2018 – By the Numbers

by-the-numbers

So, how are we doing?

Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report.  By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report.  Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going.  I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.

Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it.  It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance.  And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both.  In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323.  In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them.  We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!).   So is declining membership bad?  Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.

I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual.  So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.

On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78.  Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges.  Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses.  In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.

Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media.  For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers.   In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199.  That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.

I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this.  We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team.  But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news.  Clearly, we have work to do, but  in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better.  Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.

Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Keep up the good work.

Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.

 

Mystery Revealed!

Mystery Revealed

January 06, 2019*

Epiphany

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 60:1-6              Matthew 2:1-12                     Ephesians 3:1-12

 

Have you ever read mystery stories?  Honestly, there was a long time during which, although I was an avid reader, I never had any interest in reading mysteries.  But at some point, I took a class that studied the genre of mystery stories for a required credit in English literature.  For that class we were required to read, and study, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and a dozen others.  But in studying this subject, we learned a new word that stuck with me despite being a word that is a little uncommon.  We learned the word, “denouement.”   Here’s an official definition.

Denouement (pronounced Day-noo-mawhn)

noun: denouement; plural noun: denouements; noun: dénouement; plural noun: dénouements

The final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together, and matters are explained or resolved.   The climax of a chain of events, usually when something is decided or made clear.

synonyms: culmination, climax, conclusion, solution

What this means, at least as we discuss mystery stories, is usually the part of the story where the detective calls everyone together and points out the guilty person, or explains how the mystery happened, and clears up all the confusion that the reader has been wrestling with during the story.  This is usually the climax of the story and from then on, most of the story is just housekeeping and explaining how everyone lived “happily ever after.”

But by now you’ve noticed that this morning’s message is entitled, “Mystery Revealed” so I’m sure some of you are wondering what that’s all about.  In reply, I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while because before I get to the end, it will all become clear(er).  We begin 800 years before the time of Jesus in the writings of the propher Isaiah where we hear these words that describe the Messiah that was to come (Isaiah 60:1-6):

60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you  and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,  and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Even in such a quick reading, we can immediately see several things that sound familiar to us from the Christmas story: a messiah that brings light to the world and dispels the darkness, nations that are drawn to toward the light of the new messiah, wanderers, expatriates, and captives that return to Israel from afar, kings of other nations who worship him, and who send gifts of gold and incense.  And we see the fulfillment of many of these prophecies in the coming of the magi in Matthew 2:1-12.

2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Nations came to the light of his star to worship him and bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And while all of God’s lost children have yet been repatriated into Israel, we remember that Jesus often said that his mission on earth was to rescue the lost sheep of Israel. And if we continue reading the scriptures, we also find Paul’s explanation of the mystery of Jesus Christ as it relates to Isaiah, Jesus, and the coming of the magi in Ephesians 3:1-12.

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Paul says that the mystery of the messiah was revealed to Paul, and the mystery is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been invited back into the family of God.  And once this mystery was revealed to us, then we realize that we can see that revelation from the beginning of the Christmas story.  We realize that the genealogies of Jesus, found in the gospels, show us that Mary and Joseph came from a family that welcomed in foreigners and strangers, and we realize that the story of the magi is a story about gentiles and foreigners being among the first worshippers of the newborn messiah king.

The revelation of Paul, the mystery that is revealed, is that not only is the Christmas story a beautiful story, not only is it “good new of great joy” but that the messiah Jesus came “for all the people” and it wasn’t just all the Jewish people or for all the descendants of Abraham.  The story of Christmas is good news of great joy for all the gentile people, and that means all of us.  The arrival of the magi in the Christmas story is the part of the story where we show up.  While the shepherds were the Jewish outsiders, the magi are the aliens, the strangers, the ultimate outsiders.  This is one of the reasons that the Orthodox church celebrates Christmas in January, today, at Epiphany.  The arrival of the magi is the part of the story that includes us, it is the gentile denouement, the climax of the story where everything is revealed. 

