Below are the slides I'm using as a summary for this sermon.
This is a summary sermon of my three-part series on church leadership. During the previous weeks I preached about godly church leadership through the categories of stewardship, shepherding, and serving. My main idea was simple: You know godly church leaders by their fruit; they are the ones who are already managing well, guiding and teaching, and serving.
Below are the slides I'm using as a summary for this sermon.
[Note: This is the third of a three-part series on church leadership. During these three weeks we'll be studying godly church leadership through the categories of stewardship, shepherding, and serving. The leading idea I'll be pursuing is that of the "downward slope" of leadership. This contrasts with a more worldly view of leadership whereby the leader becomes more prestigious and has people looking up to--and even serving--him or her. In the church, leadership slopes downward because godly leaders lose more of themselves for the sake of others.]
Sermon MP3 -- Servant Leadership (Luke 12:42-48 / Luke 17:7-10)
Amidst temptations to lead by control, manipulation, and coercion, godly leaders know that God calls them to serve others because it is their duty to God.
"If you want it done right, do it yourself." This phrase, usually told by people who are too busy to see the value in working with other people, is a limiting phrase. It limits because it presumes that you are capable of actually doing it right yourself and that no one else will be able to add any value to your work. What a sad way to live, alone in the world, emotionally excluding others while carving out space for yourself as the only one who knows which end is up.
I worked in a McDonald's restaurant when I was in high school. One thing that McDonald's offered that was really good for some of its employees was a manager trainee program. The company would take college age students in each store and promote them to a "swing" manager, which meant they had to have very flexible hours. It was a way to see if promising workers could make the leap into a management mindset. If so, they would then enter into full management training.
Most of the "swing" manager were very good. In fact, we often liked working with the "swing" managers more than the actual managers! But one guy became a "swing" manger who shouldn't have. While most of the "swings" led by helping out when times were busy and pretty much leaving you alone the rest of the time, this guy "managed" by being right up in your face. He'd criticize when food wasn't moved as quickly as he wanted it to be, he'd control by reworking the break schedule to reward workers he liked, and he'd manipulate by sending home workers he didn't like, just to call in someone he did like. He had no respect and he didn't earn any, either.
This is what it's like when people who are supposed to be leaders don't lead properly. In business, the worst that can happen is a company is destroyed. (I do not minimize the personal problems this creates for workers.) In the church, the worst that can happen is a church is destroyed. Woe to the worthless manager who selfishly controls, manipulates, and coerces in the name of "leading" the church.
But we've all seen this. We've seen the man selected to be an elder on the basis of his church attendance over decades. He's "earned" it. But a deeper look would have revealed his non-involvement in service ministries over the same time. He attended bible studies to be served, not to serve, and now he'll lead the same way.
We've seen the man selected to be an elder because he's "good in business," which is always an aka for, "he has a lot of money and we don't want to offend him." It's clear that what works well to make money in business doesn't always translate to the spiritual. Sadly, some churches find this out too late when this type of elder becomes the de facto leader of the elders, everyone answering to him, while he leads top-down and from his own sense of what needs to be done.
We've seen the groups of elders who act like bullies, requiring every little thing to be run by them so they can say "no" because it wasn't their idea. No one remembers how these elders were even elected. But they have their little meetings, sometimes hauling in a member or two for a rebuke, and then they announce what they've decided without every visiting the members to gather input and gain insight. The church is fearful of these groups.
Of course, in the New Testament, this type of leadership is never advocated. In one of the clearest examples, Peter teaches that elders in the church are to be "eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to [them], but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Likewise, in the gospels, Jesus never teaches leadership by control, criticism, coercion, or manipulation. Rather, over and over he teaches that if you want to be first--meaning, if you want to truly lead others--you will become last; you will become their servant. Not many who aspire to "leadership"--with its glamor and prestige--aspire to be a servant. And this is why not many are cut out to lead, because it first requires an inner transformation.
