St Michael’s and St Barnabas 3rd August 2014
Reading – Mark 3:7-19
In 1922 an orchestra in the newly-founded Soviet Union decided it could do away with its conductor. In this brave new society where everyone was equal, they didn’t someone at the front telling them what to play and when. And so the First Symphonic Ensemble was born, a symbol of the new world order communism seemed to be bringing in.
As you might imagine, this orchestra didn’t last that long. For one thing, every musician had to learn all the other parts every other musician was learning, and that was a lot of extra work. When they were performing, they found it difficult, for example, to change the tempo – who made the decision? In the end, as you might guess, in 1932 the orchestra stopped playing.
We all need leaders. That’s why, for example, if you look at a group of children playing, sooner or later one or more of their number will decide they are the leader. They will try to impose their own choice of games and who will be involved, often with – shall we say interesting results?
Of course there are good leaders and there are bad leaders. Think of your local football team. Although there will always be some disagreement about who’s been the best manager and who’s been the worst, results on the pitch will at least tell us who achieved some success, and who did not. Or think, perhaps, of some of the teachers you used to know at school. There is the world of difference between a teacher who is an inspiration and gets results, and a teacher who seems to flatten whatever potential a pupil may have.
Good leadership is necessary and it is a skill. So it’s not surprising that over the years volumes of books and online material have come out on the subject of leadership. People can make millions as management gurus sharing their secrets of success and guaranteeing to transform your life.
But I’m going to put it to you this morning that the best book on leadership is the oldest and the wisest, and it’s absolutely free. It’s called the Bible. And if you’re sat here this morning, thinking, “I’m not a leader and this is nothing to do with me”, I believe it’s important to realise that all of us need to know what good leadership looks like, because one way or another all of us have leaders and as I shall go to explain later, it’s important that we can hold our leaders to account.
So what can we learn about leadership in today’s passage from Mark’s gospel?
Let me offer you three particular points.
First of all, leadership is shared.
By the time we get to the third chapter of Mark, Jesus’ popularity is at its peak. He is no longer just a local hero. There are folk coming from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. His fame, in other words, is rippling out beyond the borders of Israel and the crowds coming to see Him are getting bigger and bigger. In fact, to avoid being crushed Jesus is having to use a boat so that He is safely away from land. And it’s not surprising there are so many people are there. Miracles and exorcisms are happening on a regular basis. The teaching is out of this world. Lives are being wonderfully and miraculous changed.
So isn’t it interesting that precisely at this point Jesus finds a lonely hillside and decides to appoint twelve of his disciples as apostles? After all, as the Son of God He has all the power and authority He needs and there’s a very real sense in which no human being can share in His ministry.
But even as Jesus was teaching and healing down by the lake, He was – like any good leader – already planning for the long-term future. Ultimately He would have to entrust His ministry here on earth to His disciples. They would be the ones to go into every corner of the earth with the good news of salvation. They would be the radical new community which would point to the reality of God’s love for the world. And this new community, the church, would need leaders. Appointing them once He had already accomplished His mission would be too late. He needed men He could teach and train on the job – if I might put it this way.
So, as we read in verse 13, Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. But what a strange bunch of people Jesus chooses! Among the future church leaders there are fishermen – Peter and Andrew, James and John. There is a tax collector and collaborator – Matthew, otherwise known as Levi. There is a former terrorist and hardline nationalist – Simon the Zealot. There is someone who will end up betraying Him for 30 pieces of silver – Judas Iscariot. And there are a few we hardly ever hear of again – James son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus, for example. All in all, you would hardly say they were the most obvious people to be chosen as apostles.
But presumably Jesus saw something in them and was willing to share His ministry with them. And I have to say, there is something very challenging for us here, particularly if we happen to be dye in the wool Anglicans. Because so often the churches of Jesus Christ run on the basis the ministry is run by one person who makes all the decisions and can turn his hand to anything if required. He is seen as the father in God who is omniscient – knows everything – omnicompetent – can do anything – and omnipresent – is always there when you need him.
Let me say as clearly as I can – I believe such a view of ministry runs completely contrary to the lessons of this passage. That’s why I so dislike my official job title of priest-in-charge, because it seems to suggest this church runs on a one-man ministry. Yes, I accept the buck ultimately has to stop with one person, but ministry in the church needs to be shared. Otherwise that one person ends up bearing burdens he should not be bearing, and the gifts within the church do not end being used as they should in the Lord’s service. In the end the minister gets worn out; the congregation gets frustrated; and regular attendance keeps falling.
No, Jesus chose twelve people with which to share His ministry… just as indeed He chooses people today. So if you think the Lord is calling you to share in the ministry in this church, then please do have the confidence to talk with me afterwards. We need more folk who can share in the ministry of leading small groups, for example. We need folk with a real heart for children’s work. We need … well, the list goes on. And if you think you are the last person Jesus could ever use, then think about the people He chose on that mountainside back in the Galilee. Jesus may not choose the obvious candidates. But He does choose the right ones.
Leadership is shared.
Secondly, leadership is learnt.
So here are the twelve men Jesus has chosen as apostles. Although they may not realise it, Jesus has seen in them something which tells Him they have the potential to be future leaders. Yet they still need to be trained for the task in hand. Because, just like any other spiritual gift, the gift of leadership has to be nurtured and developed if it is to be used effectively. That’s why Jesus doesn’t just give them a job that needs doing, and tell them to get on with it. No, as we read in verse 14, He appointed twelve that they might be with him.
