"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you." – Hebrews 13.17
Two things happened Jan. 14th. First and most importantly, we ordained and installed new officers. This year we have the privilege of ordaining four new officers: two deacons and two elders. The second, less important thing was that the Vikings won their playoff game in spectacular fashion. As difficult as it may be to grasp, these two events are related.
Ordaining and bringing new leadership to a church is significant. A wise pastor friend once said to me that one can not change anything if none of the variables are changed. When churches move into decline the leadership pool shrinks and the same leaders are recycled at higher rates. This leads to a higher burnout rate and less creatively simply because these leaders are tired. Add to that the anxiety which is the reality of overseeing a declining institution and the result is a perfect recipe for an ever more rapid decline. This is the trap that the vast majority of congregations within North America face. First Presbyterian Church is certainly not special or outstanding in this effect. All this to say, when two new Elders are ordained it produces a real pushback to this trend and thankfully, this year, the Spirit was gracious to us by calling two individuals to answer the call to Elder for the first time.
Please understand I am not saying anything negative about the leadership of this congregation in the past. Any leader in any church today is not combating flesh and blood but powers and principalities. Our culture has been experiencing a completely unprecedented rate of change and transformation. Every single institution in existence has been struggling to keep up. Many of these institutions are lead by highly paid, educated professionals and they are struggling. What does that say about the likelihood of success for a group of volunteers who effectively are leading something in their spare time?
Coming back to the Vikings. In professional sports, leadership is easy to see. Good coaches, good players rise to the top because of their ability to call others to rise to the occasion with them. I set up my third date with Lindsay after she spoke at a fundraiser for Athletes in Action, CRU’s athlete ministry, at the University of Minnesota. The other speakers on the program that night were her friend, Ben Utecht, NFL Quarterback Rich Gannon, and Coach Tony Dungy. Tony Dungy is a remarkable human being and a remarkable man of faith. His leadership ability is renown and he holds the distinction of being a coach who never yelled at his players. He also played football but was never truly outstanding as a player, his Hall of Fame nomination will come as a result of his coaching.
Recently, I have heard feedback that I haven’t help grow the church in any significant way. This is really analogous to saying that one is disappointed with Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer because he hasn’t scored any touchdowns this season. Coach Zimmer’s job is to be sure Stephan Diggs is in the right place at the right time to make that 61-yard touchdown reception. Not to be the one doing it himself. The same is true of pastor’s role. A pastor’s job is to be sure that the congregant is in the right place at the right time and knows what to do when the Spirit provides the opportunity to “give a defense for the hope that is within them.” From my days playing football, I often thought the coaches should be doing something different or calling different plays. That said, I had great coaches who could see the game playing out in ways I couldn’t on the field.
You hired me to be a transformational pastor. We have undergone a great deal of transformation and honestly, we still have a long way to go. However, we are gaining momentum. Our new elders will bring new energy, new creativity, new imaginations for what the Spirit has in store for us. As that happens, I ask that we listen well to Hebrews 13. The leaders of this congregation are carefully and prayerfully keeping watch over your souls. “Let them do this with joy and not sighing.” May we make it an act of joyful service to serve as a leader in First Presbyterian Church!
In Christ’s Service,
<>< <>< <><