Reflection Sunday 17 October 2021
I have to admit to being cynical when I hear church ministers put the word ‘lead’ before the word minister and claim to be the ‘lead minister’ of a congregation.
The word minister comes from the word to serve. So in a sense when one puts the words ‘lead’ and ‘minister ‘ together there is a contradiction in terms. With the term comes some irony because the intention of ‘to minister’ means to serve, to be a servant. In the church we try to acknowledge this irony by using the term ‘servant leadership’ to articulate more clearly the kind of leadership that is expected from a minister.
Perhaps my cynicism and distrust of others using the words ‘lead minister’ comes from my own struggle with the word ‘leader’. I have always struggled with the hierarchical structures of the church as it seems at odds with the ministry of Jesus, and who Jesus calls us to be as his followers.
Perhaps the roots of my uneasiness comes from reading the very challenging Gospel passage Mark 10:35-45 and in particular where Jesus says, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
James and John had decided that they wanted to be the leaders next to Jesus, to lead over all the other disciples, even over all the world, when Jesus came into his glory; when the kingdom of God would fully come. Jesus’ reply shows very clearly that any desire we have to put ourselves next to Jesus as rulers, needs to be carefully considered. If one desires to be like Jesus, to live as Jesus lives, to lead as Jesus leads, to be glorified as Jesus is glorified; then one must die as Jesus dies. This death is not just a physical death, but a death to the ego, a continual denying of self, a death to any desire to put ourselves above any other person, or any other living thing. The cup that Jesus drinks is a cup of suffering. The baptism with which Jesus is baptised is a baptism of hatred and violence.
In 1 Peter chapter 2 the writer urges her/his readers to follow the example of Jesus. ‘As servants of God’’… For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
James and John and all the disciples that day learnt that whoever wanted to be great among the disciples must be the servant of all and who ever wished to be first among the disciples must be the slave of all the disciples.
It is not just in politics or business or churches or any other institutions that power struggles occur. They occur in every group, including bible study groups. Someone always wants to assume leadership or to challenge the leadership of others. There is something in us that seems to want to be on top, to be in charge. It happens within our families and in our relationships with our partners too.
Whether we are part of a large institution such as the Uniting church or a member of a small home church we can face the same challenges regarding power. Being aware of this is perhaps the first step in breaking our addiction to power and wanting to be in control. The business of Jesus was not to be served but to serve, and to give his life, a ransom for many.
People find ‘a freedom’ not by taking control of others but through relinquishing their control over their own lives and so joining with Jesus in the freeing of others from the powers that bind and control them.
Jesus awakens us to the awareness that our thinking (even in the church) is often dominated by unseen forces around us: forces operating within human institutions and systems which feed on our desires for power, for recognition, for status, to be important, to be successful. But the goal of these powers is not to lead us into eternal life but rather to increase competition between people, to retain an energy that keeps us trapped within our minds and responses, always wanting more and to be more, never content with what one has or who one is.
Jesus’ eyes were not focused on the glory of ruling over others but on the cross, on serving rather than being served, giving his life a ransom for many. Jesus led from the heart not from the mind. Jesus led from the heart connected to the source of life.
Before us always is the sacredness of life but whether we see it or not perhaps depends on whether we are seeing with eyes trained by the world or with eyes seeing from the heart, eyes connected with the source of life within us, God.
Some questions to ponder
Who or what is leading you? If you took the attitude of serving more seriously what difference might that make to the lives of those around you? What differences might it make to your life? Would your suffering also increase? In what ways might you be also blessed?
Serving is not just putting up with abuse. As followers of Jesus the decision to serve is a conscious choice. In different situations how might you consciously choose to serve? Perhaps you could ask yourself how might I serve in this situation? How might I serve at work? How might I serve in church? How might I serve in my family? How might I serve God?
God of grace, as we draw close to you we become acutely aware that your ways are much different to our own. We can never fully comprehend your mind. We glimpse and see only a shadow of the wonder of who you are. We are always a long way behind you in our thinking. We are a lot slower in our forgiving. We are awkward in loving. We are often far from gracious. Forgive us.
Take the hardness from our hearts and the unwillingness to really see with our eyes and to hear with our ears. Set our feet upon roads that lead to justice and upon paths that are laid with mercy and compassion. Help us to walk in grace and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Photo: taken by Gabriella 2013
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation