March 3, 2019 – Elders – Servant/Leaders


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“ELDERS – SERVANT/LEADERS”

By Rev. Victor Kim
Matthew 20:20-28, Acts 14:21-23; 15:1-4: 16:1-5
(03-03-19) Communion Sunday 

As Graeme S, our Clerk of Session mentioned last week at our Annual General Meeting, the session of our congregation has determined that we should be seeking up to 5 additional elders to join the Session as servant leaders for our congregation.  To better understand whether you might be called to serve as an elder of this congregation, I will be preaching over the next 3 weeks on various aspects of eldership.

This morning I will speak about the governance role of the elder, that elders are leaders, but also servants.  Next week I will touch upon the pastoral role of elders in a congregation, that elders are the first line of pastoral care in Presbyterian congregations.

Finally, the third of our sermons on eldership will deal with the sense of call, both a general call to life in God and a specific call to eldership.  I hope that these sermons will help those who may be feeling called to serve as elders with their discernment and will help all of us understand more about elders and the vital role elders play in our congregation.

The process of electing elders will be as follows.  It’s slightly different from the process we have used before.  Next Sunday, the Sunday bulletin will contain a ballot of all the members of RPC who are eligible to be elected and ordained as elders.  Only members of the congregation can serve as elders and only members are able to vote in choosing elders.  For those of you who are not members, we ask for your prayers for the discernment of the congregation in this process.  A ballot with the list of members will also be emailed for your convenience.  But you must use the paper ballot and select up to 5 names on that list. You can circle them, check mark them, just make sure you choose up to 5 names, in no particular order, just choose up to 5.  Then by March 24, put your list inside the envelopes which will also be included in the bulletin, seal it, sign it, print your name, and give it to one of the elders or to me.

The Session then will tabulate the ballots, determine those with the highest number of votes and will contact them to see if they feel called and are willing to serve as elders. Once we hopefully reach 5 people who feel called and agree to serve, the Session will stop contacting people.  Those names, up to 5, will be presented to the congregation on Sunday, April 7 and if there are no valid objections, those people will be ordained as new elders on Easter Sunday, April 21.

There will be extra ballots and envelopes available at the church, so if you forget or lose your ballot, don’t worry.  We only ask that you try to participate as best you can so that we can discern together those who are being called to serve as elders in our congregation. Thank you for your prayerful engagement.

Today we explore the elder’s role of governance within congregations.  There are two types of elders within Presbyterian governance, teaching elders, more commonly called ministers of Word and Sacraments, and ruling elders, more commonly known as elders.

Teaching elders are called to a particular kind of ministry, to preach the word and administer the sacraments, baptism and communion.  Ruling elders generally don’t preach and while they assist in administering the sacraments, with some exceptions, in our church practice ruling elders don’t actually conduct baptisms or communion.

What ruling elders do is rule, they govern, they lead, they discern. Our Presbyterian Church governance system, or polity as we sometimes call it, is marked by a sense of mutuality of ministers and elders, that all those who are elected and ordained to an office within the church are equal in power, each according to their function.  This serves to take away any notion of tyranny, that some or one individual is more powerful or has more authority than another or all others.  It is a fundamental principle of reformed churches, that no church, no minister and no elder shall lord it over any others…

All the governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, called courts, from the General Assembly, our highest court, down to Synods and Presbyteries, consist of equal numbers of ministers and elders.  The only court where that doesn’t hold true is the Session, the court that governs a local congregation. For obvious reasons there are always more elders than ministers in a Session.

The Session of RPC currently has 9 active elders and 1 minister of Word and Sacraments.  The Session is responsible for worship, in terms of time and occasion, though ministers are specifically responsible for the conduct and content of all worship services.  The Session is responsible for the all ministry within a local congregation, including Christian education, discipleship, mission, congregational life and as we will hear next week, the pastoral care of the congregation.  The Session is also responsible for the financial stewardship of a congregation, though at RPC, as in many congregations, that responsibility is shared or delegated to a Board of Managers.  But while ministers and elders have important roles, it is critical to remember that Christ is the one who rules in every court of the church.

In the polity of the Presbyterian Church, members of a congregation do not vote on every matter regarding how the church functions.  We do have congregational votes on a few issues, the calling of a minister and the approval of budgets, as well as in choosing new elders, and all major financial decisions require congregational approval, but most of the direction of ministry is decided by the women and men who are elected and ordained as elders. 

