This past weekend our Session gathered for a training retreat. During our time together we explored what it means to be an Elder in the church. In fact we discussed the fact that in our life together, we are working to redefine the role of an Elder. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say we are seeking to recapture the original meaning of the office of Elder. There is a drastic difference between what the original Elders in Scripture did and what our contemporary expression is.
Today, Elders are often thought of as elective representatives who manage the church. This is a drastic departure from the original reality of Elders and is also one that has led to folly in God’s Church. Elders are intended to be Spiritual Leaders who led the people of God to seek God’s will. While some of the collateral duties are managerial in nature, they are not the central calling. Often Elders are so consumed with doing the management that they are unable to think about what the will of God is, let alone lead people to seek it.
In our congregation we are working towards a congregational leadership style that is collaborative and permission giving. Most of us who have spent any time in the church trying to get things done have seen that at times we have gotten in our own way. Our taskforce leadership model is intended to be streamlined and empower individuals to lead. I’m sure you noticed that I used phrases like, “working towards” and “intended to” in the last few sentences. We are working against systems, practices and misperceptions that are centuries old. Much like those who are in recovery, we are taking steps towards transformation. Like many of you, I wish it was something we could just say, “abracadabra” and everyone would be on the same page.
At Christ Presbyterian we have sought to divest control to our members. One underpinning principle of our community is that each of us is a member of the “Priesthood of All Believers.” This means that each of us is a priest unto God. Carrying out the will of God in the world isn’t a calling for some but is a call for all of God’s people. By letting go of control, the Elders of our congregation are seeking to empower our members to answer God’s call. Yes, you have a calling and our Elders’ calling is to help you develop and respond to this calling.
One way this is achieved is by developing relationships with each other. Just as we cannot discern what God’s will is if we don’t have a central relationship with God, we cannot encourage each other unless we know what our gifts, talents and passions are. In the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition we do a great deal of talking about the gifts and talents, but passion is something the tradition has been fearful of. This fear is rooted in a hesitantly to let go. The phrase, “Let go and let God” comes to mind here.
I believe that one thing that we as a congregation and as the big “C” Church have done is ignored peoples passions because they didn’t fit into a specific need. We don’t listen to the person who is passionate about a soup kitchen because right now we need a Sunday school superintendent. This is a disservice to the individual, the church and to God. Perhaps God speaks through the passions of our members. This doesn’t mean that every passion is one that fits into the life of our congregation, but we must begin to not only listen to each others God-given passions but also find ways to bring them out.
I hear some saying now, “This doesn’t sound Presbyterian.” We are supposed to be thoughtful, intellectual people, not passionate. (I have heard this come out of the mouths of people I know and love.) Following our passions doesn’t mean we check everything else at the door. Instead we incorporate it into the discernment process.
There can be pitfalls with following passion. Sometimes when we are passionate about something we loose sight of the bigger picture. We also might charge ahead and step on toes. I believe that we should continually remind ourselves of these concerns but we can’t employ them as an excuse to stop ourselves from going to a place that we might be fearful of.
Finally, I believe that following our passions brings about greater results. I have seen program after program led by people who were fully committed to them, fail. When our leaders and members are passionate about what they are doing, it bears great fruit. Passion is contagious.
What is your passion? Is there a place that it can be currently expressed in the congregation? If not, what would it look like to do so? Don’t be afraid to talk with me about ideas you have that will allow passion for God to flow from you and our congregation.