In fact, Luke relates two parables that Jesus tells to teach about servant leadership. Now, Jesus' immediate context is not church leadership. In Luke 12, Jesus begins teaching about discipleship. This teaching block is long and ongoing, providing shades of instruction all the way through until his passion narrative begins. As he teaches about servanthood in these two parables, we can draw principles to apply to leadership. After all, church leaders should be the lead disciples in the congregation, pointing the way by example.
In the first parable, in Luke 12:42-48, Jesus teaches about servanthood by using the example of a manager who oversees servants. (The manager is a servant himself, answerable to his master.) His specific responsibility is to give his fellow servants their food allotment at the proper time. In other words, he is to be responsible for the health and well-being of these servants.
This parable immediately ties in with the theme of stewardship. For this manager to do his job well, he will need to be a good steward over the resources he has been entrusted with. The implication here is obvious: "It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns" (12:43). But what of the manager who beats the servants and takes the food and drink for himself? Well, that servant will find himself "cut...to pieces" (12:46).
Jesus' principle is this: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (12:48). Now, while this serves a discipleship context which encourages us to be good stewards and servants over those we are seeking to influence, the leadership application is clear: Those who have been entrusted with a flock to shepherd must do so well, because much is expected. Church leadership is a high calling and a high aspiration. It is not for unbalanced people who seek self gain above all else.
In a second parable, in Luke 17:7-10, Jesus teaches that servants recognize their role as servants and do their job without seeking reward or to "gain credit" with their master. In response to the apostles' request for more faith, Jesus indicates that faith is grown through obedience to God. That obedience is seen in service to others.
Jesus begins this parable by asking his hearers to place themselves in a position of having a servant. After that servant has worked all day, do you give him the night off before he has prepared your meal? Of course not! You indicate to him that he needs to prepare your meal first...then he can have the night to himself. Why? Is it because you are mean-spirited? No, it's because that is his job, to serve you as your servant.
But then Jesus turns the tables and says, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" We are the servants. The Lord is our master. Those of us who see ourselves as masters over others are living outside the truth of this parable.
Again, the application is clear: to be faithful to God, we must view ourselves as his servants who carry out his work for us. When we have done this, we have only done our duty. Those leaders who apply this by viewing themselves as the masters who oversee the servants have missed the point. They need to be the lead servants, leading by serving others because it is their obedient duty. Godly leaders recognize this.
So I ask again: Look around you--who are the spiritual leaders that you recognize as serving others in obedience? These are the ones you follow, because they provide an example of obedience...and good leadership, because they focus on others first.
And if you want to become a leader yourself? Begin serving others in obedience to God.
[Note: This is the second of a three-part series on church leadership. Over the next three weeks we'll be studying godly church leadership through the categories of stewardship, shepherding, and serving. The leading idea I'll be pursuing is that of the "downward slope" of leadership. This contrasts with a more worldly view of leadership whereby the leader becomes more prestigious and has people looking up to--and even serving--him or her. In the church, leadership slopes downward because godly leaders lose more of themselves for the sake of others.]
Update (9/20/2010): Sermon MP3 -- Good Shepherding (Luke 15)
Godly shepherds are relationally focused on the spiritual growth of their sheep.
In the gospels, Jesus spends a lot of time with the Pharisees. The Pharisees are the religious denomination within Judaism that spends the most amount of time, energy, and effort seeking to understand and apply the law. For the most part, despite how the Pharisees are presented in the gospels, their intent was good. They recognized the law as given by God for their own good and that the highest goal of one's life was to conform to the law. In doing so, one would conform to God's vision for them and their people.
But sadly, as good intentions sometimes go, their desire to see others conform to the law led them to methods of control where they would exhibit a lack of compassion for others. This is why Jesus was often in conflict with the Pharisees. He preached and focused on God's grace and went to those most in need of God's grace. These were the very people the Pharisees likely would have ignored in favor of "fine-tuning" those who were already "close" to the ideal.