Epiphany, and the arrival of the magi, is the part of the Christmas story where we are invited in and where we become a part of God’s family.

Epiphany means that Christmas isn’t just a Jewish story.

It’s our story.

And we are invited, in fact, as the church, we are commanded, to tell the world so that the story of Christmas, and the love of Jesus Christ, can be everyone’s story.

How’s that for a Christmas present?

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

 


 

 

 
*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Peace through… What?

Peace Through… What?

December 09, 2018*

(Second Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 

Malachi 3:1-4             Luke 3:1-6                  Philippians 1:3-11

 

Peace.

In our modern world, we have often heard the phrase, “Peace through strength.”  Nations, from ancient Rome, to Hitler’s Germany, to today’s military-industrial machine, have all claimed to bring about peace through having a powerful military, but it has rarely worked out that way.  Peace through strength only works when that strength is used to threaten the peace of others.  Granted, used rightly, and justly, that same strength can be used to rescue people, and nations, from abuse by other nations or from terrorists.  But God’s story leans in another direction.  God’s story bends the claim of “peace through strength” into a different shape entirely.  In Malachi 3:1-4, God says:

3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

God says that he will send a messenger to his people and this will be the messenger that Israel has desired, and has prayed for, for thousands of years since the time of King David.  But this promise also comes with a warning.  When God’s messenger, God’s Messiah, appears, he will prepare the way for God by refining and purifying his people.  God’s message is that there is strength through purity and strength through righteousness.

But let’s look a little deeper and understand why this is a warning.

Malachi says that God’s messenger will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and will purify the Levites, the priests of God, and refine them like gold and silver.

Why is that a warning?  It is a warning if you understand how silver and gold are purified.

When silver is refined, the silversmith places the silver over the fire, in the middle of the furnace, where the fire is the hottest and waits while the fire burns away all its impurities.  During this process, the silversmith can never take his eyes away from the silver or it might overheat and be destroyed.  But the silversmith knows the precise moment when the silver has been purified, because at that moment, he can clearly see his reflection in it.  God’s warning is that that he intends to purify his priests, and purify his people, by burning away all of their impurities so that they will reflect his image and his glory.

Peace through purification. 

Peace through trials.

Peace through the refiner’s fire.

We await the return of Jesus.  We are expectant.  But we are warned that, for us, his return may not be easy.

John the Baptist reinforces this same image in Luke 3:1-6, where we hear these words:

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

John preached that God’s people must busy themselves preparing the way for the arrival of the Messiah by repenting of their sins.  “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked roads shall become straight, the rough places smooth”, and only then… “all the people will see God’s salvation.”

Peace through repentance.

And finally, we come to the Apostle Paul as he writes to the church in Philippi and prays for them as we see in Philippians 1:3-11.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Right off the bat, Paul begins by saying that God has begun a good work in his church and prays that God will continue the work that he has already started.   And, just in case you missed the importance of this, I want to restate it.  Paul tells the church that what they are doing is good, but that God isn’t finished with them yet, that there is more work to do, that we are a work in-progress, and he is praying that God would continue to move us in that direction until we have accomplished everything that God has intended for us to do.  Second, Paul reminds the church that whether we are together or apart, we share God’s grace and we share God’s work.  And finally, Paul’s prayer is that the love of the church may grow greater and greater, that the people will grow in the knowledge of God and in depth of insight into the mind of God so that  we might be able to discern what is best, so that we might be pure and blameless on the day of Christ’s return, and so that the church will be filled with the fruits of righteousness, so that God would be given praise and glory.

And if we boil that down, we find Paul’s prayers for the people of Jesus Christ are these:

Peace through the perfecting work of God.

Peace through the grace of God.

Peace through love.

Peace through the knowledge of God.

And we hear the united voices of Malachi, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul saying,

“Peace through the righteousness of God.”

