Sunday, February 12, 2012

Leading by following

I just finished a 2-day Session retreat. It was a great time of renewal, as I and my fellow Session members welcomed a new group of elders on board.

Session? Elders? A brief explanation might be in order here.

Not every denomination (or church) is organized and run the same way. Some denominations, like the Episcopal and Methodist churches, are organized from the top down. Bishops make the decisions, transfer priests, and and so on. Congregational churches, like the Baptists, are organized bottom up. The congregation makes all the important decisions like hiring a minster, usually by voting.

In the Presbyterian church, it's a little different We have Session made up of elders (ordained laypersons) that handle most of the business of the church. These elders are elected by the congregation, and make most of the decisions independent of them.

Being a ruling elder (as I am) is a big responsibility. And the interesting part about it is that, at least in my church, almost no one wants to do it. And yet, most of our congregation have served on Session at one time or another.

How is that possible? Well, although it may look like the Session has a large amount of power over the congregation, it really doesn't. The congregation may not vote on the budget with their hands, but they certainly can with their wallets. The Session may decide to launch new programs, but without congregational participation, they won't go far.

And that's fine, because being an elder isn't about bossing other people around. And it's certainly not about power. It's about service, both to the other members of my church family and to God.

How to best use the church's resources and assets to further Christ's ministry is the Session's aim. We're simply stewards of the gifts. And "further" can be all kind of things. Sure, it could be mission trips and community outreach, but it can also mean nurturing the congregation, providing services for groups that have none, maintaining facilities so that they can be available in the future, and many other things besides.

It's a big responsibility, and a lot of work. If you're looking for fame, prestige, and power --  keep looking. But if you think the best way to lead is by serving, you've got the right attitude.

No one wants to be on Session. But we all feel like we've been called to be. It's a nice attitude for a governing body to have, I think.

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