The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.John Stott
Over the past several weeks the sermon has been focused on Godly leadership as seen through the story of the prophet Samuel. At the beginning of each worship service during this series, I have chosen for the prelude slides several quotes on leadership that I thought captured the particular theme of the week. The quote above by John Stott has elicited the most interest from people. I agree…it’s a good one. I like it because, like most of Stott’s great quotes, it is simple and direct. It names the
problem and it proposes the solution so succinctly that it leaves little doubt in its truth. So, what is the problem that Stott names? The problem is that when we human beings ascend to leadership the temptation to abuse the power entrusted to us often proves to be too much, and we succumb. The intoxication of power can lead to everything from seemingly harmless unilateral decision making to overtly taking control of an enterprise.
Our ecclesiastical forefathers were also very concerned with power. As a result, our Presbyterian form of government is designed to curb the individual’s power in decision making and distribute that power equally among the elected leadership. Our
church is governed by “Elders gathered in councils.” That phrase is critical and should be the mantra of every Presbyterian as they go about the business of the church. Why? Because it is not just that we share decision making power but we are granted permission to exercise that power only when we are officially gathered as councils of the church. For example, when two members of Christian Education committee meet in the parking lot after church and discuss the best curriculum for summer adult education, they can come up with a lot of great ideas, but they cannot officially decide which curriculum to purchase until they bring the idea back to their “gathered council” (the CE committee’s meeting) who would then vote on the final decision.
This way of making decisions is definitely much slower than the two-step process of 1) make the decision, 2) buy the curriculum. For this reason, there are people in the church who have a very hard time serving on committees. Action-oriented people find the group decision making process to be excruciatingly painful and slow (and it is). So why do we do it? Well there are a lot of reasons, but the main one is this: the church belongs to God and not us. We believe that God rules the church through God’s Spirit, which is expressed through many voices and not just one. That is what sets Presbyterians apart from many of our Christian brothers and sisters from other denominations. And yes, it does slow us down, but it also keeps us all accountable to each other. In addition, it tethers us to humility and that, according to John Stott, is what makes Godly leadership Godly.
Blessings, Pastor Jen