April 24, 2013 by eimrick
Richard Leland has been an instructor with Walk Thru the Bible and for ten years was their Director for International Training, conducting training seminars in 35 countries. If you ever get a chance to sit and talk with him about his experience in overseas training, you’ll be utterly captivated. Along with all of this, he serves as the Senior Pastor Summer Street Church on Nantucket Island, MA.
He helps answer the question many emerging leaders are asking themselves; “Where do I fit in?”
Some imagine that early church leadership ran as smoothly as an iPhone, each leader in Jesus’ church working with others in a well-integrated operating system. We love the Acts 2:42-47 picture but are jolted by contemporary church tensions that seem aberrational. Of course, that image of the early decades of Jesus’ followers is a mirage if taken in isolation.
How can young leaders in Christ’s body today weave their ways through the often maze-like madness of conflict among church leaders? I see a signpost in the right direction in the first couple of chapters of Galatians.
You’ll recall Paul’s struggle wasn’t only against false teachers worming their ways into the Galatian churches to denigrate the godly leaders and enslave new Christians with legalism (2:4). Hey, in most cases we’re able to refute false teaching. It’s often the more subtle misgivings some of us have with other leaders and teachers that cause the greater trouble. We don’t like this one’s attitude or that one’s borderline teaching on some less-that-central doctrine. If that other person doesn’t come around to our way of thinking we subtly reject them without recognizing that all who’ve bowed to Jesus have a place in His body and we’re all to keep on growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
Some tension among early church leaders becomes evident through a careful reading of the Galatian text. While recounting his visit with apostles in Jerusalem, Paul refers to leaders like James, Peter, and John as those who “seemed to be leaders,” “seemed to be important,” and those who were “reputed to be pillars of the church” (2:2, 6, 9). Paul parenthetically mentions in verse 6 that “whatever they were made no difference” to him for they “added nothing” to his message of God’s grace to the Gentiles. After all, God doesn’t play favorites.
The tension reaches a climax in verse 11 where Paul records his confrontation with Peter over failure to follow the gospel of grace in practice. This was not the only time early Christian leaders struggled a bit with each other. We recall Paul and Barnabas separating over young John Mark.
While Paul may be deflating some of the Galatian legalizers’ exaggerated claims regarding the Jerusalem apostles, he was not deprecating them. He recognized their short comings but he still emphasized his unity with them by receiving their right hand of fellowship.
Both the Jerusalem apostles and Paul were entrusted with the same gospel, Paul to the Gentiles and his Jerusalem brothers to the Jews. They were led and empowered by God toward different ministries in different contexts with different emphases. It’s possible to be different than other leaders but still experience unity with them. The gospel is one and those who preach it are one, though on some issues they may differ. One Lord, one faith, one baptism … but different callings, different gifts, different ministries.
So where did Paul see himself fitting in with his colleagues in Jerusalem? He recognized that, contrary to the inflated claims of the Galatian false teachers, the Jerusalem apostles were just as flawed and prone to error as was he (“the chief of sinners”). Yet he stood with them as a group of imperfect yet growing servants of God, who by His grace were placed together as leaders in the Body. Conflict among leaders can be costly, but it can also be refining if handled with care.
What are some lessons from this that might help young church leaders today? I’ll suggest a few:
- Sink our roots deeply into the conviction that God has a plan and place for us.
- Walk away from the deadly “They’re not like me” syndrome.
- Recognize we’re not perfect. We’ll disappoint others and we’ll be disappointed by them.
- Spend more time looking for opportunities to serve than looking for opportunities to criticize.
- Flush away envy of other servants of Christ – how they teach, where they minister, how others praise them. Remember, comparison is a satanic scheme to bring us down.
- Don’t seek to copy others. We’ll never fill the niche the Holy Spirit has for us by mimicking another.
- Look to God, not others when seeking where we fit. Look to His powerful, convicting Word with an open heart.
- Extend grace when annoyed and forgiveness when wronged. This is the only path to contentment, because we all fail frequently.
As leaders in Christ’s church it is vital that we recognize our uniqueness … and the uniqueness of our brothers and sisters. Unlike my iPhone, none of us is perfect (Ha!). But under the gracious hand of God we each have our place as leaders in our Savior’s family. Life is too precious to settle for anything less.
What other lessons do you draw from this text?
Next week, I’m thrilled to have Mel Walker of Vision for Youth and Baptist Bioble College guest blog for us.