life is going to be difficult.
And so that brings us to Chapter 6. In Chapter 6, we see that it’s been quite a ride for the early Christians. Little did they know that life was going to be like this, just a few short months before. In just a few months we have the first mega church of history. There are thousands of people gathering in the name of Christ in one place, under one set of leadership. Now, just a few months earlier than that, there are about 120 believers. That would have been 10 believers for every apostle and now all of a sudden they’ve got 3,000 or more and that means at least 250 people for every apostle and many of those are new believers. If that wasn’t enough, its not just the number of people, it’s the shear amount of activity. There are teaching events happening constantly in this community. There are people meeting at homes for prayer, to teach, to share, to uphold each other, to share in a communal meal. There is evangelistic efforts going on and there are confrontations with local leadership and then people are attending to physical needs of people. There are healings going on. There is help going out to the poor. And as a part of that, is this specific help going out to widows. And in this, is the issue that we deal with in today’s passage. The problem here is that there is some kind of inequality going on. With this expansion of the church, with this growth has come some problems. In every human community you have friction. So here we are in the idealic, early golden days of the church when we would like to believe everything was power and light and outreach and healing’s and miracles. It was all that, but there was also friction because all of a sudden you have a group in the community saying something isn’t right with our folks. You see in this community you had what’s called the Hebraic Jews and the Grecian Jews. The Hebraic Jews were people who lived close to Jerusalem, who lived in the area that we consider Israel now. But there were Grecian Jews, people who were Jewish but had grown up in Greek cities and so for many of them Greek was their first language, whereas for the other Jews their first language was Aramaic or Hebrew. This causes problems. You’ve got two different cultures going on. And so all of a sudden the Grecian Jews say, that their widows are being neglected. You know, this can happen. Now, was this a blind spot? Was this deliberate prejudice? When people are different there can be divisions. And some of the divisions are related to sin. We don’t know exactly what’s behind it, but we do know that this is a crisis moment for the church and the leaders had better step up and do what’s right or things are going to happen. And the leaders do step up and they do some things that I think we can learn from.
The first thing they did is that they listened. They listened to the people who were saying things aren’t going all right. Now, whenever you have a successful time, that’s a danger. There’s a danger that your not going to listen to people who have something negative to say because you are going to say, oh my, you know they are not with the program. They are not supportive of these incredible things that God is doing. Maybe they are very supportive. But maybe they see a real problem. It doesn’t mean that everything negative that you hear is true, but one of the responsibilities of leadership is to listen carefully and they did that. And so they took a response, and they called together a group of people in order to deal with the problem.
The second thing they show us is that they were focused. The first thing they did was listen, but the second thing they said was no, we are not part of the solution. So, the second thing they did was say no to something good. One of the biggest struggles of leadership is learning how to say no to other good things that will start to spread you too far out. It’s not that these new things didn’t need to be done, but the apostles were saying that someone else is called to do this because they have a prior commitment. It might not be a more important commitment, but it’s a commitment that they alone can fulfill and so they said, no, it would not be right to neglect the ministry of the Word in order to this other good ministry waiting on tables. And so, they propose a solution. It’s easy to see how leaders can’t do everything. You know, just imagine with me. You are on a plane, you are at 35,000 feet and you are going close to 600 mph. Somebody in the cabin has a heart attack. Immediately flight attendants begin to try to help the person and they might even call out, is there a doctor on the plane in order to help and give special skills to help deal with this. Under no circumstances however will both people from the flight deck come out and try to help. It doesn’t work that way. There’s a plane that has to be kept in the air for the safety of the whole group. Now that’s obvious. But all leadership involves these sorts of choices. It might not be life and death like this, but it does sometimes mean the success or not of the enterprise. And so they had to say no.
