What it Means to LEAD the Local Church, Part One

March 28, 2010

What it Means to LEAD the Local Church Part One: It Means Being a Servant to ALL
Mark 9:30-37
Sunday Morning March 28, 2010 Church in the Boro Rob Wilkerson Introduction: Leading means first learning to follow.
Most of the failures and scandals of leadership in the local church have come about because one or more persons did not feel that they were being recognized or appreciated as much as they themselves thought they should be. This is because pride is deeply rooted in the very DNA of every human being. Pride was the first sin committed by the first two human beings: they thought they knew more than God and came to believe it by listening to the most prideful being in all of history - Satan. Pride and superiority has been present in every church where I've attended or led. The desire to have other people listen to you and do what you say and to follow you is so tempting that I think I've met maybe two people in my entire lifetime who have not evidenced the slightest sign of it. Every other person has it written on their lives with giant invisible letters, and some with the ink of pride's stain running everywhere. 1. All biblical local church leaders are simply following THE Leader of all true churches. Therefore, if a person has not learned to follow Jesus Christ, he cannot lead the church of Jesus Christ. a. Jesus says following Him means denying oneself. b. Jesus also says following Him means taking up one's cross surrendering all rights, since a death penalty criminal has no rights. 2. All biblical local churches should have leadership, which is an extension of the leadership of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if a person is desiring to follow Jesus, they will do so by following their local church leadership.
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In Ephesians 4:11 and following we find the Apostle Paul teaching that when Jesus ascended to heaven He left behind gifts which He gave to His body, the church. These gifts are men who lead His body. They are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Jesus is the head of His church, but these gifts to the church represent His leadership and loving care to the church. The writer of Hebrews, therefore, sees it fitting to write in verse 7 that believers are to look to the example of a godly life set by their local church leaders, and imitate their faith. And in verse 17 they are taught to be persuaded by their leaders and submit to them because of the leadership and loving care they exercise over the souls of believers.
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What it Means to LEAD the Local Church, Part One

March 28, 2010

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Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonian church, written perhaps somewhere around the same time the writer of Hebrews wrote his letter, taught in chapter 5, verse 12 that believers were to respect in their body who worked hard among them as leaders who gave supervision to their lives and who admonished them and taught them. In verse 13 they are taught to hold these leaders in the highest regard because of the work they do. He ends this admonition by emphasizing the need for both believers and leaders to live in peace with one another, because there was then, just as there is today, strife and frustrations that occur due to the very nature of leadership itself. In his second epistle to the same church, Paul teaches the necessity of believers following the example of their leaders. "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example," emphasizing again the necessity of leadership in a local church, as well as a leadership that is worthy by example. Paul wrote three epistles - 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus - to pastors, teaching them how to lead and shepherd and supervise, and care for the souls God had given to them to care for. The fact that three entire letters of the twenty-six books of the NT focus on leadership shows us the focus God puts on this important role in the local church. James, the brother of Jesus, pastor of the church in Jerusalem, called himself a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The necessity of leadership in the local church is evidenced in this letter merely by the fact that pastor James was writing to the believers in his church, scattered because of persecution in the region. He writes to them to teach, admonish, encourage, exhort, reprove, rebuke, and correct. These are all functions of a leader in a local church. The same thing is reflected by the Apostle Peter who wrote two short letters to the people under his care, who were scattered around the region because of persecution. His letters dealt with all sorts of issues. And again, the mere fact of writing the letters that contain the things they do establish the necessity and pattern for the men Christ gave to His church t care for it carefully and diligently. Finally, the same is evidenced by the Apostle John who wrote the gospel of John, as well as three other smaller letters. Each of his smaller letters were written to believers in his church. The first letter challenged the faith of those who said they were Christians. The second letter warned the believers about those who were anti-christian. The third letter dealt with someone in his church who was trying to be pre-eminent and take control of things. Diotrophes was his name, and he was not a Christ-like example of a biblical leader. John writes that he "loves to be first" and that he would "have nothing to do with us." This is probably a reference to the fact that he stepped out of his place under the Apostle John and started leading instead of John, wanting to have a more prominent place in the local church. His attitude and lifestyle eventually led him to completely ignore the leadership Christ had put in place in that church. Diotrophes was guilty of "gossiping maliciously" about the leadership of the church, and went so far as to no longer welcome or receive some of the believers. And he went from bad to worse by kicking out of the church those believers who did welcome and receive the others. Contrast that with Demetrius whom John says "is well spoken of by everyone - and even the truth itself" and you have a godly example of leadership in the same local church.