The Pharisees, then, as well as the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders--those whose responsibility was teaching and leading the people to knowledge of God--failed as shepherds. The main reason for their failure, at least according to how Jesus presents it in Luke, is due to their failure to work with those most needing their help. Instead, they often served themselves by keeping to their groups where they could tightly control behavior (Luke 14:12-14).
Therefore, in a context of discipleship (Luke 14:25-34), where Jesus spells out the criteria of discipleship--carrying a cross, counting the cost, and preserving faith through action--he teaches three parables that describe what true shepherding is (Luke 15).
The three parables in Luke 15 are against the Pharisees. The problem is highlighted at the beginning of the chapter when, in response to those who were gathering to hear Jesus teach (tax collectors and sinners), the Pharisees grumbled that Jesus "welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2). The problem, as they perceived it, was that Jesus associated with the wrong people. So Jesus tries to correct their view--and teach them that they need to shepherd those who most need shepherding--by telling three parables that revolve around the idea that it is a bigger deal in heaven when one sinner repents than when ninety-nine self-righteous people sit around and compare notes (15:7, 10, 32).
The first parable teaches that good shepherds take risks to shepherd those most in need. The shepherd who lost one sheep left the other ninety-nine by themselves and went off in search of the one. He took a financial risk in doing so, but the one was precious enough for him to do so. Here, the Pharisees are indicted--they would leave the one who wandered away for the sake of "protecting" the ninety-nine left behind. After all, they can't be responsible for every person who won't accept their teaching.
This attitude has been a long-standing problem in the Judeo-Christian heritage. Because we tend to be more comfortable around people who are most like us, we can unintentionally neglect others who need help. In worse cases, we look down on people who are not like us, those who need real, spiritual help. We blame them for their condition instead of looking to serve them.
For example, suppose a church member struggles with some aspect of the church, or some person within the church, and decides to quit the church. Many people, tragically, would write that person off, perhaps even criticizing them. A good shepherd will risk all to go visit that person, serve them, and try to bring them back even though he may be criticized himself for reaching out to someone who is looked down upon.
In the second parable, Jesus teaches that good shepherds care enough about people to spend energy focusing on just one person. His parable is about a woman who has ten silver coins but loses one. Rather than viewing herself as still being ahead with nine, she lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully until she finds it--then throws a party over finding one coin! Again, the Pharisees are indicted--they would rather focus on the nine remaining and the let the one go.
But good shepherds go after one missing person. They know what they have in the first place so they know when one goes missing. And they do not write off the one that goes missing; they spend their time, energy, and effort to find that lost one.
In the third parable, Jesus teaches that good shepherds care more for the needs of those who need help than the selfish whims of those seeking to be served. The parable of the "lost son" (or the "older brother" or the "loving father") is perhaps the hardest-hitting parable of the three. This parable indicts the Pharisees in a way the other two didn't. In this parable, a son who once was a "good son" leaves home and squanders his inheritance, only to return home empty-handed. The older brother must have been pleased to see his brother slinking back onto the family estate. But his joy turned to anger when he saw his father run out to greet the lost son! Later, his father rebukes him for not celebrating the return of his brother, who had wandered off.
Good shepherds are not concerned with the selfish whims of people who are in the game for themselves. Sometimes, churches can become made up of selfish members who organize the church around their needs and desires. When someone creates a program to reach out to a different (i.e., "wrong") people-group, especially if that means changes for them, these people become angry and complain. The Pharisees did not like how Jesus associated with the "wrong" type of people when he should have been supporting them.
These three ideas about shepherding coalesce around one main point: good shepherds are relationally focused on the spiritual growth of others. This plays out in two different ways in Luke 15. First, Jesus teaches that it is always proper and appropriate to shepherd those most in need of shepherding. For him, that was the "tax collectors and sinners," those members of the community that most needed to hear the message of the kingdom of God. At other times, it was sick and lame people who needed attention from Jesus, more "undesirables" that were overlooked by society. In our situation, it might be poor people that we reach out to, without judging them for "not being wise with their money." It could prisoners that are reached out to, without regard for what they did in the past.
