Leadership, teamwork, ministry
October 3, 2012
Last weekend our PCC spent a morning at the Wilson Carlile Centre in town praying and thinking together about St. Columba’s and different areas of our life together, how we work together. One person made a comment that has stayed with me. They said: “Some areas of the church’s life are really good to be involved in, like children’s work, and the soup run, because you really feel that you’re part of a team. But in other parts of the church’s life it feels like you’re part of a rota rather than part of a team.”
So this morning I would like us to reflect together about teams, team work and ministry. Very often, the church’s ministry is thought of a solo enterprise: the priest as separate, set apart to minister to the flock. I want to suggest to you that ministry in Christ’s church is essentially a shared enterprise, belonging to all baptised people, and that it’s about relationship, partnerships and teamwork. I also want to suggest to you that this understanding of ministry is thoroughly rooted in scripture, and our readings this morning are a fine example of that.
What is it that makes a team into a team? I’m sure all of us have had experiences of being part of a team, either in work or out of it. Think for a moment about a team that you have belonged to. What was needed in order for that team to work well?
Two things spring to my mind. Firstly; leadership. To be a team, you need leadership. We need a leader or leaders to take responsibility for ensuring the team works together in a co-ordinated way. When I think about singing in a choir, the role of the conductor is to make sure everyone’s singing the right notes in the right way. That’s the basics. But then it’s also more than that, and a good conductor will build relationships, create a climate in which everyone is motivated to give their very best performance. Gareth Malone on the TV is a great example of this kind of relational leadership.
And to be a team, you need the commitment of team members. Our daughter Grace has always been a keen footballer, and though she’s never been one of the star players, she’s one of those people who is always there at training, come rain or shine, and who doesn’t let her team mates down. She’s a good team player. In a team, everybody needs the commitment of every other team member.
So teams need members, and they need leadership. Our reading that we heard from the Book of Numbers earlier is I think a wonderful and very human account of the frustrations of leadership. Here we see Moses having a head in hands moment. Poor old Moses. He’s spoken God’s word to the people, he’s united them, led them out of slavery in Egypt and what do they do? Do they thank him? They have a good moan. They have forgotten about brutal slave drivers and making bricks without straw. Life in Egypt has acquired a rosy glow of nostalgia, and in the hunger of the desert all they can think about is the good old days of Egyptian melons and cucumbers. No wonder Moses has a bit of rage at God.
What have I done to displease you, that you put the burden of these people upon me? Tell me, says Moses, whatever did I do to deserve this lot of moaners. Anyone who has taught a unco-operative class, or managed a fractious department, or led a mutinous team of volunteers will surely sympathise with Moses at this moment. We all know how constant moaning and negativity is so very wearing and undermining. Moses has reached the end of his tether. I cannot carry all these people by myself, says Moses. The burden is too heavy for me. If this is going to be how it is God, then you might as well put me to death right now.
Moses here reminds me of some clergy colleagues I’ve known, who have become burned out in parish ministry. Such clergy tend to become quite angry with their congregations, they criticise them a lot, there’s no love there any more. It’s always sad when that happens.
It’s a moment of real honesty before God, of reality check, of truth telling. And of course that’s what we need to be aiming for in prayer. Being real, telling God how it is. I can’t cope. I can’t carry this burden on my own. I don’t know what to do.
And how does God respond? Well, God in his grace responds to Moses plight with the gift of co-workers. He instructs Moses to select seventy elders who will share leadership with Moses. “I will take of the spirit that is on you and put the spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.” The task of leadership that rested upon Moses alone is now shared with others whom God sets apart for the task.
Do you see what is happening here? Moses’s complaint was that other people that were the problem. God’s response is that other people are the solution. As spiritual leadership is dispersed more widely throughout the community, the burden upon Moses lifts. Everyone has to adjust to a new status quo, in which there is not one leader, one prophetic voice, but many. When two of the new leaders begin prophesying, people expect Moses to stamp out a perceived threat to his authority. But far from feeling threatened, Moses rejoices in this fresh outpouring of prophetic gifts. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would pour out his spirit upon them.”
At our Deanery evening last week Bishop Peter spoke about the recent service of authorisation of lay ministers in the diocese and how moved he was to see forty lay people who had completed their training courses authorised to ministries as children’s leaders, readers, pastoral workers, evangelists, and worship leaders. Would that all the Lord’s people in Sheffield Diocese were prophets and that the Lord would pour out his spirit upon them.
Reading the New Testament I wonder how we ever got to the model of Christian ministry as a solo act, rather than a team enterprise. Jesus begins his ministry by picking his team. The core group of the twelve are around Jesus constantly, sharing life with him, learning from him, being empowered by him to go and do as he does. In Mark chapter six we read how Jesus calls the twelve to him, and sends them out in groups of two , and “gives them authority over evil spirits”. In Acts as we follow the story of the growth of the Jesus movement, we observe ever widening circles of discipleship and leadership, including, significantly, the leadership of women.
Yet humanly, we struggle with the sharing of power and the widening of circles of authority. We have an example of that in today’s Gospel passage. The disciples are disturbed when they hear of someone driving out demons in Jesus name, who isn’t one of the twelve. But Jesus is quite relaxed about this. “Don’t stop him” Jesus says. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” The disciples want to hold on to a narrow, exclusivist vision of the Kingdom, but as ever Jesus throws the doors of the kingdom open wide. If healing is done in the name of Christ then what does it matter if it’s one of their team or one of our team who is doing it?
Over the summer I attended a course entitled, “Leading your church into Growth”. The course leaders said one of the most important things we could do to enable the church to thrive and grow was to establish a leadership team, where the vision for the church could be held and nurtured. So over the summer, our leadership team met for the first time, our three licensed clergy, Linda, Sally and I, our two churchwardens Richard and Eddie, and our reader Steve. I’ve never really thought of myself as Moses figure, but our reading today makes me realise that as the seventy elders were God’s gracious gift to Moses, so my colleagues on the leadership team are God’s gracious gift to me. And not only to me, but to the whole church, because effective leadership, leadership that is prayerful and visionary and shared, is a gift to the whole church community.
Yesterday afternoon church was buzzing for our first messy church for children and families. There was a kitchen team, a creative team, and a welcome team, all working together to make a wonderful new ministry happen. Because, yes, this is ministry. Dishing up pizza, making an anxious Mum or Dad feel welcome, sweeping up the mess, joining in with the prayers with the kids: this is what ministry in Christ’s church looks like. Take confidence, and name it for what it is. Do you think that ministry is what the clergy do, and everyone else is simply helping out? Don’t believe it. Don’t be fooled. Through baptism, we’re all called to be part of the team. We’re all called to bring the good news to our neighbours, to proclaim the transforming love of Jesus. This is ministry, and we’re all called to be ministers of the gospel. You, me and all of us, and it happens best when we do it together.
Frances Eccleston September 2012