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Transition: This sort of "power play" has, as you can see for yourself in the Bible, gone on for centuries. There will always be two groups in every local church scenario at some point in the history of that church (some churches with more of those points in history than others). The first group will be like the Paul's, John's, Peter's, James's, as well as other men like Timothy, Titus, Aristarchus, Demetrius, Epaphroditus, Timothies, Tituses, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Archippus - to name a few leaders in the early churches - etc. who love and care for the church. These are the types of men who clearly evidence that they are gifts given by Jesus Himself to His church. Then there are the others, men like Diotrophes, Hymaneaus, Alexander, Philetus, among others who are always so jealous and covetous of a place of leadership that they manipulate, gossip, slander, deceive, and do whatever they can to ultimately gain control for themselves. These are the ones whom Paul spoke of in his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. They were men who would rise up from among their own group and like ravenous wolves devour the flock, meaning they would use the flock however they could for their own means and ends. As one pastor and author has written, "It is the false leader who is so insecure in his relationship with God and with others that he must compensate by unscriptural domination and dictatorship over God's people" (Frank Dimazio, The Making of a Leader, p. 27). He then adds the churches of Thyatira, Ephesus, and Pergamum as those allowing a type of leadership that was something akin to the wicked, dictatorial, controlling queen Jezebel in the OT, as well as a type of leadership flowing from the teachings of a group called the Nicolaitans, whose very name domineeringly meant "victorious and triumphant over the people" (p. 28). Then the author writes appropriately that "It is also true that those who dictate imposition of their position upon others usually find it very difficult to submit to anyone themselves" (p. 29). Sounds like that Diotrophes fellow in 3 John again. The difference between the two groups of leaders is that the first group became leaders because they learned how to follow. The second group did not learn how to follow, but only faked it until they had an opportunity to seize leadership for themselves. This makes following Jesus the most significant factor in a leader's life. And the Bible teaches plainly throughout that following Jesus is primarily reflected in true humility and true servanthood, both of which are the essence of true following. Augustine, one of the more famous early church theologians who pastored in the 400's, said that this "text teaches that discipleship grows first by a downward, lowly movement, as a tree seeking roots, in order to then reach skyward. Observe a tree, how it first trends downwards, that it may then shoot forth upwards. It fastens its root low in the ground that it may send forth its top toward heaven. Is it not from humility that it endeavors to rise? But without humility it will not attain to higher things. You are wanting to grow up into the air without a root. Such is not growth, but a collapse" (The Gospel of John, Sermon 38. ACCS, Mark, p. 126-127).

Focus: Leading means being the greatest slave and servant of all...to all.
This is something Jesus modeled all of His life for the disciples. And it's also something He taught His disciples several times (Matt. 20:26-27; Mark 9:30-37; 10:43-44; Luke 9:48b; 14:11; 18:14; cf. Job 22:29; Prov. 29:23; Isa. 57:15; Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). Each time He taught it, a different aspect was demonstrated. In the episode found in Mark 9 we read: "And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all'" (v. 35). Leaders in general are prone to a greater degree of temptation to vanity and selfish ambition than any other person. Church leaders are even more tempted with it because the enemy is working even harder
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to stop the local church. If he can get a leader to think more about himself than about Jesus, his plans than Jesus' plans, his vision rather than Jesus' vision, then Satan has the upper hand in the local church. This is the reason, no doubt, that the famous 5th century church pastor, Chrysostom preached once, "The disciplines of humility are most pertinent to those most prone to vanity" (ACCS, Mark, p. 126). 1. Godly leaders will not quarrel and fight and argue with one another in an effort to be more

