Who Am I to Lead?

by Rev. L. John Gable

Who Am I to Lead? by Rev. L. John Gable
January 8, 2017

Do any of you ever have recurring dreams?  Those occasional, yet repetitive, seemingly related dreams, or nightmares, which seem to touch on your deepest fears, anxieties or insecurities?  Young parents seem to have them about losing their infant children in the bed sheets.  Students, from middle school to master’s degrees, have them about walking in to take a final exam in a class they never attended on subjects they know nothing about.  Those in positions of leadership find themselves driving cars or flying airplanes with no steering wheels.  That is my recurring dream/nightmare.  I am driving a car when suddenly the hood flies up or debris from the highway covers the windshield and I have no idea where I am going.  Do any of those sound familiar to you?

Curiously, I have been told that every leader of any size organization, large or small, has this kind of recurring dream.  No matter how seemingly confident, competent or successful they may be they all live with the unspoken insecurity that it will somehow be found out that they really have no idea what they are doing.  They are just trying to “fake it ‘til they make it.”  Does that sound familiar to any of us?

Today we ordained and installed new Elders and Deacons, new leaders for our church family.  While we believe each of them is capable and qualified to fill these offices and lead us as a congregation, my suspicion is, if you ask any one of them to answer honestly, each of them is asking one very basic question of themselves, the question posed in the title of this sermon.  It can be asked in two different ways, depending on which “syllable you put the emphasis.”  The first and most natural question is, “Who am I to lead?”   The second, “WHO am I to lead?”

There are three ordained offices in the Presbyterian Church, Pastors, Elders and Deacons, and all three are grounded in the teachings of Scripture.

We know the story of the call of Moses, God speaks to him from the burning bush, calling him in to service despite Moses’ great reluctance.  This man that God was asking to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt in to the Promised Land was in close touch with his deepest insecurities, so he asks the question of the day, “Who am I to lead these people?”  Yet in obedience to God’s call, despite his reluctance and insecurities, we know that Moses faithfully led the people through the wilderness for the next 40 years.  However, he almost didn’t make it past his 90 day probationary period.

In our less familiar lesson from Exodus this morning we find Moses in his leadership position making decisions regarding every matter that came before the people, and there is little wonder why.  Moses had been chosen by God, he alone was the one who went up on the mountain to speak with God, so who else but Moses should the people take their questions and problems to?  But Moses was getting burned out.  The burden of leadership was much too heavy for him to carry alone and his father in law Jethro, himself the priest over the tribe of the Midianites, called him out and said, “Why do you sit alone?  What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out.”  So Jethro gave Moses some very wise counsel.  He said, “You should represent the people before God…but you should also look for others, able men from among the people…and set them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Let them bring the important cases to you, but judge the minor cases themselves.  It will be easier for you and they will bear the burden with you.” 

This was a good plan, so capable leaders were chosen from among the people to help lead the People of God; individuals who feared God, were trustworthy and honest.  This then became the basis for our office of Elder in the Presbyterian Church, and, in some respect, for all elected officials in our form on government.  Individuals, the likes of you and me, men and women from among our body (“of the people, by the people, for the people”) who we believe are gifted by God and called by the voice of the people to lead them in matters of governance and administration.  That is what our elected officials are empowered to do in government and it is what our Elders are charged to do here at Tab.  Let me remind you, the Elders, also called the Session, are the leaders of this church, not Oscar or me, or any member of the staff.  Oscar and I have the exclusive right to choose the Scripture passages we use, the sermons we preach and the hymns we sing, and that is all; the Elders have the final say in everything else that happens here, and we even ask Matt to choose the hymns.  Needless to say, the office of Elder is critical for the life our body, just as it was for Moses and the Children of Israel.

Yet they do not lead us alone.  The Deacons are also an ordained office in our church, and while the qualifications for the office of Deacon are very similar, the responsibilities they have been given are very different, hence they require a different skill set.  While Elders are given the responsibility for “governance and administration – decision-makers”, Deacons are given the responsibility for “sympathy and service – care givers”, and again the model for this office arises out of our passage from Acts 6.