Isn’t that beautiful and very, very simple? Before any of them could take up the role of apostle, they had first of all to become apprentices, spending time with Jesus, listening to what He was telling them, seeing what He did and how He did it. Because, you see, ultimately good leadership in the church comes from a living and growing relationship with Jesus. And if you do not enjoy spending time simply being with Jesus, then you are not cut out to be a leader. After all, if you are going to devote yourself to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, then you yourself need to show the difference that good news makes in your own life. There really is nothing worse for the life of a church than a minister whose knowledge of Jesus is dry and theoretical, or one who is simply going through the motions. The chances are, that not only will his faith be dead, so will the faith of the church.
Now I want you to imagine for a moment that you as the people of God were asked to appoint a leader for this church. Let me ask, what would you look for in the successful candidate? I guess you could give many different and perfectly decent answers to that question. You may want someone who has the right theological education. You may want someone with experience in children’s and youth work. You may want someone with a track record of church growth. All these things are very important, but they are not the most vital quality you need to look for, which is quite simply this: does the person in front of you spend time with God? Can he give a testimony of how he came to know and love the Lord? And is his relationship with the Lord continuing to grow and to flourish? Before Jesus calls leaders to a particular role or ministry, He calls them to be with Him, for their own good and for the good of the church.
That’s also why I believe that, if you’re here today as a member of this church, you have a right to ask me as your minister how my relationship with Jesus is doing. I’m not sure in fact whether anyone has asked me that question over the past twelve years, but it’s an important question for the health of both these little churches. Before I can do anything in my position here, I have to be with Jesus, to spend time in prayer, in reading the Scriptures, in discerning what the Lord might be telling me. Yet I can tell you that if there’s one thing that gets squeezed out on a busy day, it’s that regular, personal quality time with Jesus. And looking around I know that too many ministries have gone astray, not because the person involved intended to wander away from the faith, but because the pressures involved meant they quite simply lost touch with Jesus.
Jesus appointed twelve that they might be with him. But please don’t also make the mistake that only these particular twelve were called to spend time with Him. Don’t forget there were also plenty of other disciples with Jesus at this time. Indeed there is a real sense in which all of us, whether we are a leader or not, are called to spend time with Jesus.
I only say this because sometimes, particularly in Anglican circles, there is the assumption that the priest prays on behalf of the people, as if somehow I have more of a hotline to God than anyone else. Actually we should all make it our priority to be with Jesus, as our mission statement makes clear, and we should all be holding one another in prayer. Because prayer is the means by which all of us learn what Jesus is calling us to do. And none of us should ever grow tired of the wonderful fact that Jesus our Lord and Saviour wants us to be with Him, so that we might discover His plans and purposes for our lives, whatever our role or calling in the church.
Leadership is shared
Leadership is learnt
And finally, leadership is focused
Let’s go back to those twelve apostles Jesus chose on the mountainside in Galilee. Apart from being with Him, what else was He calling them to do? Let’s listen carefully to the whole of verse 14, and verse 15: He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus focuses on these two things? After all, there are many good things a Christian leader can do, such as, for example, getting involved in missions of mercy or standing up for the poor and oppressed. And I don’t think Jesus would deny that such things are important. But Jesus is clear about the primary task of the apostles. It is all about proclaiming the good news of salvation in word and in action.
Because that’s the most important thing a Christian leader can do. It is the word of God that brings people to a living faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. It is the word of God that changes lives for good as folk experience the presence of Jesus to heal and to bless. That’s why Christian leaders need to make the word of God their top priority.
This was a lesson that the apostle Paul understood well. We won’t be spending much time looking at the letters Paul wrote to his young apprentice Timothy, but if you were to sit down and read them through, you would see that time after time Paul urges Timothy to concentrate on the ministry of the word.
So, for example, he tells him in 1 Timothy 4:13: Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Or again, in 2 Timothy 3:14-15: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Paul was convinced that if Timothy was going to become an effective church leader, he had to concentrate on the main task of preaching and teaching Scripture.
All this raises an interesting question: if the Christian leader is called to preaching and to pastoring, then who is going to carry out all the other ministries in the church? I hope you can see that the answer to that question is fairly obvious. You see, good leadership in the church depends on everyone in the church using their gifts. There’s no point having a gifted preacher or a wise and compassionate pastor if in fact he is spending all his time doing paperwork or running the youth club. He may be good at these things, and there may be times when he needs to step in, but ultimately he needs to let go of them and let other people step up to the task in hand.
And this is why in the end all of us need to be open to Jesus’ call. Yes, some are called to leaders. Some of us are not. But there is a real sense in which all of us have been given a task and a ministry. It may be something large and public. It may be something small and unseen. But whatever it is, will you be ready when Jesus summons you?
Let’s finish by reflecting on verse 13: Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. Because in the end all I’ve said about leadership and ministry boils down to this. That Jesus has a work that only you can do and He wants to equip you to carry it out. So this morning reflect what Jesus’ call on your life might be. You may be surprised. You may feel inadequate. But if Jesus can turn even this most unlikely bunch of men into apostles, then there’s no telling what He can do through you. The only question is whether you are willing to respond.