A Noble Task – September 14, 2014
Psalm 34, I Timothy 3:1-13
September 14, 2014
Here, in this letter of Timothy, we have Paul, the mentor, writing to his young apprentice, Timothy. And he’s giving him advice about how to be a good church leader. And in this case, he’s telling him how to recruit and teach others to be church leaders. And so we take this as our scripture lesson today – here on this “Ordination and Installation” Sunday.
As we look at this, there are two headings in the section we read. There’s one that says, “Qualifications of Bishops,” and the other which says, “Qualifications of Deacons.” Now of course different denominations call their leaders different things. For instance, the Baptists call their ruling board members “Deacons,” while we call ours “Elders” or in the Greek “Presbyters.” (Hence our name “Presbyterians.”)
In this case, Paul uses the Greek word “episkopon,” which sounds like what? “Episcopal?” That sounds like another denomination, doesn’t it? (Any Episcopalians here?) Well, I think it’s safe to say that Paul is referring here to those in church leadership – like our “Elders.” The New International Version uses the word “Overseers.” The New Living Translation actually uses the word “Elders.” And I think we can use that word, too. It’s also important to remember that we have leaders in our Church which are not necessarily named here. We have the office of “Trustee.” But as we read this, many of the duties of Trustees fall within the things Paul is describing here. So I hope we know that we’re including Trustees in all of these thoughts this morning.
Now, the other difference I would be quick to point out, is that there is a bit of a “gender thing” going on here. And yes, Paul actually did use the male language here. That’s because, in his culture and tradition, men were the leaders. And some churches still take that literally. But we need to remember that Paul would often send greetings in his letters to his “fellow workers and leaders in the faith,” and some of the people he named – were women! And here in the “Qualifications for Deacons” he actually talks about the women involved. So contrary to the way some people want to interpret this, Paul was not averse to women leaders. And I for one am glad to say that we Presbyterians recognize that. We have leaders of both “flavors.” And many of our women are among our strongest leaders!
So what I want to think about today in this passage, is the way Paul describes leadership in the Church. He calls it “A Noble Task.” Those who have been called, ordained, and installed to these positions today are called to a “noble task.” I hope you see it that way! And for you who are already serving, I hope you see it that way, too. You are also called to a “noble task.” And you who are not currently serving, or have never served, or are not able to serve for some reason, I hope you appreciate those who do. I hope you see their calling as indeed “a noble task.”
That’s what I want you to think about today. And yes, we could go through each one of these “Qualifications” Paul is describing. But that would take some time. So I hope you will do that on your own. Take some time and read through these “qualifications” and think about them in light of your own calling. And know that those who are called to serve are indeed called to a higher standard of living. Think about that! Jesus himself said, “of those to whom much is given, much will be required.” Leaders are called to a higher standard. And one of the most important reasons for that is that much of the leadership in the Christian Church is leadership by example. We sometimes forget that. But as church leaders, we don’t tell people how to live. We show them how to live! That is part of our calling!
Now, that’s not easy sometimes. But it is our calling! And to those we installed today, I’ll say what I often say to all my leaders, that “If you expect the people to be faithful, you need to be faithful. If you expect the people to be generous, you need to be generous. If you expect people to be gracious and caring, you need to be gracious and caring. If you expect the people to be regular in attendance and support the programs of the church, you need to do those things.” Your example is what matters the most!
That’s perhaps the biggest challenge for leadership in the Church. Paul recognized that, and that’s what he was trying to tell Timothy! And we need to hear it as well. Leadership can never be “passive.” We can never expect just to make decisions and enforce rules and form expectations, and then sit back and expect people to follow them. We need to be vigilant about our own lives. As Paul would tell Timothy later, “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (II Timothy 4:3)
So, how about it. You who lead are called to a higher calling. And you who follow, are called to follow! It’s as simple as that. Or is it? Those of you who’ve been installed today, pray for God’s strength. The rest of you, you have a double duty. You also should pray for those you have installed. But you must also pray for yourselves, you might have the strength and for the grace to follow!
So, let us do that now.
Eternal God, you call us to be your people. But you call certain of us to follow in your footsteps so that the rest can follow you through theirs. Help all of us to do that to which we have been called. Help us to have the grace to honor you here in this place as your chosen and holy people. May what we do, in our lives and in our Church, bring glory and honor to your name. For this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Head of the Church, Amen.