Rev. Sabrina Ingram
1 Timothy 3: 1 – 13; Mark 8: 27 – 38

An early image of The Church was a boat, a sailing vessel – a vessel of salvation. The Church conveys spiritual pilgrims on their journey to God. The Latin word for ship is navis, from which we get navy. In Church architecture, the part of the sanctuary where God’s people gather is the “nave”. Every boat needs a crew who fulfill various roles to keep the ship running smoothly so it will find safe harbour. Every crew needs leadership – a captain, a first mate, a navigator, an engineer, a carpenter, an oiler and others. In the PCC, the crew gets to choose their leadership and we call that leadership team the Session. There are other leaders in the boat as well – music directors, the convenors of teams, Church School teachers, those who give leadership to programs. And there are unofficial leaders – people who have sailed the boat for many years and know every nook and cranny and people who step up to do a needed task. Today we’re inducting Elders who will sit on Session for the next six years. It’s the Session’s role to chart the course, read the signs, and steer the boat away from, or if necessary through, rough waters. The Session is the ruling body, giving measured guidance to the boat’s path. The Session is also responsible for the well-being of the crew – making sure they are spiritually healthy and using their gifts for the good of all. Leadership is not an easy task. You must weigh the possibilities before you, be prepared for the next leg of the journey, make tough decisions like throwing overboard what’s no longer needed or working, anticipate the rocks, weather the storms, and catch the wind of the Spirit so we reach our destination.

Like most institutions, the Church struggles with leadership models. Some denominations lead from hierarchical and authoritarian positions – opening the door to individuals who could misuse power, bully others, make unilateral decisions, and ignore the needs of their people. Other denominations give the same level of influence to every member regardless of their gifts. They seek to make all decisions by consensus. The result is a lot of talking without much to show for it. Training people for leadership has only been of interest in our seminaries in recent years, training theologians and pastors were the focus, but leadership is an essential part of healthy congregations and God calls and equips people for leadership (cf. Romans 12: 6 – 8).

We know someone is a leader because people follow them – and not necessarily on twitter. If a person has no followers, they’re just another guy going for a walk. What qualities make someone a leader? Particularly, what qualities make someone a Christian leader? The two scriptures we read to day give us insight.

To be a leader in Christ’s Church, you first need to be a follower and you need to know the one you follow. Peter, one of the major leaders in the early Church was the first to declare, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8: 29). He was a follower before a leader. Following Jesus means we’re “reverent before the mystery of faith” (1 Timothy 3:9), so when we lead we do so with humility. Leaders become leaders because they learn from a mentor. Mentors don’t just teach us, they leave an imprint on us. As Christian’s our mentor is Jesus. Jesus puts his stamp on our life leaving a lasting mark. If Christ has stamped me, then I live according to his word and lead according to his will. I’ll lead with a sense of purpose. Jesus knew his purpose in life was to seek and save the lost. As leaders in the church, we share the mission of the one we follow.

1 Timothy 3 begins with the qualities of a leader; some are moral, others are personal. In short, they tell us a leader should be a person of character. If we want people to follow us as we lead them to follow Christ, we need to be people of integrity. Timothy says of a leader, “Outsiders must think well of him” (vs. 7) and that they are to become “highly respected, a real credit to this Jesus-faith” (vs. 13). Years ago, the government in communist China commissioned a journalist to write a biography of Hudson Taylor. The writer was to distort the facts to present Taylor in a bad light to discredit him and undermine his ministry. As the writer did his research, he was increasingly impressed by Taylor’s character and godly life. He found his assignment difficult to do. Eventually, at the risk of losing his life, the journalist stopped his research, renounced his atheism and became a follower of Christ. While hypocrisy turns them off, people follow those with integrity. When we reflect the life and teachings of Jesus, our congruency assures people. They see the truth behind it.

