The Discernment of Leaders

I am not able to be all of the things that my sons want me to be.  And it’s a good job that I know that, and that I’m honest and realistic about that with myself and with them.

On Friday we spent the day at the Newcastle Show, and after they had been on some of the rides, and eaten lots of the ice cream – I was conscious that at least one of my boys was desperate to have a father who could ride a motorbike over a helicopter with its propellers spinning – like the stuntman that he could see performing in front of him in the main arena.

For just one moment he had a glimpse of what it might be like to a have a dad who could do something as impressive as that… and then his day dream passed.

Yesterday afternoon I took the boys to the country festival in Singleton, where we witnessed men and women competing in the national ‘wife carrying championships’.  Once again, my lack of participation, was noted disapprovingly by one of them.

There are some things that I can do reasonably well, and those things tend not to be as exciting for my children as the things that they would like me to be able to do.  My only consolation is that one day they will grow up, and as their children look at them, they will finally know what it feels like!

I don’t know whether Jesus was able to do absolutely anything imaginable without really having to think about it.  There is certainly a line of thinking within some churches which would presume that that was the case – that Jesus was somehow able to do all of the things that the rest of us have to learn about first (and that some of us can never do whether we learn about them or not), without the need for training and without the risk of mistake.

In the early period of the life of the Church debates about exactly what it meant for Jesus to be both God and human rumbled on for hundreds of years.

At one extreme Jesus was understood to be so God-like that his humanity was really a mirage, a trick.  At the other extreme Jesus was understood to be so human that he needed to be adopted by God in order to take on his God-likeness, because he did not have any already.

I cannot know the answer to those questions, but I do know that Jesus made it his business to draw to himself very human men and women to be his disciples.

Over the next week we will be journeying with Jesus and his first followers and companions towards the cross, and in the end the victorious empty tomb.

We will find in that story (which is at the heart of our faith) not only the great purposeful working of God, but the very human attributes and behaviours of the people in the story.

I hope that you will look out for the very humanness of Jesus’ disciples as we live through Holy Week in the days ahead.  Because it is the men who fail Jesus in the final week of his life, who will ultimately be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the first leaders of the Early Church after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension.

I think that if I asked you what the vision of Becoming Ministering Communities in Mission is all about, now that you have been committed and engaged in pursuing it for a number of years, you might be mistaken in thinking that it is all about forming a team: bring together a team of leaders who will do everything for the rest of us.

So I want this morning as clearly as I am able to, to remind you that that was not what was at the heart of all of this when we began our journey towards it together.  Because the vision of Becoming Ministering Communities in Mission is a vision that is focused on all of us, and not just a few of us.

  • We believe that every baptised Christian has been gifted by God to share in the ministry within and from this Church.
  • We believe that each one of us has been gifted differently, so that together there are sufficient gifts in this local Church for what God is calling this local Church to be and to do.
  • We believe that God continues to transform people like Jesus’ first disciples, that God is not waiting for perfection, but is instead calling all those who are willing to offer back to him in service the gifts that he has given them.
  • We believe that the gifts and skills and talents which we have are not for us to keep for ourselves, as private possessions, they have been given to us by God.  And God has given them to us primarily for the building up of the Church, and for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

This morning, in this service, we are each being asked to offer back to God, both our own gifts and the gifts of the whole congregation.  This is not the first time that we have done this, but it is no less significant than the first time for all of us.

Specifically this morning, after our prayers and reflections of the last few weeks, we will be taking our part in the discernment of (firstly) three lay ministers who will lead three areas of our parish’s ministry which are currently without leaders; (secondly) any leaders in our Church who have the particular gifts necessary for ordained ministry amongst us; and (thirdly) our own gifts whether as leaders or faithful participants in the life of this Church.  Our prayerful discernment will feed into the process of discerning who those key leaders will be within our life together.

We are not necessarily seeking to discern the most obvious people, although the most obvious person may be the right person.  Neither are we necessarily seeking to discern the person who has served in that ministry area for the longest, or who spends most time on it week by week.  What we are seeking to do, is to identify those people who have the God-given gifts of leadership.  People who will be able to inspire us, and excite us, and – most importantly – share ministry with us.

In the life of the Church we are always involved in this task of discernment whether we realise it or not.

Before Fr Hugh came to be our Parish Priest some members of the congregations, together with others from the wider Diocese along with our Bishop, sought to discern whether God was calling Fr Hugh to be here as our leader.   And at our annual general meeting each year we seek to discern wise and skilled members of our congregation, to work with our priest in the making of strategic leadership decisions about the management and administration of our Church through our Parish Council.  Every time a new person is appointed as a server in the sanctuary, or a worker amongst our children and families, or as someone who visits the sick and lonely on behalf of us all, every time someone takes on a new role of ministry in this parish, a process of discernment has taken place.

Now, we may not normally call that discernment, and we may not always realise that discernment is going on because actually it often comes so naturally to us, to make those kinds of decisions, but whether we name it as discernment or not, that is what is happening.

We know (for ourselves) some of those people in our congregations who have the kinds of exceptional gifts which are needed in order to be leaders in our Church.

And we know too the very many gifts which we see embodied in all of the members of our Church.  So, there are some people who we care for and respect very much, but who we nevertheless know do not have the skills or the temperament or the insights which are required by leaders; and we know too, (whether they are leaders at the current time or not), those people who we could trust (because of their vision, and skills, and commitment to Christ) to lead us in the future.

When I am in situations where I am trying to discern leaders for ministry, I normally begin by asking, “have I seen this person do things in the past, which would indicate to me that they would be able to do the kinds of things that I need someone to do in the future?”

But I also try to remind myself that not everyone who is able to do what is required, has had the opportunity to show me that they can do them.  So there is often a need to step out in faith.

As we have reflected on these different leadership ministries over the last few weeks we may have instantly had in our minds people who for many years have been involved effectively in the activities which are associated with them.  And others may also come to mind, who we think will be able to undertake those tasks effectively, even if we have not seen them at work in leadership roles before.

But above all we are seeking to find leaders who have been gifted by God, and who are able to share ministry with others and not keep it to themselves.

We are not voting in this process, as it was last time we did this together, people will not be appointed on the basis of having their names written down the most number of times.

Our prayerful task this morning is to complete the discernment forms which have been distributed, indicating the names of those who we believe to have appropriate gifts for leadership; and to offer them to God.  The forms ask us to identify gifts in others, and to identify gifts in ourselves.

The last thing that we need here is leaders who think that they need to do everything, what we need instead is leaders whose first priority is to make space for all of us to share in the work of ministry, encouraged by their capacity to lead and inspire us.

The vision of Ministering Communities in Mission which has become so much a part of our life here at Lakes, is not a vision which begins and ends with the members of a Parish Ministry Team.   It is a vision that points us to the conviction that every one of us is called to share in the ministry of the Church, that every one of us will be more completely alive, growing more fully into the likeness of Christ, if we give the gifts which God has given to us back to him in joyful service.

It is to Christ through that vision that we re-dedicate ourselves today at the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian year.  And it is people who will lead us towards that vision, that we seek to discern this morning.