noticed by others, to gather a following, to be more popular, or to exercise their own selfish ambition. Instead, godly leaders focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
This is just what the disciples missed in this episode. They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:30-34)
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Notice FIRST that Jesus asked them what they were talking about not because He wanted to know, but because He wanted to reprove them. Similar to many of God's questions to us, like the one asked to Adam and Eve in the garden ("Adam, where are you?" Genesis 3:9). God asks questions, not because He needs information, but because the question itself rings in our heads and hearts with His truth which convicts, comforts, and conforms us. So a regular question I entertain in my own soul, due to God's own asking, are similar questions which I would encourage you to listen for also:
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What are you thinking about? Why are you thinking about that? Is it for yourself, or King Jesus and His church? What are you talking about? Why are you talking about that? Is it for yourself, or King Jesus and His church? What are you reading? Why are you reading about that? Is it for yourself, or King Jesus and His church? What direction are you trying to take? Why are you trying to go there? Is it for yourself, or King Jesus, and His church?

These questions are crucial, because they will reveal the genuine motivation behind what you're doing. And if your soul is quieted before God, He will ask you similar questions to test you, to get you to measure yourself by what you know is true. "It would do us good to bring our ambitions and desires and plans constantly into the presence of lowly Jesus, and test them there" (J. D. Jones, Commentary on Mark, p. 316).

2. Godly leaders will see themselves as tenderhearted servants to everyone, rather than an ambitious savior of anyone.
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms,

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he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." (Mark 9:36-37)
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Notice SECOND, that Jesus models humility in leadership as much by what He did not say, as by what He did.
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He did not get on to them, rebuke them, belittle them, or wipe the dirt from His feet with them verbally. The disciples were calloused, cold, selfishly ambitious, and concerned with the wrong things altogether. They were insensible to the agony and suffering and grief He just described for them that He would be going through very soon. And they were quick to turn their minds from the needs of their Master to their own selfish desires. The mostly likely reason for this is because any discussion about Jesus dying meant, at least in their minds, an open slot in leading all the others. Someone would surely have to take His spot, after all. So who would it be? Or, another probability which we get from other similar stories in other gospels, was also that they were arguing about who would get to sit at Jesus' right hand - a symbol of power and authority - when Jesus brought His kingdom to earth. But Jesus ignored all of this, thus ignoring Himself, and instead simply taught the disciples the truth that would change them. True leadership, then, is modeled in humility by investing yourself more in the needs of others than in your own need to be defended even when you are wronged.

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Notice THIRD, that Jesus thinks that this issue is probably more important than any other issue for a leader. Why? Because He sits down. In a western culture, teachers stand up and students sit down when an important lesson needs to be taught. In an eastern culture, students stand up and teachers sit down. This was especially the case in a Jewish culture where Rabbis were teachers. When a Rabbi sat down, this was always the public sign that he was about to say something extremely important, perhaps more important than other things he might say when he's walking along the way.
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In fact, for Jesus to sit down after asking the disciples what they were thinking about, combined in their minds to indicate that they really, really needed to hear this. And you can probably imagine accurately what they must have been feeling about themselves inside. They were probably thinking, "Oh dang we've really done it this time. What's He gonna say to us now? What the heck have we done?!!!" Their consciences were struck hard and Jesus sitting down to talk to them may have been somewhat humiliating as was proper for someone in their position. The lesson in this episode? "Their idea of what it means to be 'great' must be changed; in fact, radically reversed" (William Hendrickson, NTC, Mark, p. 357). "True greatness does not consist in this, that from a towering height a person, in a self-congratulatory manner, has the right now to look down upon all others but in this, that he immerses himself in the needs of others, sympathizes with them and helps them in every way possible.