We notice in Timothy that the character of a leader described in verses 2 – 5 are not much different from those of a servant described in verses 8 – 13. Christian leaders are servants. A CEO of a hospital in Georgia tells of a time when a patient knocked a cup of water onto the floor. Afraid he might slip if got up to clean it, he asked a nurse to mop it up. Hospital policy said small spills were the responsibility of the nurse while housekeeping took care of the large spills. The nurse decided the spill was large, so she called the housekeeping department. The housekeeper arrived, deemed the spill was a small one and she refused to clean it up. They argued for some time until the patient, stunned by what he was witnessing, took a pitcher of water from his night table and poured the whole thing on the floor. Then he said, “Is that a big enough puddle now for you two to decide?” When leader’s have a servant’s heart, no task is beneath them. A minister I knew had worked as a clerk in a shoe store. He was promoted immediately to manager when the district supervisor came by and he found the clerk sweeping the sidewalk outside the building. The supervisor recognized that taking ownership and responsibility for the greater good of the company was leadership behaviour.

Servant-leaders strive to keep their “self” in check, knowing the purpose of the Church is much greater than them. It takes inner strength to be a leader. Leaders don’t leak ego. Leaders aren’t pushy. They don’t have their own agenda or insist on their own way. They seek to bring people along rather than stomp over them. They don’t “use their position to try to run things” (vs. 9). On the flip side, leaders are not thin-skinned or overly sensitive and they try not to take things personally. They don’t create conflict and they do not run from conflict. They know conflict is inevitable and they “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4: 15) to resolve things quickly and preserve relationships. Leaders have a “can do” attitude. They don’t throw up road blocks to every idea or change. They don’t become entrenched in a position and unwilling to compromise. They’re not whiners. A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” 10 years later the monk was asked again to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Ten years after that he was again how things were going. He responded, “I quit!” The abbot replied, “That doesn’t surprise me. You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.” Leaders don’t complain because the good of the community is more important than their needs. They seek the best way to move forward, looking for ways to complete a vision or make a project successful.

Unlike the monk, leaders are committed to personal growth. Christian leaders grow spiritually. They study the scripture, pray and worship regularly. These practices deepen their understanding, their faith and their love for God. Spiritual growth leads to maturity – not just to knowing more but to believing more fully and to dying to self. Jesus said, “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self” (Mark 8: 35 & 36). Real growth becomes visible to others as it gives birth to creativity. A woman who’d been a school teacher for 25 years applied for a promotion and lost the position to someone with only 5 years experience. When she complained to the principal, he responded, “I’m sorry, but you haven’t had 25 years of experience; you’ve had one year’s experience 25 times.” Timothy suggested that leaders should be tested by the community, “Let them prove themselves first. If they show they can do it, take them on” (vs 10). Gold is refined when it’s tested in fire. Strong leaders are kind, wise and tough. They cut people some slack knowing none of us are perfect and that we’re all growing. They listen to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and to others as they make discernments. They measure how far people can stretch. They consider what level of comfort is good for their people and what will be detrimental. They have a high level of passion and commitment that overflows to create hope and possibility for others. They’re contagious.

Leaders are team players. When Reggie Jackson played for the Baltimore Orioles, the manager, Earl Weaver, had a strict rule he expected his team to follow: a player could not try to steal a base without first receiving his go-ahead. In one decisive game, Reggie proudly stole a base without having received the sign. However, the Orioles lost the game. Afterwards, the manager pulled Jackson aside, “Reggie, I want you to know why I didn’t give you the steal sign. Our best power hitter, next to you, is Lee May. May was at the plate when you were on first base. When you stole second, that left first base open, so our opponents intentionally walked him. That meant I had to put in a pinch hitter which left me with insufficient bench strength. I think that’s why we lost.” Jackson wanted to steal a base; Weaver wanted to win a ball game. When we play as a team, we see the big picture and lay our own glory aside. We all need to learn to recognize God’s signals through His leaders.

Sometimes, leaders make hard, unpopular decisions; they do so because they believe they’re the most beneficial. Sometimes, we miss the mark. After all is said and done, the leadership bears the responsibility. If things go poorly, nautical convention dictates: the captain goes down with the ship. If things go well, the leadership enjoys the satisfaction of landing in a safe harbour with a job well done. Our world and Christ’s church are in desperate need of good leaders. Leadership is at a crisis level. I’m grateful to all those who give leadership in our congregation and pray that God will raise up leaders (whether young, new or Elders) so that St. Stephen’s can be a vessel that carries people to the safe harbour of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.