After seeing the title of this message on the display board outside, I think we need to start with a disclaimer: I am not the master of all things leadership. Are we clear? Just so no leaves here thinking that Brandon believes he is the leadership master, Jesus is the master, not me. One of the United Methodist Churches four goals worldwide over the next few years is to develop principled Christian leaders. We are going to explore the life of Jesus this morning to see how he leads and learn how that might affect how we in turn lead others because, friends, we all lead and are an example to someone.
I was on Facebook a while back and admired a quote that one of my friends had as their status update. Now, for those of us who do not use Facebook, it is essentially an Internet tool people use to primarily keep in touch with friends they see all the time. To which some people respond, why don’t you just call them or go visit them instead of updating a web page? Good point. I don’t have a good answer for you. At any rate, my friend’s Facebook status, a quote from John Wesley, said this: “You do not make yourself holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.” To which I responded, Amen, right on brother!
Not everyone agreed. Someone responded this: that is a nice sentiment but where does it say that in the Bible? Now, I was in, let’s call it a feisty mood when I replied and said this in response: see the life of Jesus. Period. Granted, that probably was not the best or most helpful way to respond but it is done. The next response from the friend was this: Jesus doesn’t count. What?? What do you mean Jesus doesn’t count?! This man was stating that we can never be like Jesus because he is God and we cannot hope to match what he did. Therefore, Jesus doesn’t count.
While on the one hand that is a true statement (we will not die for the sins of the whole world), Jesus does model for us an example of how to live our lives each day. He takes time out to pray and to be with God but he spends a large bulk of his time with the world’s hurting people who are in need of a touch of the God who loves and created them. I would argue Jesus most certainly matters, especially in the area of how we conduct ourselves, live our lives, and in particular today, how we develop new leaders.
If I was going to put together a business that I wanted to thrive and to grow quickly, I would find the best experts in the field, the best salespeople, managers, organizers, visionaries, to get the best possible start and best possible chance for long-term growth. And I don’t think anyone of you would disagree with me. We would assume that Jesus followed this same model for starting his movement that would grow from 12 disciples to nearly 2 billion followers 2000 years later in the world today, right?
We couldn’t be more wrong. By all modern standards, the Jesus movement should have died when he did and we should have never heard the name Jesus. He had fishermen, a tax collector, political revolutionaries from different sides, and siblings in his core of 12 disciples. By all modern standards, they should have ripped each other apart. Imagine a far-left Democrat and a far-right Republican with independents, some other less mainstream options, and some people who couldn’t care less. This is who Jesus picks for his dream team to change the world. What is he thinking?!
By his selection of followers, Jesus shows us the first principle of developing leaders: leaders are not always who we EXPECT. One thing that has always fascinated me about the disciples is just how fast they were to follow him. When we see Jesus calling the disciples, they do not know Jesus from Adam, and they immediately drop their nets and follow him. Why is that? To comprehend why that is, you need to understand how key education was in Jesus’ day.
Education was survival; they were a people occupied by an outside force and to lose their faith, resting in the first few books of the Old Testament would not have been possible. So, they began to educate their children at age 6 and by age 10, most of them would have memorized the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This memorization was important because the printing press would not be created for 1400 years and each town was lucky if they had one set of the five books.
At age 10 those who showed promise to follow in a rabbi’s footsteps would continue while the others would move on to family trade. This is where Jesus’ first disciples come in; they were not good enough, not smart enough, to continue their education and ended up working in the family business instead of following in the footsteps of a rabbi. Those that were smart enough memorized the entire Old Testament, all 39 books, and learned much commentary and history behind each book and individual passages. Eventually, at about age 14 or 15, they become the disciple of a rabbi to not just learn from them but to be like them, to be them once the rabbi has died. If you were not following in the footsteps of the rabbi, working in your family business, you would likely be married and possibly have children already.
So Jesus does not pick the best and the brightest but the dropouts, those who couldn’t cut it. All Jesus seems to require of them was their availability, desire, and a willingness to learn. That’s it. And that is all Jesus requires of us today as well. If you truly desire to walk in the way of this rabbi, Jesus asks for our availability, all our desire, and a willingness to learn and unlearn some things that we have been taught.
If you have ever been in a place to choose a leader for a team or a new employee, have you seriously entertained the candidate you didn’t think could cut it? I know I’ve defaulted to choose the people who have their act together, who are more mature than their peers, and show promise for leadership. As far as we know, Jesus did not have any kind of litmus test for the 12 disciples. What might we be missing out by picking the best and the brightest?
Jesus is certainly not anti-education; he is their rabbi, their master, their teacher. He and the disciples go on a three-journey of eating, sleeping, dialoguing and living together. You see a picture of Jesus and the disciples in all four Gospels of a group that were learning what is the most important stuff of life. They watched Jesus as he taught large and small groups, interacted with some of the most powerful people in his day to those who could not believe a rabbi was talking to them, much less meeting some of their deepest needs.