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Notice FOURTH, that Jesus thinks counter-cultural about leadership: they are servants and not saviors. There's only one Servant. And even HE referred to Himself as a servant, One who came not to be served, but to serve. Servants are the ones who get the "grunt-work." You know that work absolutely NO one else wants to do. Servants clean up after animals, change diapers, clean
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toilets, slave over a hot stove, tend to wounds, wash clothes. Basically they just clean up after people and do the dirty work. They are the first to get out of bed, and the last to go to bed. Basically, being a servant in Jesus' day sucked. Ironically, however, Jesus said a servant in His kingdom would be the person most honored in the kingdom.
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Notice FIFTH that Jesus measures their ability to lead by the selfless attention they give to those who have needs. That's why He picked up a child. Because He's about to illustrate the "all" He just referenced when He taught that "Whoever wants to be the greatest among you, must be the servant to all." The focus here in Jesus' teaching is on that phrase, "servant of all." Leaders must be servants of everyone. You see, in the disciples' minds, leading was about getting everyone to serve YOU. But in Jesus' kingdom, leading is being a servant TO everyone. One commentator expressed it this way: "The lowliest in the kingdom of God should receive the purest sympathy and consideration. This is the most disinterested and unselfish service" (J. R. Thomson, The Gospel According to Mark, Pulpit Commentary, 19:2,25). Kinds of reminds me of verses like James 1:27 where we find true religion defined as helping widows and orphans in their time of need, referring to two specific groups of humans who usually get neglected by society and churches.
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Now, there are several Greek words for child and the one behind this occurrence is paideia, which is usually a reference to a baby. What better example of someone who is in constant need than a baby? They simply cannot help themselves. They only know playing, sleeping, eating, and pooping. They have to be tended to constantly. And what makes it all so frustrating is that caring for children makes one prone to think they are doing a lot of pointless work. I mean come on! Where is all this cleaning, feeding, and caring really getting us? Right? And of course we ultimately know how stupid that makes us look when we think things like that. But we all tend to, don't we? Because when you're in the midst of doing menial, attention-less hard work like caring for babies, it's easy to lose focus on the fact that this kind of work really does matter to the baby, to us, and to everyone! Church in the Boro has on average about 35 kids in this building on a given Sunday, right now. Many of those are babies. God wants us to see them as Jesus saw them: regular examples of what leaders ought to be doing with their lives caring for those in need. So for those of you who want to lead, and for everyone of us in this local church, let's do everything in our power to forget all about our position, our rank, our place of ministry, our pre-eminence, our prominence and instead focus all our energy, time, and resources on helping anyone, everyone, even if it's just one, whether it's a baby like Jesus is holding in His arms in this story or whether anyone else of any age, size, shape, and color. Also, look how Jesus welcome and received the child. He personally picked up the child and the Bible says He held them in His arms. The Greek here carries the idea of the fact that He picked them up and wrapped His arms around the child, embracing him, and perhaps even holding His face up close to theirs, as we like to do so often. It feels so soft, so warm, so tender. Children bring out the baby in us all. They soften our hearts. They warm our hearts. They have the tendency to soften even the hardest person. And this is exactly the effect Jesus' illustration is to have on us. True leaders welcome and receive people as armfuls of Jesus Himself! That's why we welcome each other here with warm embraces. A welcome carries with it a warmth that can only be communicated with an embrace.

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And this kind of welcome sets the stage for how we think of that other person. Jesus wants us to think of that person as someone just as needy as the baby He took in His arms. They are to have our full attention, just like a baby does. They are to have all our love and care, just like a baby does. So it seems the two things Jesus is trying to get across to His disciples, to us, and especially to leaders, is that we are first, to be a servant who attends to the every need and care of everyone regardless of their age, and second, we are to attend to the every need and care for everyone as we would a baby, giving them our full attention filled with warmth and tenderheartedness. This is just exactly the way Jesus led. When you lead like Jesus, in true humility and servanthood, this will have two effects in our local church.  First, it will bless those we are trying to help, by meeting their needs, bettering their lives, making them love Jesus more.  Second, it will bless leaders by making us more childlike, which is the attribute Jesus wants in us the most. It will make us less distracted by the vanity and pride of life, like David in Psalm 131:1-2. "My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me" (Hawker, The Poor Man's NT Commentary, 1: 266).