Now, one of the things that people want to know is what do I do as a pastor in a Presbyterian Church. Well, I am going to kind of boil it down for a little bit here. In Presbyterian Church tradition the pastor is often called the teaching elder. That tells us a lot of things. First of all, it tells us that I am part of a team. That there is a bunch of people who have this specific role in a body, of leading in the body and within that group there are a few people who are also called specifically to be chief teachers in the body. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t other elders who teach. It doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of people who aren’t elders who teach. But it means that I am to be set apart specifically for that role, and so that means here at Central that I am set apart to pray, to hear from God about the needs of this congregation and to pray about those things, to have the time to prepare messages and to deliver them, to teach and other opportunities, to work together with the staff to make sure that the ministry of the church moves forward and then to develop vision with the session and the leadership. That’s pretty much the core list of what I am called to do here. Now, at some churches the pastor is called to do everything, absolutely everything. But that’s never been true here at Central Presbyterian Church and in most healthy churches. We are a team of people who lead and we each have specific roles and each one of us in our roles, says yes to some things and says no to others. So that’s part of what it means. You know, that’s why in the 10:00 o’clock service I wear a robe, okay. That’s not to show that I am a priest. That robe is to show that I am a teacher. It’s a teaching role. In European school systems, teachers often wear academic gowns. The same thing you would wear during graduation ceremonies. And so, I wear that as a reminder of that role. And that’s why pastors go to seminary. So, there are all sorts of divisions here to stay focused to do some things well. We all know how important this is in the business world and I don’t have to tell you about that. Those of you who are involved in business know far better than I do how important focus is, not only for the success of a business, but for your success as an employee in that business.
But, I would like to focus for just a moment on some other areas. Because we are called to be leaders where we work, but also where we live and where we play. For those of you who aren’t parents, please forgive me for a moment, but I am going to talk about parents. Most of us have parents, so this will relate a little bit there. As parents, we’ve got to be listeners. Just like these people were. If we want to be leaders in our homes, we’ve got to learn how to listen. Just because somebody is saying something negative or something new, doesn’t mean its something wrong. We’ve got to hear and we’ve got to listen. And then we’ve got to stay focused on doing what only we can do as parents. We’ve got to give a great effort, the best effort we can of the core things that nobody else is going to be able to do for our children. Now, I just watched a wonderful movie called, Radio and it’s about the investment of this coach in the life of a disabled person, somebody with special needs. Well, as he was working with this person you see the incredible effect that it has on his life and it’s a marvelous movie, but there is one part in the movie that I am just about to go crazy because here is this father as he is investing himself in this other persons life. He seems to be ignoring his own daughter and that’s one of the subplots, where he is ignoring his daughter. And I am getting more and more uncomfortable with this and I want to stand up in the middle of the movie theater and say, “You know, stop it guy. There is something only you can do. And that’s with your daughter.” Well, it works its way out and you’ve got to go see the movie to see how it all works out. But the fact is, that there is some things that we can do as a parent that only we can do.
Now, another thing that these leaders do is that they not only listen, they not only say no to something so they can focus, but they also empower other people to serve. The apostles were not afraid to let other people make real decisions and do real ministry. It says choose seven men from among you in verse three and we will turn this responsibility over to them. Here they are, they are ready to give real ministry away. Now, think about the risk involved in this. One of the most amazing things about this passage doesn’t show up anywhere really except in the names of the people that they pick out. Here are the names again. Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas from Antioch. These are all Greek names. None of these people are from the Hebraic group, the old part of this community. Now, think about the risk here. There are 3,000+ people and there is a very good chance that the apostles didn’t even know these people personally. We can’t be sure. Thousands of people there, and only a few months to get to know them. And so they give over and they say, you choose from among you the people that will do this service well and are filled with the Holy Spirit, and they allow it to happen. That was an incredible risk. That’s not the way churches normally work. Churches would normally go back to the original 120 and try to find a few additional people from there to lead because they are the trustworthy folks that we know well.
I am so thankful that Central hasn’t been that kind of church. Take a look at today’s leadership. The EPIC service was started with leadership from the church, but I would imagine that most of the people that led this morning weren’t even members four years ago. That’s a good thing. To be willing to recognize the gifts in new people and to give that ministry away.
We will also want to be a church that gives permission for people to do ministry. So, if you see a need, 2, 3 or 4 of you and you can agree together and set some goals and have a little discipline about how you are going to go about this ministry, and you can show that it fits inside of the vision of this church, inside of its beliefs system and all, we want to be able to give you permission to do that and to try. Maybe something new or something exciting, something powerful will happen. But that’s a risk.
