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Thursday, July 19, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: II Samuel 7:1-14a AND Psalm 89:20-37 OR Jeremiah 23:1-6 AND Psalm 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday have gotten me to thinking about leadership.

The reading from II Samuel leads up to the revelation that it is David’s son, Solomon, not David, who will build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. (II Samuel 7:12-13) I can never read this passage without recalling its parallel in I Chronicles 28. In that version of the story, David gathers his leaders and says, “Hear me, my brothers and my people. I had planned to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God; and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for my name, for you are a warrior and have shed blood.’” (I Chronicles 28:1-3) A leader here is judged by, among other things, his ability to bring peace rather than conflict.

The message of the epistle reading from Ephesians is similar. Jesus’ work among us is to bring peace among groups which tend to define one another as enemies. The work of a leader who adopts Jesus as his model is the breaking down of dividing walls. (Ephesians 2:13-14) “ . . . he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (vs. 17) It may even be that in Ephesians we see the true nature of the temple that is to be built. In Jesus, “the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (vss. 21-22)

Going back to II Samuel, we notice that a good deal of time is devoted to a discussion of whether God really needs a temple. When David begins to think about building a house for God, God reminds him that he did not have a house when they were in the wilderness, and he was with them. (II Samuel 7:6-9) In asking about leadership in the church, one might consider whether it is first and foremost being used to maintain a structure (physical and organizational) or is it being used to strengthen and enable people in the living and serving?

One of my mentors back in the days when I served on the national staff of the American Baptist Churches, some 50 or so years ago, was Jitsuo Morikawa, who helped many in the church rethink its mission. In 1961, he wrote a little booklet entitled Pastors for a Servant People. Edwin Tuller, then Executive of the American Baptist Churches, wrote this in a “Foreword” to Morikawa’s book: “In common with the mood of the day, today’s pastors are under the pressure of ‘bigness.’ They are tempted to become mere ‘organization men.’ Such was not the case in the early church. Leaders in those days were not so much concerned with organization, statistics, and budget growth as they were with ‘mission.’ . . . That ‘mission’ was not confined to a church building, or even to ‘the church in the home.’ It had to do with the message and conduct of Christians wherever they were—at home, in business, school, community.”

Shepherding, especially in the church, has been seen as one way to describe the role of a leader. A leader is a shepherd to his or her flock. Psalm 23, the familiar shepherd Psalm, is one of the lectionary readings for the week. It describes in some detail the nurturing, caring, protecting role of the shepherd.

At one point, I was taught that real life shepherds walked behind the sheep making sure to watch for the stragglers. That view of the shepherd has since been challenged. Some apparently lead by walking in front to be sure the way ahead is safe. Going in front or walking behind need not be two exclusive ways of “leading.” Both provide perspective on the tasks of leadership.

In either case, good shepherds are needed. Jeremiah reminds us that there are shepherds who bring division and scatter the flock. (Jeremiah 23:2) In our national life these days, it is sometimes difficult to know when our “shepherds” are leading us astray. Jeremiah speaks of a leader who “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land,” a hope and vision that came to be applied to the Messiah and then to Jesus. Leaders (both shepherds and kings) are judged by their ability to bring not only peace, but justice and righteousness.

In some cases, the people are wandering around as if they have no shepherd at all. Jesus heart was full of compassion for such people. (Mark 6:34) He extended himself to them beyond what could reasonably be expected, even when they followed him during a time of retreat. (See vss. 31-33 & 54-56) One vision of the Messiah saw him as a “suffering servant,” a title that came to be applied to Jesus. His mission was one of service to humanity. Peter preached about “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good . . .” (Acts 10:38) One measure of leadership seems to be compassion.

In the reading from II Samuel one might notice the passing reference to David’s history as a shepherd. The Lord says to him, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel.” (II Samuel 7:8) Is there an implied contrast here between the leadership of a shepherd and the leadership of a prince? Some have emphasized three models of leadership in the Old Testament—prophet, priest, and king. I would add suffering servant and shepherd—and I’m sure there are others.

Without analyzing all those different roles, I want to comment on debates that have gone on about “pastoral leadership” in my lifetime. I found an article, The Changing Landscape of Pastoral Leadership by Gregg S. Morrison of Beeson Divinity School, helpful in describing that debate.

Morrison begins with a story about a funeral he attended, the funeral of a pastor who probably came from my generation. "This dear man,” he writes, “was not only pastor of First Baptist Church; he was pastor to the whole town as well. Most mornings after eating breakfast in the local diner, he would walk down Main Street stopping in stores to say hello, waving to people on the street, listening to friends and neighbors as they shared their troubles. He loved people regardless of where or even if they went to church."

“Shortly after that memorial service,” Morrison says, “I read that church-growth guru George Barna has discovered that only 4 percent of pastors have the gift of leadership. Most, he claims, are gifted as shepherds, teachers, and preachers—but not as leaders. Leadership, he said, is primarily about indicating what direction to take.”

“Has the church simply given in to secular leadership theories,” Morrison asks, “that emphasize mission, vision, and empowerment to the exclusion of the timeless call of God to ‘feed my sheep’?”

Discerning and exercising the qualities of good leadership is no easy task. I’m thankful for the reading from Psalm 89 in which God seems to say to David that he will be with him through all things forever. He knows that David is not perfect, that David will make mistakes, but God’s steadfast love will remain forever. We still seek peace and justice and righteousness and compassion as we stumble along, sometimes like sheep without a shepherd, sometimes with a clamor of voices from “false’ shepherds. It is comforting to know that, behind it all, is the sustaining hand of a compassionate God.

The model for ministry when I was in seminary was that of the “suffering servant”—the leader who enables and equips people to carry out ministry beyond the walls of the church, outside the halls of congress—so that the entire body—the body politic and the Body of Christ—is built up and builds up the world. Pastors were sometimes seen as “suffering servants,” but the thesis of my mentor’s book, Pastors for a Servant People, is that we are all called to a servant ministry in this world. The call to be leaders is a call to all of us, clergy and laity, politician and citizen, to use our gifts in the service of all humanity, that the world may be built up and thrive as a place of peace and justice.

May it be so!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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