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Notice SIXTH, when leaders lead this way, it puts a spotlight and a magnifying glass on who and what Jesus Christ is really like, pointing people's attention to HIM, rather than to us. This why Jesus said what He did to them. " Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me" (Mark 9:37).
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Jesus puts an inseparable connecting point here between Himself and children, as He did in so many other places throughout the gospels. They are very closely related in His mind and teachings. Jesus came to the earth to be a servant, a slave to those in need, to those with all kinds of needs, but especially for our greatest need. In Jesus' mind, then, when we welcome, or receive a baby, we are welcoming and receiving their Savior and ours, Jesus Christ. And when we help a baby, or anyone else for that matter, we are helping Jesus. Further, when we are helping anyone from the cradle to the grave, we are also bringing the help of Jesus to them. So our humility is best reflected in our helping anyone who has needs, welcoming then and receiving them into our lives, which both shows what the humility of Jesus is like for sinners in need of Him, and brings that help of Jesus into a living color reality in our lives. And because Jesus Himself is inseparable from the Father, to welcome and receive a child or anyone else in the same manner is also welcoming and receiving the Father Himself. To receive a child in the name of Jesus is to receive Jesus which is at the same time to receive the Father. This seems to place the ministry of leadership squarely in terms of fathering then, doesn't it? Jesus + a child as illustration + reference to receiving the Heavenly Father seems to =
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leadership in terms of spiritual fathering. Jesus said that we could know that whatever we saw Him doing the Father is doing. And whatever Jesus is like is what the Father is like. So if Jesus is loving a child this way, and through the illustration loving His disciples this way, then the Father is also. This is another is a series of reflections of fathering we see from Jesus as loving, gentle, humble, meek, kind, tenderhearted fathering of people who for the most part could be rather difficult kind of like children.
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This is terribly convicting for me personally, to be transparently honest here. When we think of dealing with children - especially those who are difficult - it makes us cringe. It's easy to love kids who aren't difficult, but who have a mild manner about them. It's harder to love more difficult kids. I wouldn't say my children are difficult, for the most part. But my neighborhood is filled with difficult kids, and my heart tends to react to them many times, and I want to put them out of my yard and my life. But then I see Jesus, loving this baby, this toddler in Mark 9. And then I seem Him using the child as an illustration of how He's fathering and loving these difficult disciples - acting like adult babies - and He's so gentle with them. And am so not gentle, too often I fear. Yet this is the model of leadership I deeply desire and find so attractive and beautiful. And I think what is so awesome is that He keeps treating me this way, placing as much confidence and hope in me as He did in His own disciples, because the same Holy Spirit of God is living in me as was living in them. So Jesus continues to be patient, kind, gentle and tender with me, winning me over winning me away from the fleshly-acting Rob, so that I can model for my children, the children in my neighborhood, the parents in my neighborhood, and those whom I lead here what Jesus is really like. Thank you for displaying the same patience of the heavenly Father with me!

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"To summarize: instead of asking, 'Who among us is the greatest?' the followers of Jesus should learn to focus their loving attention on Christ's little ones, that is, on the lambs of the flock an don all those who in their condition of need and trustful dependence resemble these lambs. Such is the essence of true greatness, the greatness that reflects the same quality which in an infinite degree resides in God (Isa. 57:15)" (Hendrickson, Mark, p. 360). " the highest excellence in the kingdom of God is his who abases and forgets himself altogether in the benefit and advancement of others" (J. R. Thomson, The Gospel According to Mark, Pulpit Commentary, 19:2,25) If you want to lead in this local church, the real "secret" of leadership is buried in service. If you want to lead, you'll rise to leading others by being a servant to them. You win the hearts of others by caring for the hearts of others. If you want to lead in this local church, you'll start by serving in the most menial ways, and work your way up to serving in the more public ways. Be faithful with little and you'll be given much more to be faithful with.

Conclusion: True leadership is found in the beauty of Jesus as a servant to all mankind.
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Though He was rich, He became poor for OUR sakes! He took on the form of a servant, and became obedient, even to death on a cross.
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The Son of man didn't come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom. The Spirit of the Lord was upon the Chief Shepherd-Servant-Leader, Jesus Christ do one thing: "preach the good news to the poor to proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19). Notice the type of people Jesus came to serve, and this is what makes Him and His leadership so beautiful: the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Largely, the most neglected members of any society. Basically, Jesus came to be a slave to the slaves, a servant to the servants. This is the Jesus I seek to know and follow. And this is the Jesus that anyone who seeks leadership in this local church must learn to seek and follow before leading anyone.

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