Now, in the case here we have the risk was worth it. The people chose wisely. They didn’t choose a bunch of people with axes to grind, they chose people filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom because they realize that even practical ministry, hands on ministry required mature people. Because people were hurting. People were confused. There was mistrust in the community, so they selected mature people. Here at Central we want the best possible people in leadership here. This is not the sort of church where any warm body will do. Just raise your hand and we will have you do it. No. It’s not like that. Now, there are times that we send the men out to try to invite people to try out a ministry and get involved in something that they have never tried before. But when we talk about things like deacons and elders, we have a very defined process to make sure that the people we select are spiritually ready. But, that’s also true for our children’s teachers, our small group leaders, our alpha course leaders, our Stephen ministers. In each of these cases, we go out to people and invite people that we see, have the maturity, have the gifts, have the potential of developing that ministry. Because we want people, just like here, filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom.
Now this all brought results. In verse 7 it talks about it, this is a wonderful verse. So, the Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. It’s an amazing thing that continues to happen in this community. Their obedience, doing things right, allowed God to do more things through them. Let me tell you. Numbers aren’t always that important. But sometimes numbers are important. One of the biggest scandals, one of the biggest shames, I think in Western society right now is the number of empty churches people pass. You go into churches in Western Europe and there is this magnificent cathedral and there is no congregation there. It’s essentially a museum. There are churches in the United States that have been converted to restaurants. What does that say about the reality of God when you see church after church after church that’s empty? One of the testimonies of the power of God is a relevant, growing, life giving group of people empowered by the Holy Spirit that make an impact, a good impact on the society around them. This is part of the evidence of God working in the world. And so, at times like that, numbers are important. We don’t want to see empty churches. We want to see growing churches.
Well, I want to add one more piece to the puzzle. One of our visions for this church, the center of our vision, is that we would be a church without walls. To be a church, to be the church where we work, where we play, where we live. To see people coming to Christ and growing in Christ through small groups, through ministry groups, through contacts that people have with members of this church. To have such an impact in this community that people are really glad we are here in Towson and not just kind of aggravated that on Sunday at certain times, we clog up the road. I want people to be happy and not concerned about our parking lot size. And at the same time have people who eventually come to this church, but they can’t even remember the first time they ran into somebody from Central who was reaching out to them, because we were that deeply embedded in what was going on around them. But to do that, we need leaders. Lots of leaders. Not just the leaders like elders and deacons and pastors that are real visible and real official. We need people who realize that even if they are students or managers or doctors or lawyers or teachers or housewives or parents, that all of us can be called to lead in our circumstance and to serve there. We need people who are sensitive to that. And so, life like that doesn’t necessarily always look like what we expect.
Let me talk about one leader that we met in Japan. Her name was Matzuki San. Mrs. Matzuki. Now, Mrs. Matzuki to some people just seemed like a housewife. To people who knew her a little bit better they realized that she was also an artist. But, she listened to her friends and realized that they were feeling bored and wanted some challenge in their life, wanted a hobby or something and she realized though that underneath that there was a spiritual need and so she started an art class, a free art class in her home. They just chipped in a little bit of money for materials and all and she got all the materials. She made lunch for them. She offered her home every week and all the time she was praying about their spiritual needs, recognizing that this was a group that had a number of layers of need and that she was God’s person to speak to them. One day she met Debbie and I and she decided to invite Debbie into the group to have a missionary in the group. That gave her an excuse to talk about Jesus. Because here is this non-Japanese person in this art group and they say, “Well, why are you living here in Japan”? And then she would say, “Well, Debbie why don’t you tell them and I will translate”. And it gave her an opportunity to share and to get involved in spiritual conversations with people. All done in love because she really loved these people. All done with a clear focus. All done listening to what their real needs were. She built a community there. She introduced people to Christ and she dealt with reconciliation as well. We can see from this film clip. We can see in the lives around us. We can see in the early church that there are groups that need to be reconciled. Well this small group reconciled one critical person to foreigners because Matzuki San’s husband didn’t like foreigners, so she invites Debbie into the house and then invites me. Now, he is a wonderful guy, but he had this prejudice. But, by us coming into the home and meeting him, he not only turned around on this, but he’s now a major advocate for reaching out to international students in Japan, because she was faithful. Some people say, oh she’s a housewife. Well, that’s honorable in and of itself. Other people say, oh she’s a part time artist. That’s incredible too. But, on top of it all, she was a leader. She was faithful. She served. She took the lead and I think it’s our turn.
Let’s pray. Lord, we pray that whether we are students who are leaders among our friendships and in groups at school or college, whether we are parents, in the workplace, no matter what role you have called us to, Lord help us to be sensitive whether there is specific ways that you have called us to serve and to lead. Help us to be the church wherever we are, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.