As we end the season of
Easter, the season of resurrection, the church is now faced
with the issue of leadership. Christ has entrusted his church
to us, his followers. And as we look to the New Testament for
guidance on how we lead the church, we turn to the book of
In Acts we discover one of
the major New Testament functions of Christian leadership is
to ensure continuity.
So in today's scripture it's
important for the apostles to select a person to replace the
betrayer Judas. That replacement, they said, must be someone
who "accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus
went in and out among us . . . a witness with us to his
The text reminds us that
leadership, in the body of Christ, has as one of its
responsibilities to ensure that there is continuity between
the gospel preached today and the gospel as it has always been
proclaimed since the time of the first apostles.
In order to be a replacement
apostle, Matthias needed to be among those who were with Jesus
from the first, a "witness . . . to his resurrection."
Yet there is some irony
behind this interpretation of the selection of Matthias. Is
this a story about the church's dire need for continuity, a
link with tradition and with the past, or is this also a story
about the church's need for innovation, for modification and
adaptation in order to meet new challenges? Or perhaps it's a
story of both continuity and innovation.
The disciples of Jesus have
come to a crossroads. One of the Twelve, the inner circle, has
betrayed Jesus. The risen Christ, in these days after Easter,
has left his disciples. What now? The good news of today's
reading from Acts is that, in answer to the apostles' prayer,
Christ gives a new person to share in "this ministry and
Most of church leadership, in
my experience, is a constant struggle between continuity
(linking to the past) and innovation (the desire to do
something new and perhaps more relevant to our current
Church leaders, like pastors,
are called to insure that the church continues to preach the
gospel that has been delivered to the saints.
Yet the church is also called
courageously to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit into new
areas of ministry and witness. In order to do that, we need
church leaders who are transformative, leaders who enable us
For me the challenge to
church leadership is being able to innovate while keeping our
linkage to tradition and the past in tact. In other words we
don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water as we try
There is an abiding
conviction, in places like Acts, that God graciously, and
sometimes quite surprisingly, provides the leadership needed
by the church at the time it is needed.
Now as we look at leadership
it's true that not everyone in the congregation is called to
be a leader in the church. Folks not gifted for leadership are
gifted in other important ways, and are called to some other
form of ministry.
But on the other hand all in
the church have a stake in leadership; all of us have a
responsibility to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The
church needs leaders who follow the leading of the Holy Spirit
to help us to meet the challenges of discipleship in our time
The Acts of the Apostles
begins rather dramatically with the ascension of the risen
Christ into heaven (1:6-11). But then the very next episode is
a rather routine description of the election of Matthias as a
replacement apostle (1:15-26). This strikes me as somewhat
Here we have Christ ascending
up into heaven, in the clouds, and the church responds with a
It's anticlimactic don't you
think, this council meeting so soon after Christ's
resurrection and ascension. Yet no matter how dramatic and
"spiritual" the event - even a resurrection or ascension - at
some time we must return to our place here on this earth.
Jesus is in heaven, but we,
the followers of Jesus, live here, where there are tasks to be
accomplished, and jobs to be filled, and someone has to keep
things going from day to day between Christ's first coming and
his next. This is the job of church leadership. And I think
this story is placed here, in Acts, toward the end of
Eastertide, just before Pentecost, the birthday of the church
and the descent of the Holy Spirit, to remind us that Jesus
cares about where we live, how we run his church, and how we
work together to do his work.
Here is testimony that there
is no church without leadership. No people of the Spirit
without Spirit-filled leaders. From the beginning, human
beings were needed in order for the church to be faithful to
its divine vocation to be "Christ witnesses in Jerusalem, in
all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (1:8).
Now I know people who say
that the church shouldn't bother itself with routine human
matters. They feel that the church is mostly about spiritual
and religious matters. They get exasperated with church
budgets, and church council meetings, politics, elections of
leaders for the church, and so on. "When can we be done with
all this administrative stuff and get on to the real business
of the church?" they ask. And admittedly, I too feel this way
sometimes. But doing the administration or business of the
church is a form of ministry. After all the root word in the
word administration is minister.
I have found that there is no
way to get on with the spiritual business of the church
without taking care of this other business too. In order to
serve Christ, we must become the body of Christ, we must be
organized, and we must have structure and continuity. Thus God
graciously gives the church leaders, leaders like Matthias, to
help us to do God's work in the world.
Imagine how those apostles
felt in the first days of the church. Jesus had ascended. He
had left them. Had he left the church to it's own devices,
leaving the church to fend for itself.