The second coming of Jesus Christ will not be easy.  We must work diligently to live up to the high calling as a kingdom, and as priests, of Jesus.  We are being refined and purified into something better.  We must daily work to move toward the perfection of Jesus, to struggle daily to be more like Jesus, so that we can love others like Jesus.

It is no accident that Isaiah 9:6 describes the Messiah this way:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We are a kingdom of priests, be he is…

The Prince of Peace

No matter the strength of a nation, or it’s swords, horses, and armies or navies, peace through strength will always fail… without the Prince of Peace.

There can only be peace…

            …through Jesus.

 

 

 

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Pastor’s Report – Charge Conference 2018

Every fall, our church has a “Charge conference” in which we present our slate of officers for the next year and next year’s proposed budget, we also vote on staff salaries, and turn in paperwork that is intended to satisfy our District Superintendent, Bishop, Annual Conference, the IRS, and other end of year housekeeping.  As a part of that, I am asked to submit a “pastor’s report” outlining our activities for the year and my expectations for next year.  It’s a lot like the “What I did last summer” reports that we wrote in the fall as school children.  In any event, I wanted to share that report with you, so what follows is the report that I turned in at Charge conference last month.


 

Pastor’s Report

Charge Conference 2018

Having arrived at Christ UMC only three months ago, I really don’t have a lot to reflect upon.  But I can, at least, share my observations.  Christ Church is a busy church with almost constant activity.  We are deeply involved in the community at many levels, from our association with Habitat for Humanity, Men’s Challenge, and the Alliance of Churches, which have office space on our first floor, to our participation in local food pantries and “flight pack” food programs for school children, to the professional involvement of our members in the Chamber of Commerce, the Lion’s Club, and other organizations.  Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts meet here, are strongly supported and our own youth group, though small, has the deep and enthusiastic support of every member regardless of age.  Not only does Christ Church host the weekly community dinner (which is averaging well over 100 people, and often 150), our church isn’t content to simply feed people, it is active in teaching life skills, such as cooking, so that many of those same people can become more independent and self-sufficient.

We have also found, that the people of Christ Church are not just supportive of local outreach efforts but are incredibly supportive of missions nationally and internationally.  Two members of our church volunteered for our planned mission to Kentucky when we had only just arrived here, and they had hardly done more than met me.  There were several others who expressed a sincere interest in going with us but who had scheduling conflicts that prevented it.  I have no doubt that we will be successful in returning to Kentucky with another team at least once next year, and we are exploring the possibility of doing so cooperatively with the chaplain at the University of Mount Union.  What’s more, since we arrived in Alliance and at Christ UMC so close to our planned mission trip to Liberia with the East Ohio Conference’s Farmer to Farmer mission, Patti and I understood that our ability to do fundraising would be limited.  But what we found, was a church family who had already sent their lay leader to Sierra Leone, who was so incredibly supportive of our trip that they repeatedly asked us to do informational presentations, and who raised more support for our trip than we imagined possible even if we had done more extensive fundraising.

As if these things weren’t enough, despite everything that Christ Church and its people are doing, their passion, compassion, and enthusiasm are regularly causing them to ask, “What more can we do?”  As such, this year Christ Church is taking over the Thanksgiving meal that had formerly been spearheaded by the United Church of Christ.  Since last year’s project distributed approximately 1,500 meals, this is an enormous undertaking, but the evidence is that Christ Church, and our Alliance community, are rising to the challenge.

So, even though I have only been at Christ Church for a few months, several things seem clear.  First, although the people of Christ Church sometimes seem a little weary, their enthusiasm, faith, compassion, and heart for Jesus fill them with an enthusiasm that other churches might envy.  Second, as we see with people, and with churches everywhere, although there is a fondness for doing things that “we have always done,” the people of Christ Church are unafraid, open, and even eager, to try new things.  Third, it is apparent from conversations in our community, that Christ Church is viewed by the people in and around Alliance in a very positive way.

