“Look to Christ for Leadership!”
Matthew 23: 1-12
November 5th, 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words of scripture, as Jesus spoke to the crowds, taken from the gospel account according to Matthew, chapter 23, verses 1-12.”
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
“Allow these words to enter into your heart, as-well-as your ears; as together, we seek out their meaning for us modern Christians.”
“Look to Christ for Leadership!”
In today’s world there are all types of people in leadership roles. Some of these leaders are strong and some are weak. Others are creative, inspirational and dynamic; while others are ineffective, callous and arrogant. Because of the diversity of leaders throughout the world, within the time-period in which we live, we as a people are facing some hard facts and hard choices! The world we live in has more than its share of urgent situations. Therefore, we have many challenges that are facing us as individuals and as a society. If we are to move forward as a nation, as a community and as a church, we shall need to focus on the quality of leadership we are supporting. What examples shall we leave for the next generations, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren, to follow. We can get started by focusing on how we support the concepts of leadership here in our church.
Thankfully, we as a church have been blessed with good lay leadership. Since I have been your Pastor, beginning four years ago this week, the importance of lay leadership has never been more important. In the history of this faith community, I am the first “part time” Pastor “called” to fill your ‘long term’ pastoral position. This unique halftime pastoral covenant between RUCC and myself has elevated the importance of all of you, the worshipers, the members and friends of this faith fellowship. All, here gathered, constitute the congregation of this our church. This has elevated everyone’s opportunities to become active in the day to day roles and workings of this our local church. In so doing, we are invited to follow the teachings and examples set for us by Jesus. By following this ‘calling’ we are fully embracing the roles of a disciple, a follower of Christ!
There are a multitude of ways to become more involved in a ministry. And no, not everyone need to aspire to be the moderator of this fellowship. Yet, many are needed in a large range of leadership functions. Starting with simply things like helping with coffee hour or participating in helping in the church office. If you are wanting to get more involved talk with someone who is currently serving on one of our five ministry teams. If you do not know what those are ask someone to explain them to you. Ministries take on different roles: Christian Education, Outreach, Operations, Resources and Spiritual. Have you considered signing up to be a worship leader, or to bring in some snacks for our time of fellowship after church? Are you willing to participate in the music ministry of this church or get involved in the Compassion team? We need someone to do simple, yet vital things like sweep and vacuum floors, take out the trash once a week. Or maybe you are computer savvy and willing to help with some of the technical needs of putting together our weekly bulletin, or helping to manage the slides on display every Sunday… on these two screens we all look to throughout our worship service. Or maybe you want to increase your financial support, so we can finally hire a new sexton, a janitor and start looking for an Administrative Assistant to run our church office. This church is only as strong as you are willing to help it be.
For the past twenty-three years, I have been an ordained Christian Pastor. During these years I have worked with various volunteer leaders in seven different church settings; when I add on the four years I was in training and then when I served as an Interim Pastor. My point is: there are some basic qualities that good leaders have, of which I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed. (And conversely, I have witnessed some less than adequate leadership skills as well.) Here in our church, it is imperative that we all remember whom we are called to serve and what our ultimate purpose is. These are basic guidelines for any level of leadership from the top position of our national government – to the simplest leadership tasks here within our humble church, here in Palm Bay Florida. As we begin to consider what it takes to step-up and take the lead in getting needed things accomplished, let’s first take a closer look at our morning’s scripture lesson. Here we can seek out some clues and see if we can learn something from these words attributed to Jesus’ teachings. We will perhaps learn what are the qualities we might want to consider as we contemplate what roles we as individuals might fill, within the structure of our society and even here in our own church.
Jesus begins by talking about those that are in leadership roles within the structure of Judaism during that time-period. In verse three Jesus tells us: “do whatever they teach you and follow it;” (Jesus is referring to the Pharisees.) “but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” Pretty strong criticism coming from Jesus of these religious leaders. First, he says to listen to them as they are teaching the lessons passed onto to them in scripture from Moses, yet stops there and says to us “but do not do as they do!” Sounds like Jesus is saying that the Pharisees do not walk like they talk, which makes them hypocrites! Ouch! This is certainly not a trait we want in anyone who takes on any level of leadership role around our church! Praise God there are none of these in our fellowship! Clearly, Jesus is telling us it is good to teach good things, but the teacher needs to follow the same teachings in their own daily tasks of life, thus setting a good example for others to follow. It is kind of like telling a child not to litter the streets with candy wrappers, instructing them instead to pick up any trash or junk already discarded and dispose of it properly; but then turn around and toss our empty coffee cup into the street or the neighbors bushes!
“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” /Matthew 23:4/ Here Jesus is again pointing out what those who lead, teach or instruct others ought not do. If you want to set a good example for others to follow, you must work alongside of those you are asking to do a task. When the operation committee asks us to gather on a Saturday morning to beautify our church grounds, their leadership is always present, helping to get things done while instructing others on the things which need to get done. That is good leadership!
Of course, we all know: the ultimate uniqueness of church leaders begins with being volunteers. As volunteers one must accept the fact there are no pay checks with your name on it. However, being a volunteer whom has the joy of seeing his or her committee or ministry flourish, the rewards are unlimited! And the harsh reality for the vast-majority-of churches in our society is that without volunteers most churches would be forced to close their doors! This is clearly not a situation we wish to find ourselves in. Therefore, it is important that we set realistic goals and realistic expectations of and for all our leaders, at every level of our church structure. If we can learn how to do this in our church, maybe we can learn how to do the same in other settings within the community, the social system and nation in which we live!
Not wanting to leave anyone out of this discussion, let me point out that every task, every responsibility that requires a person’s attention and subsequent action is important. And let me reassure you, everyone is seen and observed by someone. Even if you think you are not in leadership, simply because you were not elected to a post or given a title, let me assure you someone is going to follow your example, your lead; whether it be a positive or a negative. It is important that we all realize that everyone needs a leader, a mentor or at least some one to look up to. Who is it – that is looking to you… for that role in their lives?
In our scripture this morning it is Jesus whom is being observed. What kind of leader was Jesus? Leadership qualities: Practice what you preach. Walk like you talk. Have integrity. Have a willingness to see a project through to the end. Be committed to the common cause. Leaders need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and work alongside those who follow their instructions. What leadership skills did the Israelites expect of their long-expected Messiah, the promised Savior whom prophets foretold?
A savior to rescue them from the hands of their oppressors? Was he to be a conquering king or a spiritual leader? From way back there in biblical times, some of these questions had answers which really confused folks. But from our vantage point here in the Twenty-First Century we know Jesus was coming to show us the way and teach us, through his example how to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He was showing us the way to heaven and teaching us the will of God. Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself for our salvation. Thankfully, this is not always asked of us modern Christians. Yet, committing to help and become part of a team, to get things done, is something it seems Jesus would want of us.
We must realize that God will look-into our hearts and see where and to whom or what our allegiances, our loyalties and commitments are. Our doctrines may be well written and taught, which is good, but we shall be judged based on how we truly live our lives. One cannot teach one thing and do another. Nor can we ask others to do tasks we ourselves are not ready and willing to do also. Let us pray that none of us become like the corrupted Pharisees and religious leaders whom Jesus spoke of in our lesson this morning. Let us ‘keep it simple’, let us look to Jesus for leadership, taking one task at a time. Doing it well and reaching out through ‘our example’ to teach the next generation what it takes to get the job done.