What was to be done about the
betrayal and failure of Judas? They prayed, "Lord, show us
what to do next. Tell us who ought to lead us." And the
election of Matthias was an answer to their prayer. The church
was not left void of guidance. A new apostle was chosen for a
The church is not forced to
live in the past, when confronted by new challenges, endlessly
to repeat the mantra, "We never did it that way before."
Christ intends to go with us into the future. His Holy Spirit
encourages us to move forward. To this end, sometimes a major
way of encouraging us is by providing us with leaders who keep
challenging our thinking.
As a church we need to
continue moving forward, embracing divine change without
compromising the Gospel. If we don't the church will be left
behind. And when the church falls behind it eventually dies.
Thus the story of Matthias is
a story about God-given transformation. I agree with those who
say that the greatest need for the church in our age is for
transformative leaders and for congregations who are willing,
under their leadership, to be transformed.
Pastor Anthony Robinson
helpfully lists some "rules of leadership" that I believe are
particularly applicable for our congregation at our time and
place. (Anthony B. Robinson, "Lessons in Leadership,"
Christian Century [December 15, 1999], pp. 1230-1231.) As you
listen to these, think about our church and how God may be
calling us to be transformed:
Give responsibility back.
When somebody in the church says, "Somebody ought to be doing
this," Robinson says he learned, as a pastor, to say, "That
sounds like just the thing God may be calling you to do." We
must, in our leadership roles, restore our baptismally given
ministry. We are all to be in ministry. Not the few, but the
Expect tension. Tension and
conversion is inherently part of the Christian faith. The
giving up of one belief and the embracing of another can
produce tension. Sometimes, a congregation needs its leaders
to ignite needed changes within the congregation. Some tension
is healthy because it promotes growth. But as with most things
too much of a good thing is not good, and this can be said of
tension. Too much tension can develop into conflict, which
than can cause us to stop growing and becoming inward focused.
To grow we need to take
risks, we need to experience tension, we need to be
challenged, and we need to stumble and fall sometimes. But
most of all we need to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
Value small steps. It is a
virtue to have a long-range vision, but it is essential for us
to realize that we will get there only by a series of many
small steps. There appears to be something inherent within the
nature of the gospel that values small things - the widow's
coin, and the few seeds that fell upon good soil - small
things that the world doesn't regard as much.
Remember, as you are having
one-to-one conversations, as you are teaching the only two
children who showed up for Sunday school, or as you are
visiting the one sick person, that the Exodus from slavery
began with one step toward the Promised Land.
Although small steps,
everyone is important and leads us down the path to the
Be persistent. Change, no
matter how obviously needed or how strongly God driven,
inevitably provokes resistance. Resistance, particularly where
the issue relates directly to our devotion to and service of
God, can be deep and unrelenting. Constancy is one of the
essential virtues for Christian ministry.
But we must consider this
question, are we growing roots or developing ruts? Roots allow
us to grow, ruts are a result of spinning our wheels doing the
same old thing because it's comfortable.
It's said that one of the
reasons the red wood trees in California grow so tall is
because they interlock their roots with one another causing
them to help and depend on one another.
This is what Christ asks us
to do, to interlock our lives and gifts with him, and to
depend on one another to live as true followers of Christ.
I share these thoughts with
you on church leadership because of its importance to the
future of Christ's church, the importance to us as Christ's
church. Leadership is not simply about attending meetings,
it's about God, it's about doing, it's about taking risk, it's
about doing God's will, it's about trusting God even when we
stumble and fall. After all no challenge the church must face,
no difficult new turn in the road, is impossible for the
church to meet because of the gracious gifts of God. On
Easter, Jesus was raised from the dead. He intends to bring us
along with him to new life, now. There is no way for us to
follow him without being transformed, without being willing to
be part of a church that is always on the move, adapting, and
Not all of us are called by
Christ to be leaders of the church. Yet we are all called to
be Easter people, people who are always ready for new life in
Christ. Will we follow when our leaders call us toward that
new life? Or will we retreat to what we know and find
comfortable. Behind today's reading in the Book of Acts is a
promise. When Christ rose from the dead, ascended to heaven,
he didn't leave us alone. In the election of Matthias as a
fresh, new leader of the church, Christ showed that he would
continue to be with us. He is with us in many ways - as that
"still small voice," in the words of scripture, in the hymns
and worship of the church, and in prayer.
He is also with us in the
everyday life of the church. He is with us in our leaders of
the church. He is with us in our church meetings.
In every age, Christ gives us
the leaders we need in order to fulfill his mandate to be his
presence in the world, his body, the church. Are we ready to
Lead Christ's Church?
Read other messages by Pastor Wade