Taken together, these things, and others, tell me that God isn’t done with Christ Church yet.  There is much to be done, and the people of Christ Church are interested, and ready, to discover what God is calling us to do next.  I am sure that, working together, we can find a way for Christ Church to be healthy, vital, and vibrant as we make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of Alliance, Ohio… and the world.

Past, Present, Future

BellsLast night I attended our youth group meeting and had the incredible opportunity to climb the bell tower and see some of the “behind the scenes” things that most people never see.  I posted pictures on Facebook of our bells, the view of the street through the wire mesh, and the incredible size of some of the beams that support the roof.  Those beams are huge, and every few inches is a rivet the size of a half dollar or a half of a golf ball.  Mike Greiner and I were marveling as we remembered what it must have took to put that all in place in 1896.  Fifty years before welding was invented, each of those rivets would have been hammered in by hand while still red-hot, and each of those mammoth beams had to be carefully raised into place three for four stories above the ground. img_20180923_222439_111

While we were in the tower, we also had the chance to jump over one of those beams, climb down a rickety looking ladder, climb the catwalk, maneuver around some other beams, and ultimately stand in the space above our sanctuary ceiling.  It is only in that space that you can see the original sanctuary ceiling which was covered up during a renovation in the 1930’s.  At that time, the ceiling was lowered, perhaps in an effort to add insulation and increase energy efficiency, but that effort also allowed the removal of the great sanctuary chandelier gas lights and install overhead electric lighting in the ceiling instead.

img_20180923_190423428I love being able to do things like that.  I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that all our youth did too (Thanks Mike!).  But this experience got me thinking.  As our trustees and finance committees meet, I often thank God for the gifts that have been given to us by those giants of the faith who were here before us.  Since 1839, generations of men and women have labored together in this place and contributed their sweat, their time, their passion, their hearts, and their money to the ministry that goes on here still today.

But we also remember, that as impressive as it is, they didn’t do all of this so that we could take up space in an impressive building.  Buildings may be impressive, and they may be beautiful, but they don’t inspire, and they don’t accomplish the mission.  Those men and women who were here from 1839 until now left us a legacy of more than bricks and mortar.  Each of them worked to preach the message of the Gospel, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to care for the widows and the orphans, to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ, to offer light to a dark world, and rescue to people who were condemned by God.

And thinking about all of that brought me to this thought: What will we be remembered for?  Many of us, and many of those in our community, have a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ because generations of people in this place made sure that they passed on what they knew to the next generation.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those men and women built a church, they carved out a community and a city in the middle of a wilderness, they constructed, and remodeled, a marvelous architectural work of art in which we worship, and they remained faithful to the mission and the vision of Jesus Christ. img_20180923_183536_854

But today, the responsibility for that mission and vision has fallen to us.  If we are to be remembered, then resting on the shoulders of those giants isn’t enough.  We must carry on, and move forward, with the same vision, passion and commitment as those who went before us.  It’s our turn to preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and orphans, offer light to a dark world, and rescue the lost.

Make no mistake.  Our church building is incredible.  But as we admire its beauty we should ask ourselves:

How will we be remembered?

What legacy will we leave behind?

Leader or Servant? – Why Character Matters

“Leader or Servant?”

(Why Character Matters)

September 23, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37             James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

Have you ever seen someone use authority well?

Sometime around 1995 I was working in research and development on a new type of control system for residential forced-air heating systems.  We had developed the technology in the laboratory and were ready to install several systems, in various parts of the country, run them in the homes of real people, and collect data on their operation.  One of the homes in which our system would be installed belonged to an executive in major furnace manufacturer which was one of our industry partners.  Everything was proceeding on schedule and under budget until we were within a week or two of the installation.  We had our plane tickets in hand.  The equipment was already on site.  But everything got jammed up when our company lawyers couldn’t agree with their company lawyers over who was liable for what.  As engineers, it was completely out of our hands.  All we could do was watch as faxes and emails went back and forth between us and our partner.

