Posts Tagged ‘rewards’

I’m sharing with you today on the topic of the importance of good leadership.

I’ve been involved in churches since I was 14 in various roles, including as a pastor for many years and also working with educational programs that train church leaders. And so let me begin by just saying, what I think you know, which is that –

Congregational leadership can be hard

1. It can be hard because leaders are called to follow the example of Jesus in laying down their lives for their people, walking in humble, sacrificial love.

As Jesus said in Mark 10:45, he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And he said this after giving teaching on how leadership is to be done among his people.

So this is the model and this isn’t easy!

2. It can also be hard because the world and God have different ideas about what good leadership is.  

Perhaps in other areas of life leadership can be judged by things like always growing, getting bigger and being well known — but not so in the kingdom of God.

In the kingdom, success is defined as faithfulness to God’s ways, which in some cases can even inhibit growing, getting bigger and being well known. Not always, but sometimes. Faithfulness and “success” aren’t always the same thing. But faithfulness is what’s required by God of good leaders. That’s what true success is.

3. It can be hard because being faithful to God can mean upsetting people who only want to be comfortable and fit in with the world around them.

We would all rather come to church to be affirmed and comforted – maybe even entertained. But God cares more about our growing in Christlikeness – about our being transformed into his image. And this means that leaders have to challenge us and even admonish us at times.

They have to talk about difficult things. Or as Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, they are to “speak the truth in love.”

4. Congregational leadership can be hard because, well, how can I say this, they’re leading people, and sometimes people can be difficult!

We all, including myself, have shortcoming and weaknesses; flaws and foibles. And we say and do things that we shouldn’t; that aren’t loving or kind.

This is the background to Hebrews 13:17 which talks about leaders as those who are “keeping watch over your souls.” And then it goes on to say, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Did you know that was in the Bible? Here’s a question maybe we can ask ourselves from time to time, “Do I make our congregation’s leaders groan?”

5. It can be hard because they bear the weight of the wellbeing of the community on their shoulders. And this can be very heavy and stressful.

They can’t just think about what they want. They have to think and act for the good of all. What keeps the flock together? And as well, what is God’s will for us as a group?

6. It can be hard because we live in the age of the almighty individual. We place more value on the individual over the community. Yet, to be in a community means being flexible and not always getting just what you want.

So people tell leaders, “Lead us!” But they often don’t mean, “We’re ready to sacrifice and give up things to follow your leadership.” Rather they mean, “Do what I think is right.” And then there are many saying this and each one likely has a different view on what they think is right. It can be a no-win situation and a source of deep frustration for leaders.

7. It can be hard because there’s a lack of trust in leaders these days, including church leaders.

We all know of the scandals and moral failures that’ve happened. And the good leaders, who are honorable, self-sacrificing and doing what’s right, end up under this shadow as well.

The role of leadership simply isn’t valued or held up like it used to be.

8. It can be hard because, often church members put the work on their leaders.

The actual job of congregational leaders is to equip you to do ministry. This is what Ephesians 4:12 says, they are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” – not to do it all themselves. They do their share, for sure, but it’s to be a team effort with everyone using their gifts.

9. It can be hard because moving forward as a congregation often means dealing with disagreements.

But churches tend to avoid this at all costs. And when we do finally have to deal with it, we often don’t do it in a healthy way and things get worse. So we’re stuck.

So what should leaders do?

I think we can all agree, and the examples I’ve given you should help us to remember that congregational leadership can be hard.

Yet despite all this –

Good congregational leadership is crucial

It makes a tremendous difference in the health and well-being of a church community. I want us now to look at two very different sets of verses on leaders, that point this out.

And the first is Ezekiel 34:1-6. In this passage the Lord is talking to the shepherds of Israel. This would include, for sure the kings of Israel, but also other rulers, priests and prophets. And the Lord has some very strong things to say about these faithless shepherds.

2Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

Three things stand out in these verses:

  • They have not fed the sheep the word of God and so they have not led them in God’s paths.
  • They have taken advantage of their roles as leaders to get what they could out of it. As v. 2 says, they fed themselves, not the sheep.
  • And they didn’t care for the sheep, you know, encouraging the weak, binding up the wounded and seeking the lost. They were not gentle and caring, but rather they were harsh with the people.

So this is an example of terrible leadership. Here they were so bad that it says in v. 5 that “there was no shepherd”; or no true shepherd.

The result? The sheep were scattered

5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

  • The phrase in v. 6 – “wandered on every high hill” is a reference to idolatry at the various high places. Because they weren’t fed God’s word or led in God’s ways they went to other gods and idols.
  • The phrase “scattered over all the face of the earth” refers to how they were sent into exile in Babylon as judgment from God.

So you can see how crucial good leaders are, by taking note that bad leaders can destroy a people!

But then listen to what good leaders can do in our second passage Ephesians 4:11-16

11And he (Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

If bad leaders can destroy a congregation, we learn here that good ones can:

  • build up the community
  • equip it for the work of ministry
  • and lead it to a mature, rooted faith

In this light, what a gift good leaders are to us!!! They are so precious to congregations. And given this let me end by saying –

We should honor and celebrate good leaders

My hope is that you don’t take good congregational leadership for granted. They should indeed be cherished, encouraged and blessed.

And finding new leaders should be seen as a priority. And they should be nurtured and trained. Invest in them and in their ministry.

Scripture teaches us to honor good leaders:

Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17 – Elders who do their work well should be respected – and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. (NLT)

And Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 – We ask you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (Also Philippians 2:29; Hebrews 13:7)

We are to honor them.

And not to be outdone, God himself will honor such leaders on the final day.

  • Peter says this in 1 Peter 5:4, talking to elders, “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
  • And in a parable on leaders, Jesus says this about a good leader in Luke 12:44 – “the master will set him over all his possessions.” That is, in the kingdom of God. Wow!

God honors good leaders and we should too.

And it’s at this point that I want to say, yes, congregational leadership can be hard. But it’s worth it! It’s the Lord that we serve and he will reward you. An unfading crown of glory given by the chief shepherd himself. And a place of honor in the eternal kingdom. It will indeed, be more than worth it!

Read Full Post »

Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

I’m asking the question once again this morning, “Will you be ready for Jesus’ second advent?”

This comes to mind because we’re celebrating the first advent of Jesus in this Christmas season, and we know that many among the people of God were not ready for it. And as Jesus warns us, some will not be ready for his second advent.

We’ve been looking at several parables of faithful waiting to help us see what we need to do to be ready. And today we look at the familiar parable of the slaves with responsibilities or as it is often called, the parable of the talents.

Our passage is found in –

Matthew 25:14-30

14For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his slaves and entrusted to them his property. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

(I have changed ESV’s “servants” to “slaves” throughout. For a very similar parable see Luke 19:11-27)

The phrase, “for it will be like” connects to 25:1 which has the full formula, “the kingdom of heaven will be like.” Just as with the previous parable, the ten maidens with lamps, this one is about Jesus, his second coming and the coming of the kingdom of heaven to earth.

The word “talent” here does not mean a gift or ability that we have. (It came to mean this later in English, because of a particular interpretation of this parable – but it actually confuses things. Abilities are mentioned in v. 15 as a separate factor.) It was a measurement of the weight of metal, usually silver. In this case we are talking about a bar of silver between 50-75 pounds. It was considered to be equal to 6,000 days of a worker’s wages.

Now, this can be done in different ways, but if we calculate it based on our minimum wage (7.25) and an eight-hour work day, 1 talent = $348,000; 2 talents = $696,000; and 5 talents = $1,740,000. Needless to say these are astronomical amounts of money, especially for that day.