Our text from the book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that it has been this way from the very first days of the church.  We read in Acts 15 that Paul and Barnabas, two early missionaries of the church to the Gentiles faced opposition from Jewish members of the church who argued that unless Gentiles were circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they could not be saved.  Paul and Barnabas disagreed.

In Jerusalem, we are told that the apostles and the elders, all whom were Jewish, met together to consider this matter. These leaders, including elders, discerned that God did not require Gentiles to be circumcised or keep the law of Moses in order to be saved, but that all would be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.

Elders governed, they discerned the will of Christ, they set the lifestyle, fellowship and direction for the early church community.  They ruled on issues that needed clarity and judgment. 

Later on, in the same chapter we read that the apostles and the elders, chose people, representatives of the church, to go with Paul and Barnabas on their travels to Antioch. The elders chose the people to help teach the believers in Antioch, they gave direction to the mission and ministry of the church. And in Acts 16, we read that Paul, now with Timothy, went from town to town, delivering to the early church communities the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem and so, the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

The role of elders today isn’t all that different from the elders of the early church. Elders are called to together discern Christ’s will, they often set the atmosphere or tone of a congregation, in how discipleship and fellowship, in how pastoral care and vision are expressed and lived out.  Though elders are to be leaders, they are also to be grounded in servanthood. 

 In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is approached by the mother of the sons of Zebedee, also known as the sons of thunder.  Kind of a pompous name if you ask me.  The mother of James and John, the thunderkids, asks Jesus to declare that her two boys will sit on Jesus’ right and left in his kingdom.  Now that might be a mother’s hope, but Jesus tells it like it is.  You don’t know what you’re asking and even if you did, it’s not my call, but my Father’s.  And knowing that the other disciples were furious after they found out what the sons of thunder had been up to, Jesus heads them off.

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you.  Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Here Jesus spells out clearly what true discipleship ought to be like, and particularly for those who think that they have been called to a special kind of ministry.  Of all the people around Jesus, his disciples would have been the closest and would have thought that they had first claim on him and anything that Jesus might have represented.  What they didn’t understand was that what Jesus represented would be so opposite to what might have been expected of the one who they called Messiah.

Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, to give his life for others.  This becomes the model for every ministry, for every person who is called to any office of ministry in the church, and for every Christian who professes to follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour. 

Elders are to govern, but as servants, as those who sacrifice for the flock who are entrusted to their care.  Servant leaders find their center in Jesus, whose sacrifice was total for the sake of those whom he loved.  Elders must govern, but our governance must be ripe with humility, with servant minds, with the same mind that was in Jesus, to love God and God’s people.

Each elder who is ordained, set apart for a unique ministry, agrees to the vows of ordination.  The vows confirm the elder’s belief in the triune God, their acceptance of the doctrine of our denomination, their adherence to the government of our church, both locally and nationally, their commitment to the peace and unity of Christ, at RPC and throughout the entire church and their promise to build up Christ’s church and to strengthen its mission in the world.  Those who are called to serve as elders are called to follow in the way of Jesus and his love for people.  As you who are members of RPC choose people to serve as elders, keep in mind that a love for Christ and Christ’s people must be the first and foremost gift of any person who would serve as an elder.  The ability to govern, to lead, is important, but all governance, all leadership in the church leads always to Christ and the way of Christ, the way of servanthood and sacrificial love.

On this Communion Sunday, we gather as God’s people, as the body of Christ, from many different background, traditions, heritage and experience. But we are one.  We are one at the table Jesus provides.  

In this sacrament, at the table of our Lord, when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, we remember our Lord Jesus, who by his body and blood, by the gift of his life and love, unites us and makes us one.  In Jesus, there is no hierarchy; we are all God’s children, equal before God, equally helpless and equally precious, equally loved. 

This morning we are blessed with a beautiful vision of what Christ’s church can be. I believe it’s also a vision of what Richmond Presbyterian Church can be.

Who is God calling to leadership at RPC that might help us realize what God has in mind for us?  Whose gifts of faith and vision, imagination and love would help us accomplish that which Jesus has in mind as we remember him and find nourishment for our spirits and encouragement for our hearts around his table?  Some of you will think that the call to eldership is beyond your imagining, please know that it’s not beyond God’s. 

The God who calls you will provide what you need to do what God has in mind for you and for us together.  So please prayerfully think about it, consider it, let it rest in your heart and mind for a while.

And let it begin here, around this table, around what Jesus provides, for all his people, for all of us together. 

Thanks be to God, Amen.

 

Preached by Rev. Victor Kim on 3 March 2019 at Richmond Presbyterian Church