Until our Vice President, who oversaw the entire research department, stepped in.  One day, in the middle of this impasse, he stopped in to ask why nothing was happening.  So, we told him.  By the next day, the contracts were completed, signed, and the project was back on track.  When I asked my manager what happened, he said that our VP had simply called their VP, they both called their respective lawyers, told them that they wanted it done, and POOF!  It got done.

I’ve always remembered that story because it reminds me that a key responsibility of leaders is to work for, to serve, their subordinates.  Our VP rarely involved himself in the daily affairs of engineers, but he reminded us that when we really needed his authority, he worked for us.  By virtue of his position, title, and power, he could get things done that we couldn’t hope to do.  We had no ability to argue with our legal team or to overcome their objections and concerns, but all he needed to do was to tell them to get it done… and it was done.

In each of our scriptures today we see different types of godly leadership that we can apply to our lives in church, at home, and in our schools and workplaces.  We begin at home, in Proverbs 31:10-31, which is the one chapter of the Bible that is known to be written by a woman.  Proverbs 31:1 says that these words are:

31:1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.

And so, even though King Lemuel put the words on paper, he made sure that everyone knew that these were his mother’s words.  We continue reading in verse ten where it says:

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff  and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

This passage is sometimes criticized as a description of the expectations placed upon women, but I don’t see it that way.  Instead, I find that this describes a woman of strong character who is, as much as possible in the culture in which she lives, a full and dedicated partner, with her spouse, in the life of their family and in building a life together.  She is, without question, a leader in her community who dedicates her time and effort to lifting up her family, her household, the poor, and her entire community.  She and her husband act as a team.  Their efforts, together, build the respect in the community for both of them and although he must have some sort of employment, she seems to earn just as much for her family and provides for them in ways that he cannot.  Neither of the members of this partnership would do as well without the other.  She is able to do what she does because of him, and he is able to do what he does because of her and each would be severely handicapped without the other.  Because of her hard work, her leadership, and her compassion for others, she is honored and praised by her family, and by the leaders of her community.

But what is it about this woman that makes her good and honorable?

Is it just because she works hard?  And what can we learn from this and apply to our own lives?

In James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a, we hear this explanation:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James simply says that character matters.  If you are wise and understanding… prove it.  If you are smart, then your life will show the world that you are smart.  The way that you live, the deeds that you do, the friends that you keep, the actions that you take, the humility that you show in your interactions with others, is the proof that the world will witness.  At the same time, bitter envy and selfish ambition is proof that you are earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic because envy and selfish ambition are not the proof of wisdom, but the hallmarks of disorder and evil.

In contrast, the wisdom that comes from God is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, sincere, and full of good fruit.  It is the peacemakers, James says, who produce great harvests of righteousness in the lives of others.  Fights and quarrels are the result of conflicting human desires.  Our desires, greed, and covetousness drive us toward evil, violence, and death.  We claim that God doesn’t hear our prayers, but the James says that the real reason our prayers go unanswered is that we ask with the wrong motives.  We ask God to give us stuff so that we can spend what he gives us for our own pleasure and not for the things of God and for God’s kingdom.

James’ recipe for success, is to submit to God.  Men and women must both submit to God.  We must resist the devil, resist evil, come to God, and only then will God come close to us.  We must purify ourselves, our motive must be pure, so that we are not double-minded.  We cannot want what God wants and want what we want.  We cannot pray that God would bless his ministry and grow his church and use his blessings for our own pleasures.

I admit that this is difficult stuff.  James is ruthless and his teaching pierces the hearts of the best among us.  But his message is clear.  A pure heart is a heart that is dedicated to God… alone.

And so, what does any of that have to do with leadership?  How does a heart dedicated to God look to the outside world, or to our church, or to our family?

And for that, we turn to Mark 9:30-37 where we hear the answer from Jesus.

