No Hierarchy in the Commonwealth of God

No Hierarchy in the Commonwealth of God

In ancient Israel so many children died of early childhood disease, the culture didn’t really begin to even count them as persons until they had gotten past the measles, the mumps, chicken pox, and they had survived to the age of 9 or 10. When Jesus said to the disciples, “you must become as a little child,” he was not only referring to the issue of trust, trusting God like a little child, he was also the referencing the willingness to be a non-person in the eyes of hierarchical society – social status. The disciples struggled with this business of the last will be first and the first will be last. Even at the Last Supper they were arguing about who would become the Prime Minister in Jesus’ new government.

To place our story in context, Jesus and his disciples were returning to Capernaum after the transfiguration and the healing of the epileptic boy. While they were on the road Jesus reminded the disciples for the third time they were going to Jerusalem for the Passover, and the Temple authorities and the Romans would arrest him and execute him. His followers couldn’t seem to hear him, because their imaginations were full of power and glory they expected would be theirs, when they crowned Jesus King. We should also note that on the road Jesus used the messianic title “Son of man.” “Son of man” is a term used in the Hebrew Scriptures varying from an ordinary human to a divinely appointed ruler. References can be found in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and some of the Psalms. Most of the literature employing the term can be traced to the time of the exile in Babylon or post-exilic times.

When the company arrived in Capernaum Jesus invited the disciples to join him in the house. Jesus would not embarrass them publicly, and he wanted an object lesson. So he began with a question: “What were you discussing on the road?” As soon as they were confronted with the question, the disciples knew they were in trouble. So they remained silent. You have the right to remain silent, everything you say can and will be used against you. Once again Jesus reiterated his teaching, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus was advocating servant leadership.

Leadership according to Jesus is for the purpose of serving the needs of others rather than self. Too often we see leadership abused — leadership that is self-serving. Especially in our current political climate, money buys elections, and professional politicians serve their own ends and the desires of their donors, rather than addressing the needs of ordinary citizens. The Commonwealth of God on the other hand inspires servant leaders, men and women who use their spiritual gifts to minister to the needs of others.

In the last line of the story Jesus commends his followers to embrace other people regardless of hierarchical status. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. . .” Once again Jesus bids us throw off the ways of the world where money, power and status count. We are all children of God equally loved. As our society becomes increasingly stratified by income and social status Jesus calls upon all those who follow him to subvert the hierarchical system.

Subverting the hierarchical system doesn’t mean throwing business or capitalism overboard. People need to work. We all need to earn a living. Companies need to be able to produce a profit or they will not stay in business. But how our companies and organizations are led can make an incredible difference in the satisfaction of customers, the growth, cooperation, and fulfillment of employees, and the long term benefit of shareholders and other stakeholders like the community. Southwest Airlines is an example of a company that embraces servant leadership and makes a profit. As other carriers are going broke, Southwest Airlines commitment to its employees and the greater community pays off.

Let me share with you some comments from Colleen Barrett the President of Southwest Airlines about Servant Leadership: “We do build our pyramid a bit different… at the top of our pyramid in terms of priority is our employees, and delivering to them proactive customer service. If we do a good enough job of that, they in turn spend their time trying to assure the second most important group on our pyramid – our passengers – feels good about the service they are getting. And if those people feel good enough about it, then they come back for more. And if the passengers come back often enough, that means our third group of customers, in terms of importance, the shareholders are satisfied.”

“It’s pretty remarkable in the overall scheme of things if you can say that whatever you do for a living, that you enjoy it, that you contributed in some way and made the world a better place… we’ve helped people achieve dreams.”

In contrast to Colleen Barrett I am reminded of the new top down hard guy CEO who shows up, and his first day on the job he decides he is going to rid the company of slackers by making an example of someone.

So, on a tour of the facilities, the CEO notices a guy leaning up against a wall. The room is full of workers and he wants to let them know he means business! So, the CEO walks up to the guy and asks, “And how much money do you make a week?”

The young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $300.00 a week. Why?”

The CEO hands the guy $300 in cash and screams, “Here’s a week’s pay, now GET OUT and don’t come back!”

Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asks “Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-off did here?”

With a sheepish grin, one of the other workers mutters, “Pizza delivery guy from Domino’s.”

A servant leader asks questions and listens before making decisions or taking action. Servant leaders are empathetic seeking to encourage, motivate and mentor those with whom they work. Servant leaders nurture a culture of caring in the organizations where they work.

Jesus calls upon those who follow him to change the model of leadership, change the pyramid, and change the hierarchy. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” On the night before his execution, at the Last Supper, Jesus took the towel and the water basin and washed the feet of his disciples. If we would be leaders, we must become the servants of all.

One small way as followers of the way of Jesus we seek to subvert the hierarchies of social status is by welcoming everyone into our community of faith. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” A second way at United Church we offer an alternative to hierarchy is the Sharing Table. On Thursday evenings everyone who comes is fed. There are no distinctions at the Sharing Table – all are welcome.

Two years ago when we invited the congregation to participate in asset mapping, we changed the pyramid. Everyone brought their gifts and talents to the table, and as we connected the differing gifts of individuals, new projects and ministries began to emerge. Our moderator Greg Kamback has challenged our congregation to initiate a visioning process to ask where do we want our church to be five – ten years into the future.

As servant leaders we are all going to be asked to take some role in that process. The Deacons are working toward using their call/care lists to organize small group meetings within the congregation to help us answer the fundamental questions, who are we as a community of faith, where are we right now, where do we want to be in the future, and how do we get there? Again the principles of servant leadership guide us into listening to one another first, empathizing with the needs of people, and healing the conflicts in relationship in the community.

Among the principles of servant leadership we need to consider this Fall is stewardship. We all share a responsibility for the life of our faith community. Stewardship of our lives brings us into closer relationship to God, when we become aware that all that we have, all that we are comes to us as a gift from God. What we share with others in community is part of our response to the divine generosity that gives us life itself. What we share in our community of faith are the gifts, talents, and money that make the commonwealth of God a reality here and now. By sharing with one another in our community of faith we help to create a hierarchy free zone – a faith place where all are welcome.


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