This story comes shortly after the day of Pentecost and the fledgling Christian Church is experiencing explosive growth.  In our lesson today we learn that the widows coming from Greek backgrounds (  Hellenists) are being neglected in the daily distribution of food while the widows with Jewish backgrounds (Hebrews) are being served.  I think it is fascinating to note that the early church, before there really even was anything called a church, much less having any church structure, recognized their God-given responsibility and calling, not only to preach and teach about Jesus, but also to serve the needy in social ministries, the daily distribution of food, and in this circumstance some who were needy were being underserved which brought complaints and criticisms, and caused some concern and controversy.  Like Moses before them, the twelve basically said, “We can do it all.  We can’t neglect the Word of God – that is preaching and teaching and evangelism – in order to wait on tables.”  They realized the importance of that care-giving ministry, but they didn’t have the capability or the capacity to fill it, so they identified others from among the body who did have those care giving skills.  The phrase “to wait on tables” in the Greek is “diaconia”, from which we get our term, deacon.

These are the three ordained offices in the Presbyterian Church: pastors, also called Ministers of Word and Sacrament or Teaching Elders; Ruling Elders; and Deacons, each we believe uniquely gifted by God and called by the voice of the people to serve in these particular ways.

All of that makes sense in principle, but still the question is invariably asked in the specific, “So, who am I to lead?”  I can almost hear each of our newly ordained and installed officers asking of themselves, “Am I really qualified to be an Elder or a Deacon?”  I know because I asked the same question of myself 35 years when I was ordained as a pastor, and it is a question I periodically find myself asking still today.  The short answer is “no”, the longer answer is “absolutely yes”, because it is not about me or you or them, it is about the One who calls us.

Every leader in Scripture is a terribly flawed individual – every one, save one, Jesus.  So we can find our stories woven into the stories of the likes of Abraham, Moses, David and Peter, each with their own foibles and shortcomings, so for that reason, we look to our model and Savior Jesus and trust in His promised Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as we seek to guide and direct the people of God.

Moses was given responsibility to lead the Children of Israel to the Promised Land and he needed others to help him do so.  The first deacons were given equally clear instructions to help provide for the daily needs of the people.  Today our Elders and Deacons assume the responsibility to lead this People of God, us, through their respective offices for the next three years.  How will they do that?  Where will they take us?  That is the challenge and responsibility of leadership, isn’t it? (hence, the source of my recurring dream of driving blind.)  Moses was given the vision of a destination, but not a road map on how to get there.  Stephen and the first deacons were given a task, not a “how to” manual.  Our leaders today have been given both a task and a destination as well in our new Vision Renewal statement.  Building on our commitment to “demonstrate the Kingdom of God through worship, discipleship and service” they are called to lead us to GREATER FAITH, DEEPER RELATIONSHIPS and a STRONGER COMMUNITY.  That we believe is our God-vision and purpose; that is where we are going, but the way there still needs to be discerned, developed and discovered.

How will our leaders lead us?  The model for Christian leadership has been clearly given to us by Christ Himself when He said, “I came not to be served but to serve”, and He lived His life in that way, ultimately laying down His life in service for us and our salvation.  So, as the Church, and as leaders in the Church, we are called to lives of service, offering up and laying down our lives in service to the world He loves and came to save.  So, “servant leadership” is one part of our calling, not just the few who are called to serve as officers but every one of us as members of the Body of Christ.

This morning in the series of ordination questions we asked, one in particular stands out to me.  “Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?”  That is what we are asking them to do, to lead us by serving us, with energy, intelligence, imagination and love, and in order for them to do that they need, not only the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit, but also our prayerful support and encouragement.  So, as they do their part, let us also commit to doing our part.

When the Pilgrim community was first being established on this continent Bishop Robinson was their spiritual leader.  As he assumed that responsibility the advice he gave those people is timeless and true when he said, “Follow me, but only so far as I follow Christ.”

So, speaking directly to our Deacons and Elders this morning, as you find yourself asking, “Who am I to lead?  I assure you, we assure you, you are.  You are exactly the one God has chosen by His Spirit through the voice of this Church.  So lead us faithfully and prayerfully, with energy, intelligence, imagination and love, and we will follow you as you seek to follow Christ.  Amen.