Second, Jesus teaches that it is always wrong and inappropriate to ignore and write off people who don't act the way we think they should. This was his message to the Pharisees, seen most clearly in his comments about the "older brother." Let's be clear--we do not shepherd anyone if we have no contact with them, if we leave them to fend for themselves and continue to wander away. Instead, we need to overcome our differences, our own sense of the rules and what's right, and perhaps even our own prejudices, and reach out to those in need. This is what good shepherding is.
Again, we can look around us and see this type of shepherding in action. It may not be prominent, but it's there. As you look for spiritual leaders, look for those who meet these criteria for shepherding. You'll know a good shepherd when you see one.
[Note:This is the first of a three-part series on church leadership. Over the next three weeks we'll be studying godly church leadership through the categories of stewardship, shepherding, and serving. The leading idea I'll be pursuing is that of the "downward slope" of leadership. This contrasts with a more worldly view of leadership whereby the leader becomes more prestigious and has people looking up to--and even serving--him or her. In the church, leadership slopes downward because godly leaders lose more of themselves for the sake of others.]
Update (9/13/2010): Sermon MP3 -- Godly Leaders are Good Stewards
Godly leaders are faithful with what God has entrusted to them.
Jesus enjoyed teaching in parables. His parables packed quite a punch. Jesus' habit in teaching was to deliver a short parable and then leave it--the hearers were left to puzzle among themselves what it all meant.
But Jesus did not tell parables simply to be interesting or mysterious. He told parables as a way of inviting those who were ready to follow him more closely to do so; parables weeded out those who were just along for the ride.
As such, Jesus' parables need to be probed beyond the surface level. They often appear to be speaking simply about something common--a tiny seed; a large plant; some lost coins; or a banquet--but they represent much more than common idea. For Jesus, parables became a way of speaking about the risk of the kingdom of God so that insiders "got it" and outsiders didn't.
And some of the parables are difficult! Some parables are pretty straightforward, especially when Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is like...." There, the referent is clear and the puzzle is simply to work out how, for example, the growth of a mustard seed is like the kingdom of God (Luke 13:18-19). Other times, Jesus actually explains what his parable meant (Luke 8:1-15).
But other times, we are simply left with a difficult parable to probe for meaning about the kingdom of God and our relationship to it. One such example is found in Luke 16:1-12. Here, Jesus tells a strange parable about a manager who is called to give an account of his management; he has been accused of wasting (or perhaps misappropriating?) his master's funds. Once the manager realizes he's going to be fired, he creates a scheme whereby he cuts the bills of people who owe his master, hoping that they will offer him a job, or at least some hospitality, for his generosity on his behalf. When his master realizes what happened, he commends the manager and his shrewdness and explains that this is how people get ahead in the world!
[Note: It's not entirely clear whether the manager acted in good or bad faith. We're not told in the parable whether the manager was guilty of what he was accused of, and we have the curious situation where, although he cost his master money, he is commended by the master (8). According to N.T. Wright [Luke for Everyone], it's likely that the manager cut some kind of "tax" or "interest payment" that the master was imposing on what he had lent to his debtors. If this is the case, such action would have been against Israelite laws. The master therefore commends the manager for his shrewdness. He cannot criticize the manager unless he wants his illegal (or at least unethical) business practices to come to light. And the manager goes down as a "friend" of those he helped.]
How are we to understand this? For sure, there are no easy correlations where "the master" is "God" and so forth. Instead, there are modes of understanding, where different characters and people can see themselves first in one way and then in another.
One way of understanding it is to look at whom the parable is spoken to. Jesus is teaching his disciples, but within earshot of the Pharisees, who "heard all this and were sneering at Jesus" (16:14). One thing the Pharisees were guilty of was placing high burdens upon people in relation to the law. In this sense, they are like the master, seeking to exact more from people than what the law actually requires.