This brings us to our second principle for developing leaders: leaders set the EXAMPLE. We see this quite clearly on our Scripture for the morning. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, something only a lowly servant was expected to do. He does this act as a very powerful object lesson that those who desire to lead in Jesus’ movement are know by how they serve other people, especially those that Jesus showed particular favoritism towards: the poor, the lonely, the outcasts, and the rejects of society.
How are we doing this morning in setting the example found in the pitcher and bowl? Some of you may be sitting there this morning thinking I’m not a leader. Guess what: we are all leaders and someone is watching us for an example of how to live life. Whether it is parents serving as the example for children, teachers serving students, or even you unknowingly serving as the example for the neighbor kid who you don’t even notice, someone is watching. Are we modeling the kinds of attitudes that Jesus shows us in the passage, to serve everyone just as he did? It doesn’t matter what we do for a day job, we could be a pastor, a professor, or a college president, but we still are called to serve each other just as Christ served all.
I think the image of the bowl and pitcher, for whatever reason, carry with it a kind of passive attitude; some people think well, if I have to serve others, then I can’t be a very outgoing or proactive leader. Is that how Jesus operated? We have story after story of Jesus serving others but also calling out the religious leaders in his day of missing the boat, of not doing their jobs of meeting people’s needs. He even gets quite angry and overturns the tables in the temple from time to time. There are times when the call is to serve others in the background; but, there are times to serve others, to set the example, we are called to speak loudly, to engage, to change a broken system, and maybe do a little redecorating and rearranging.
Jesus spends and invests so much time in these 12 disciples because they will be the hope for the movement once he is gone. Christianity is always one generation away from ceasing to exist. Without telling and teaching other people what Jesus has done for us, corporately and in our own lives, followers of Jesus would simply vanish. As we focus time on finding and training new leaders, we never stop make even more leaders which is our third principle: leaders make OTHER LEADERS.
For a number of reasons, the United Methodist Church has lost this emphasis over the past few decades, especially in the area of training and equipping new pastors. Today, there are roughly 17,520 active full pastors across the UMC in the US. Guess what percent are under 35 years of age? 5%, just under 900 pastors. The average age of a UM pastor: 55 years old. That is a problem since 876 pastors are in no way going to make up for a very large amount of the baby boomer generation that has already begun to retire. The UMC has begun a push to recruit more pastors but one thing seems certain: more and may lay people, regular church folks, will be stepping up into leadership roles. We are being forced as a church into the role of making other leaders.
And that is not a bad thing at all. We will be living out our belief that we are all pastors, not just those of us with seminary training. Gone are the days of the superhero pastor. It some churches it used to be that the pastor did it all: worship leader, hospital visitor, home visitor, opening the church, weddings, funerals, lawn work, you name it. This kind of attitude only breeds pastoral burnout and sets unrealistic standards. We are beginning to move beyond it.
However, my seminary experience still felt a bit like I have to do everything in the church. My graduate work prepared me to be a great generalist: a little bit of theology, counseling, visiting, worship leading, preaching, and history. My “focus area”, preaching, had a whopping three courses in it. Three. Is that really enough to be considered a focus?
I hope seminaries soon catch up with what other churches around the country are doing as well as what are trying to do at DWU. We need to allow people to serve from their place of strength, that which they are most passionate and driven about, and let the rest be picked up by other people. Are we still signing people up to teach Sunday School or serve a dinner or work on a committee because we need warm bodies to fill the slots? Or are we plugging passionate teachers, fantastic cooks, and great administrators onto committees? It may very well mean some spots go unfilled for a time but that’s okay. Because we are not looking for warm bodies but passionate, talented people to do God’s work in all areas of church life.
This brings us to our fourth principle on developing leaders: leaders know their SWEET SPOT. Leaders that are aware of the gifts and talents that they bring to the table know they can do quite a few things, but only one or two things really well. Even if you love your job, as I do, you know there are things on your job description you do because they are there, not because you love to do them. We still have only one or two things we are fantastic at.
There is a great story in the book of Acts when the disciples of Jesus encountered this attitude of doing-it-all. Jesus has returned to Heaven, after coming back for a short time after the resurrection, and the church is growing quickly. The disciple are not only preaching and telling the story about Jesus but trying to manage other areas of church life as well, like making sure the widows in the movement were taken care of.
After much discussion, here is what they finally conclude about their situation of burnout: So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word” (Acts 6:2-4 NLT). It is not that teaching the word of God is better than running a food program. Far from it! Their sweet spot was not organization but teaching God’s word as they had been trained to do by the rabbit, the master.
Have you seen how far these school dropouts have come? They are leading a movement of the Holy Spirit, learning how to delegate on the fly because the church is growing so quickly. In fact, by the time they die, they have given the church a structure that allows rapid expansion. Between 100 AD and 300 AD, the church grows from 25,000 followers to 250 million followers. To put that in perspective that is 3000 new followers every day for 200 years. Did you catch that? 3000 new followers every single day for 200 years. In modern terms, that is opening a new megachurch every single day.
And God chose to do it through people, through leaders who were not always the obvious choice, but they did set the example, made other leaders and focused on their sweet spot. God still chooses to use people today, you and me to shape this world. May we be a people that chooses to say yes when God calls us to lead and to follow in the footsteps of our master. Let’s pray together…