Although it’s not stated here, as we’ll see, the point of giving them this money was for them to take it and increase it. The master is giving over his business to his slaves and they are to be proactive and make a profit while he’s gone. And notice that he gives out this money according to their abilities; he knew some would be able to handle more than the others. So the master gives out responsibilities to increase his business, based on what each one can handle.

16He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.”

Notice the eagerness of the one with the five bars of silver – “he went at once.” He engaged in business and garnered a 100% profit, as did the one with two bars of silver. But the slave with the 1 bar of silver decided that he had better not lose his master’s money and so he buried it in the ground. This was a common practice in the ancient world and was considered a good way to keep a treasure safe.

19Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

22And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

So both the one with five bars of silver and the one with two bars of silver are highly commended. They were faithful in his absence to do what he said. And because they were, they are promoted and given more responsibilities. They are blessed.

And then we come to the crux of the story –

24He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’”

The master is presented as a ruthless businessman. To reap where you do not sow and gather where you do not scatter most likely refers to seizing crops from tenant farmers who couldn’t pay their rent to him (Craig A. Evans). He wants a profit wherever he can get it.

And because of this, this slave didn’t want to take any risks to lose what he had been given. And he feels like he has been successful, because he gave back just what had been given him.

26But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful slave! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”

The master condemns him with his own words. “If you knew I was like this, then you would know that I would want a return on my money.” The slave could have at least invested the money with a bank to earn some interest.

The master reveals the real problem – he is “slothful” or lazy. He had been given the responsibility to increase the master’s business while he was gone. But he chose not to do so, and is called “wicked.”

28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

This is the first part of the master’s judgment of the third slave. Because he failed in his responsibility to increase his master’s business, his silver is taken away from him.

The proverbial saying here means this:

  • The one who has is the one who fulfilled his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So more is given to him. In fact, even though we are not told this above, here we see that he keeps not only the five original bars of silver, but also the five that he made, and now the one bar from the third slave. So he does have an abundance.
  • The one who has not is the one who did not fulfill his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So even what he was given, the one bar of silver, is taken away.

Simply put, faithfulness with what is given you is rewarded with much more, but unfaithfulness will lose you even what you started with. (For the same use of this proverb see Luke 19:26. For its use in the context of seeking to understand Jesus and his teaching see Mark 4:25; Matthew 13:12; Luke 8:18).

And then comes the second part of his judgment –

30And cast the worthless slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

He is thrown into hell or Gehenna, the place where the unrighteous will go on the final day of judgment. The phrase, “cast into the outer darkness” refers to hell (Matthew 8:12; 22:13); as does the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; Luke 13:28) which speaks to the suffering of hell.

The meaning of the parable

Like the previous parables, this is an allegory:

The master who goes away = Jesus while he is away. And we learn here once again that Jesus could be gone for a long time, since v. 19 says, “after a long time.”

The three slaves = disciples of Jesus.

The talents (bars of silver) = responsibilities that Jesus gives us to increase his kingdom while he is gone, each according to our ability.

The master’s return = Jesus’ second coming.

Settling accounts = the day of judgment.

Those who fulfill their responsibilities are rewarded with much. They are faithful and will be given more responsibilities; they will “enter into the joy of their master”; they will share in the eternal kingdom. Those who don’t fulfill their responsibilities will be judged. They will lose everything. Jesus will cast them into hell.

The master’s harshness is meant to warn us that Jesus has very high standards for us to do the work of the kingdom while he is gone, and we will have to give a very exacting account for what we do, or don’t do.

This brings us to the challenge of the parable –

Will you be ready?

We learned from the parable of the ten maidens that to be ready we need to be following Jesus’ teaching and example; his moral code and spirituality. Today we learn that to be ready we need to be serving Jesus and doing the work of the kingdom.

Are you busy doing what Jesus has told you to do to increase his kingdom?

We have all been warned this morning of the consequences of not being ready. So, if you haven’t already, find out what your responsibilities are and get busy, so that you will be blessed on that final day.

Read Full Post »