But as leaders, they are called to a higher, more generous, and more compassionate level. Through this parable, Jesus calls them to identify less with the master and more with the manager. They are the stewards (managers) of God's kingdom, not the masters of it. Consequently, they should loosen up and share God's generosity with others by leading them to greater knowledge of God. They should avoid hard and exacting management for patient and faithful stewardship. If they do this, they will be commended by their master (God) for good stewardship of God's people.
We can draw some lessons from this about spiritual leadership. The parable was spoken to the disciples and the Pharisees, two groups of leaders that Jesus was working with. Jesus was teaching and training the disciples to be good, godly leaders, and he was hoping the Pharisees would catch this vision as well. But we can discern several helpful points about godly leadership.
First, godly leaders are generous towards others just like God is (8). If anything is clear from the parable, it's that the intent of lowering the debtors' bills was to curry good favor from them; it was a positive move to lighten their load. This is the business God is in. Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of the "yoke" that the Pharisees place on people and the difficulty in observing the law. This corresponds to leaders' tendency to manage people strictly, to focus on external ways of "measuring" people's spiritual growth. Such approaches look at worship and bible class attendance, how often one states they read the bible and pray, and whether people are submissive to the leaders' view of things.
But godly leaders recognize that people grow differently. They recognize that enforcing moral behavior does not help people grow and they "reduce the bill" in this regard by practicing good stewardship that is focused on shepherding and serving.
Second, godly leaders use their God-given resources to serve people (9). In this difficult sentence, the master's commendation seems to be based on the manager's use of money to secure friends for himself that will have an eternal impact. Some have wrongly suggested that money can be used to buy a way into heaven through creating the right connections. But if we remember that this is a parable--and we probe it deeper--we can understand this as a metaphor. Godly leaders use their God-given resources to serve people; this is what it means to "gain friends" and it has eternal significance both for the leader and for the ones he serves. These resources can be time, money, possessions, or simply your own brain power as you serve as a resource person for someone. Godly leaders recognize that what they have, including the gifts by which they serve, are from God, and they practice good stewardship of them.
Third, godly leaders are accountable with the "little things" (10-12). Here, Jesus teaches a principle whereby people who are accountable with a little can be trusted with much. In the context of this parable, Jesus uses money and property as his examples but we can extend this (metaphorically) to stewardship of people. No one should be appointed to a position of leadership if they are not accountable with the "little things." This includes the ability to work with people one on one, to visit with families in their homes, and to be friendly and welcoming at the church building. These are base commitments each godly leader should share and one's inability to be responsible with these "little things" should disqualify them from more responsibility. No one who wants to serve only over larger, more (self-perceived) "important" things is cut out to be a leader in God's kingdom.
So look around you, at your church. Who are the godly leaders who practice good stewardship? Are there any? They may or may not be those who are appointed or titled as leaders. But every church has some. Look to those you see as good stewards because it is they who will be called Jesus' "good and faithful servants" in the end and you will not go wrong to follow their leadership.
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Update (9/7/2010): Sermon MP3 -- What Good Church Leadership Is
This is an audio version of the following post.
Good church leadership (shepherding) is godly, flock-focused, and selfless.
Church leadership is often a sticky subject. For those who have experienced toxic leadership, this topic brings feelings of fear and concern. Those who have been blessed by solid, godly leadership welcome these discussions. Sometimes, churches that are stuck in a rut think that more study about this topic will bring them out of their rut, while churches that experience good shepherding know that it is the action, not the information, that creates a good shepherd.
By "shepherding," I simply mean that biblical image used to describe church leaders in many different texts (John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:2, 4; Acts 20:28; and Ezekiel 34). Shepherds work with sheep. They protect sheep; they guide sheep; they comfort and nurture sheep. Jesus describes all these qualities, relates them to himself, and calls himself the "good shepherd." Shepherding is a good image for Christian leaders--it calls us to be among our people, serving, guiding, and loving them.