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus says that the hallmark of true, humble, peace-loving, pure, godly leadership is servanthood.  Leaders are called to be servants first and tyrants last.  These are the things that reveal our character.  David fell when he considered his desires ahead of Uriah’s, but also ahead of the needs of Bathsheba, the needs of his nation, or the will of God.  The illustration and visual aid that Jesus uses is the welcoming of little children.  With few words, this speaks volumes about leadership.  Jesus says that leaders do good, even for those who can do nothing for you in return.  This is as far from “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” as you can possibly get.  This says, “I’ll scratch your back, even if you don’t have any arms.”  This says that leaders help others, not because they expect something in return, but simply because they can.  The Vice President of Research had little (something but not much) to gain by helping us break the logjam on our project, but with one phone call, he did what several engineers and two or three managers couldn’t get done in weeks.  He wasn’t a particularly godly man, as far as I know, but I have always remembered this example of leadership.

This is why character matters.  Real leaders are not just leaders.  Real leaders, godly leaders, must be servants at heart.

As leaders, our personal desires must take a back seat to the needs of those whom we lead and serve.

Our priority must always be the mission, but also the care of those under our authority, whether or not they like us, whether or not we like them, and whether or not they can do something for us in return.

And don’t think that you are off the hook because you aren’t a leader.  All of us, in one way or another, are leaders or, at the very least, are training for leadership.  All of us, at one time or another, find ourselves responsible for others.  We teach Sunday school, we parent children, we babysit, and so on.  Many of us are what the military refers to as unofficial leaders, or back-channel leaders.  We are people who others look up to, and respect, simply because we are older, or have done our jobs longer, or because we are known to be honest, or diligent, in our work.  Leadership doesn’t have to come with an official title.

All of us are leaders.

All of us must lead with a servant’s heart.

Because…

…character matters.

_________

Did you enjoy reading this?


Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

_______________

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Connecting the Dots

dog-connect-the-dotsHave you ever played “Dot-to-Dot”?  Do you remember doing those dot-to-dot games and worksheets when you were younger?  When you start one of those sheets, it just looks like a mess, an unorganized mass of dots.  But as we move our pencils and draw lines from one number to the next, the picture begins to fill in.  In Kindergarten, our puzzles only had a few dots, but the older we got, the more complex they became until there were some advanced puzzle sheets that, with a little patience and care, became beautiful and interesting pictures.

Real life in our church is lot like that.

It’s a conversation that I’ve had with our church staff and with a few others and it’s a conversation that we will likely keep having because, like all humans, we tend to forget.

The reason we need to keep talking about it, is this: Our church, like most other churches, does a lot of great things.  We care.  We care about people, and we care about things like scripture, and faithfulness, and Jesus, and sharing the gospel.  But sometimes, we get so focused on doing all the things that we do, that we forget to “connect the dots.”  It’s important to stay focused on the mission of Jesus Christ, to rescue the lost and bring comfort to the poor and the hurting.  But while we do that, we need to remember that coming to faith in Christ is a process that doesn’t happen all at once.  People don’t hear about Jesus and suddenly <<POOF!>> become mature disciples.

And so, as a church, we find ourselves with all these “dots.”  We have a “dot” for evangelism, and a dot for missions, and a dot for Christian Education, and a dot this, and a dot for that, and, if we aren’t careful, it begins to look like a mass of unorganized dots.  The goal is to connect the dots, so that we can not only reach out to the lost, but to also guide them along a process that will lead them to faith in Jesus, and then to church attendance, church membership, growing Christian maturity, and eventually to becoming mature disciples of Jesus Christ working toward the transformation of the world.

I encourage us all to think about how we “connect the dots” here at Christ Church.

As we plan worship services, and mission trips, and evangelism, and all sorts of other “dots”, let’s try to remember to pause occasionally to ask ourselves, “What happens next?”  What part of the process came before this one, and what part should come next?  Let’s think about how we can guide new people and fellow believers alike through the process from unbeliever to mature disciple.

We will need to work together to accomplish our mission and… connect the dots.

Blessings,

John