New Leadership with One Accord
Sermon by Wesley White, Interim Pastor
Milton United Methodist Church
June 12, 2005

Acts 1:12-26

The question of leadership is one that is always relevant. You know that we have had leaders at all levels who have exceeded our expectations and those that have fallen far short. You may remember teachers you have had that were superior and those that were just putting in their time or had some other agenda. The same goes for preachers and presidents. 

When Interim Pastors are appointed they have five key tasks. One of them has to do with the lay leadership of the congregation. The way that is phrased on my office wall is: Developing New Leadership: Helping People Into and Out of Leadership Roles

There are two parts to developing new leaders. One is to assist the current leadership to learn and practice new leadership skills, effectively assisting them to become renewed leaders. A second is to recognize when the time has come for someone who is so ingrained in one way of doing things, that they are not going to learn, to move out of a leadership position and to assist someone who has not been in a leadership position to try it out. 

I hope you have not experienced me as someone who says one thing in one place and something else in another. What I have said in private about leadership here is also what I am going to say publicly. 

Before I came there were a number of internal arguments and sides taken that seemed to lock everyone into position. As unfortunate as that situation was, the only movement that seemed available was for some to leave and others to step in.

There is an old quip by Alfred Loisy, “Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, and what came was the Church.” The Church still has you and me in it and so it is not unexpected that in every tense political situation (here I mean “political” in its broadest sense of deciding how the community is going to make decisions) that this same process went on here. It seems everyone had their own desires to protect and these ran over questions about GOD's presence. 

Some left. This is not a new story, it happened in the scriptures to Jesus’ own disciples, those he was training to be leaders for a coming time. 

Some stepped in. This is not a new story, it happened in the scriptures to Jesus’ own disciples during the formation of the church — here with Matthias and later with Paul and others.

Basically, we sometimes take our eye off the question of what GOD has in mind for us and we get caught up in our past experiences as if that were what defined the future rather than our experiences simply being part of the information we have about how best to proceed.

We need leaders who have an eye on the past because there was much good there. We also need leaders who have an eye to the future because there is even better to come than we have yet experienced. And, we need leaders who have an eye to the present to help us work our experiences of the past and our visions of the future together. We need everyone to play their part. 

I want to say as clearly as I can that I am thankful for those who stepped into leadership positions by the time I came. Their hearts and minds have been in a healthy direction and that is evident by their energy and decisions. They have carefully and boldly made decisions on behalf of all of us and I’m proud to be associated with those who were in place when I came and those who have additionally been added during this past year.

Our recent experience still has us stepping a bit gingerly, with some fear of another round of disagreements, but still moving ahead. We do still need a bit more courage for our common vision, but I am sure that will come as we settle into a clear mission.

I want us to note from the Scripture this morning a couple of lines. The first is in verse 14 where the disciples agreed together that their work was that of being witnesses of an Alive Jesus and a Living GOD and an Active Spirit. The Greek word for this agreement is o(moqumado/n (homothumadon). It is a compound of two words meaning to "rush along" and "in unison". The word itself is almost musical; a number of notes are sounded which, while different, harmonize in pitch and tone. In the same way the Holy Spirit blends together the lives of members of Christ's church. 

A key point in leadership is finding this agreement spot. Leaders cannot lead without being in touch with both their co-leaders those who are leading with them and those who are coming along. This is why we our Leadership Council is working so diligently on a Mission Statement. This common agreement of what we are doing here in concert with one another will shape our leaders and give us all direction. Our Leadership Council is meeting again this next Wednesday and we ask your prayers for our Scriptural work of agreeing that what we are doing together is both very important and what we couldn’t do apart from one another. This is the same work that our Annual Conference will be doing, starting this afternoon, and we ask your prayer between now and Wednesday afternoon for our Annual Conference.

A second key line comes from verses 21 and 22. Leadership must be replaced from time to time and renewed all the time. People move away and new leaders are needed. People burn out and new leaders are needed. People lose focus and new leaders are needed. People need time off for renewal before burning out and new leaders are needed. People die and new leaders are needed. This is year-round work and our Lay Leadership is meets all year to do our best to identify new leaders and support current leaders. In a few minutes we will continue our monthly honoring of another set of our leaders. 

I am struck in this passage of how the focus is put on GOD’s direction in employing new leaders. At the same time I do need to say that our Christian history would probably be further along if the apostle boys had included someone like Mary Magdalene, a most important early disciple, in the list of candidates. Sometimes we set a too stringent criterion for who are acceptable leaders. Milton still has a bit of the mindset that you need to be here for several generations before you are really here and that is counterproductive in a growing community. Our congregation is hopefully helping to break down this stereotype so the right person can be in leadership at the right time rather than working out of some artificial pecking order. Remember that GOD has always chosen leaders nobody expected, beginning with Abraham and Sarah and working through Joseph and Moses and Deborah and Esther. This includes a little baby born in a lowly manger.

Scripture suggests that everyone here is eligible to be a leader. All it takes is a heart for Jesus’ teachings and doings to be continued into our world. How would you feel if we followed the Biblical pattern described here to develop our Nominations report for 2006? We could put everyone’s name in a hat, offer deep prayers for a particular leadership need we have, pull out a name and appoint them their task, and repeat this process until we are done. The expectation would be that we would have agreed to this and to see what we think GOD has in mind for us. Would you trust this process more or less than our current way of asking folks?

This could be scary for those who don’t see themselves as leaders (but I am convinced that GOD can use any of us in ways we don’t currently imagine as possible). This could be embarrassing for those who see themselves as leaders in a particular way and they might be selected either to some other arena of leadership or none at all (I am also convinced that none of us are indispensable and we do sometimes need a break for renewal and don’t know how to do that). 

I am looking forward to these two parts of this scripture passage coming alive in our midst during this next year. First, that we will find our harmony, our o(moqumado/n (homothumadon), and, second, that we will continue to take steps toward identifying, employing, and developing the leaders needed for the mission of Milton United Methodist Church for the next years. This is a big deal.

Look around. Do you have your eye out for who might be a new key leader to help us move forward? I hope so because your encouragement of them is going to be important. When it gets to be 2015, wouldn’t you like to be able to think back and know that you had a part in developing the next generation of leaders for Milton United Methodist Church? Look again. Do be in prayer for that person you have your eye on, that GOD will use them to build us into a stronger congregation. 

Look around again. This time, do you feel people looking at you as a key leader to help move us forward? I hope so because you are capable of more than you think. When GOD’s Spirit touches you, you can’t help but get a bit scared and a bit bolder. Look around again. Who seems to have their eye on you? Ask them what they see in you that will help build us into a stronger congregation.

This is a pretty exciting passage that still is challenging to us. Let’s be open to a clear mission and new and renewed leaders.

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The New Interpreter's Bible, "Acts" by Robert W. Wall

The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

A Vision of Leadership by Rev. JoAnne Juett, First Baptist Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

The New Testament Greek Lexicon,

The Gospel of Mary by The Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, the William and Camille Cosby Visiting Professor of Humanities at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Raising Abel by James Alison, chapter. 4, "The Heavens Opened, and the Kingdom out of Joint." quoted on