But in Ezekiel a much different perspective on shepherding is presented. In fact, though writing in the ancient world, Ezekiel describes a stunningly contemporary lesson on bad and good shepherding. As a prophet, Ezekiel wrote during Israel's Babylonian exile. In this time of dislocation and distress, the people needed strong leadership to remind them they belonged to God and God was delivering them. Sadly, they didn't receive it.
What they received instead was terrible, self-serving, and ungodly leadership. These "shepherds" served themselves at their flock's expense. Rather than leading people to a greater knowledge of and obedience to God, they led people to serve them (the shepherds).
These false shepherds used their leadership to benefit themselves (Ezekiel 34:2-3). They took care of themselves, took the best food for themselves, and clothed themselves with the finest articles of clothing.
They neglected the health and safety of their flock (Ezekiel 34:4). They were harsh and brutal leaders. It was likely their way or the highway. And for those who left, whether intentionally or unintentionally (by wandering off), they were left to stray. The people began wandering far from God and were not tended to by these leaders who were too busy tending to themselves to even notice.
They oversaw the ruin of the flock and scattered it through their lack of leadership (Ezekiel 34:5-6). This destructive tendency in leadership results in blaming others and ruining them. Churches have been destroyed by leaders who have led only to enrich themselves.
Their lack of leadership became so bad that God finally stepped in. God revealed himself to be the good and true shepherd. He is our example and the one who truly leads us. When good shepherds are good, it is because they are shepherding just like God did.
First, God stated that he was against bad shepherds and would remove them (Ezekiel 34:10). No longer would God allow the false shepherds to feed off of God's own sheep. He was holding the false shepherds accountable, which means, for God, they were being held under judgment.
Second, God determined that he himself would shepherd his people (Ezekiel 34:11-16). Through God's shepherding, we see what real and godly shepherding is. God will search for and find his sheep (34:11-12, 16). This involved cleaning up the mess of the false shepherds. God also says he will feed his sheep (34:13-15). God will provide what his sheep need and he will nurture them. God will take care of those sheep who are sick and weak (34:16) . He will give special attention to them to heal them. Finally, God will feed justice to his flock (34:16). Part of this justice involves eliminating those who took advantage of this bad situation to benefit themselves.
What does this mean for church leadership and shepherding today? Well, it's this simple: Good shepherds shepherd the flock just like God did. They imitate God.
Good shepherds search and find sheep. They are committed to evangelistic outreach. They accomplish this through hospitality. They warmly welcome guests to the worship service; they have church members and their non-churched friends over to their homes. They go after church members who have wandered away, calling on them instead of blaming them.
Good shepherds feed their sheep. They teach their church members through public instruction, through small group discussions, in one-on-one conversations over coffee, and by their example. They model the life of Christ before others. They pay attention to the spiritual growth of their sheep and mentor them into stronger faith.
Good shepherds take care of the sick and weak. They visit. They know which church members are shut-in, which are in the hospital, which are in nursing homes, which have special needs. They even know this information about the families of church members. And when they visit, they serve and meet needs.
Good shepherds feed justice to their flock. They look out for those who might deceive their flock or who are around just to enrich themselves. And they care about justice--they are involved in outreach to the community on behalf of the poor, the widows, and the orphans, those most in need of the justice of God.
Good shepherds are good not because of the actions they take for themselves. They are good because they shepherd like God. Look around you at your own spiritual leaders. Who meets these criteria? Who shepherds like God? Follow them and their leadership, because if you do, you, too, will become more like God.
1. Which of the criticisms God levels against the bad shepherds did you find most disgusting? Why?
2. What is the result of bad shepherding? How do you know it?
3. In which specific ways is God's shepherding different than that of the bad shepherds?
4. Is it possible for us to shepherd like God did? Does he expect that from us?
5. Which of these acts of shepherding do you find most useful? Why?