“Paul a servant of God and an Apostle of Jesus Christ. To Titus my true son in our faith. Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour. The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you”
I have often wondered whether Paul the great Apostle would have chosen himself to be part of the long-term leadership of a local church? I have also wondered whether Paul or even James, the brother of Jesus & leader of the early church, would have chosen any of the remaining 11 original Apostles to be a member of a stable long-term leadership team in a local church?
I understand that most of us would want to answer those questions with an immediate, “YES of course!’
But are you sure? Really sure?
Let’s think about this for a moment. The people that we ask to join with us in church leadership need to fit into a very specific context. That context is directly related to the type of local church you or I are trying to build in our area. The context is so important.
When we see the great man Paul writing to his young disciples Timothy or Titus he instructs them very carefully on what type of people to bring into leadership of a local church. We can assume they were relatively small local churches. Young in the faith. Delicately balanced. Churches which needed protecting against false doctrines. Churches that needed safeguarding from strange immoral Greco Roman hedonistic practices. They needed the basics of the christian faith teaching again and again and again. Widows needed taking care of. Orphans needed love and protection. Foreigners needed welcoming. History shows us that these ancient local churches were places where the good news of the kingdom of God spead rapidly but the change that occured in people’s lives would happen slowly but very surely like yeast multiplies through dough – like a mustard seed grows and becomes a small shrub then a tree.
Now, let us consider Jesus. When Jesus chose His closest twelve disciples He wasn’t starting a local church. He was launching a movement -his global kingdom. He needed a radical band of spiritual revolutionaries. Jesus didn’t seem to choose well-grounded, sensible, highly intelligent people with a gift for teaching who naturally worked well in a team. He chose strong personalities. He chose individuals with their own mind. Some were impulsive, some very zealous, some short tempered, some who talked too much, some who doubted too much. An unlikely bunch of odd characters.
Jesus chose a team that matched His perfect vision of re-launching the most vital part of the cosmic project called the Kingdom of God; the Church. A group of individuals who would eventually venture to the edges of the known world. Who would suffer hardship everyday for the cause of the gospel. All but two of whom would lay down their lives as martyrs for the cause of the Kingdom. Later, the risen and ascended Jesus appeared to a man with a very strong personality who became the most radical and individual of followers, a revolutionary called Saul. He is the very the reason we are here today.
Yet Saul, later called Paul, instructs his own young followers who are settled in local church to choose a very different kind of person to watch over the flock of believers. Not revolutionaries -but team players. Teachers. Stable, mature, well-grounded leaders with pastoral hearts.
There are it seems leaders who make new exciting things happen, who start fresh movements of ministry locally, regionally, nationally, internationally …… and then ….. there are leaders who just as importantly watch over those new things and nurture and protect them, ensuring that they remain healthy and so grow.
What leaders do we need for our local context? I suggest that we need both types. Probably a mix of those that truly transform things and those that nurture things.
You may say,”we don’t need people who start movements in our church. We are already part of a movement called the pentecostal church, or the evangelical church. We just need to nurture it and it will grow.” Perhaps you are right. But perhaps not.
If you pause and consider your church’s effectiveness and whilst doing so notice significant gaps in its ministry; for example that there is no work amongst the youth in your community; can I suggest that you don’t need a worker who is a nurturer; you need a brave radical pioneer who, with a mix of risk and faith, creates an exciting movement of youth. Only then do you need nurturers.
Another example; if after studying your local community you desire to launch a ministry to reach them with the good news of the Kingdom of God. May I suggest you don’t really need to start with shepherds. You need a sheepdog. A transformer. A radical. A person with zeal and energy and vigour who pioneers things for God.
On most occasions I am convinced that we as local church leaders are tiring ourselves out, and tiring our leadership teams out because we have chosen the wrong mix of people for our teams. The thing about us church leaders is that we want our teams to be safe. We don’t want people to rock the boat (we have enough of that with people in the congregation), we value stability.
Now I would love to simply explore more about that in a very analytical way, perhaps there may be time outside of this article to do that. But right now I want to bring an idea based on how my own musical heritage has helped me understand some things about building a team.
I want to tell you where I’ve been and where I believe God is helping me in building a fresh team that will help my own church face the challenges of the future.
I am a musician. I am also an introvert. If I walk into a crowded room of strangers I often feel overwhelmed but as long as there is a piano in the corner I know that I have a friend. Me and a piano are always good friends. So it comes as no surprise that the Holy Spirit often reveals things to me with metaphors and images that are related to music.
For the last 14 years of being in a position of senior leadership I have been blessed with a very faithful and very stable team of men and women who are committed to building a healthy church. By the grace of God we have accomplished some wonderful things. I have led them in a particular way. Let me tell you how by journeying through one musical analogy (or parable if you will). And then I will ask you to consider a different way.
Enter into my imaginary musical world for the next few minutes.
In this world, join with me in viewing God as the composer of all great music. He is of course the composer of all creation so it doesn’t take much effort to view him as the creator of music.
Each musical note and phrase he has created is supposed to declare His splendour. Each note challenges and changes people’s hearts.
He has dispersed freely throughout this imaginary world various musical gifts, talents and skills, in order that humanity can never be without the ability to play and hear His divine music.
He has chosen some to be conductors of orchestras. Pastors – that’s you. Each conductor finds his or herself in a different context, a different geography with a different audience. The aim of the conductor is to understand the breadth of the music that the composer has written and then choose a repertoire to suit their own context. Each conductor aquires different musical scores, tunes and songs from the composer which will move and motivate the hearts of the audience.
But who will play the music? The conductor needs an orchestra. The orchestra is drawn from the great variety of gifts, talents and skills that the great composer has spread throughout humanity.
The conductor, remember that’s you pastors, looks at the repertoire and chooses the leaders for each section of the orchestra. 1st Violin. 1st Trumpet. 1st Percussion. 1st Clarinet etc. He trains them, teaches them and moulds them into a close unit – a family - a team.These section leaders in turn choose the others who will play well with them – musicians who will complement their own style of playing and complement the repetoire. And so an orchestra is formed. A local church.
The conductor issues the musical scores to the whole orchestra and begins to lead them note by note, phrase by phrase through the music. Rehearsing and rehearsing again, performing, ministering. Audiences and passers by hear the sounds and are drawn to the orchestra and ultimately of course toward the great composer.
The orchestra sounds wonderful playing together. Sometimes an instrument has a solo, but the solo is written down, issued by the conductor and played strictly to the notes on the page.
The music is good. Great even.
That has been the way I have led church the last 14 years. God the composer, me the conductor, my team are section leaders, the orchestra my church, the audience my community. We stick to the written score.
All wonderful. But very safe. Dare I say, controlled.
My church has grown. People have found and followed the way of Jesus. People have been filled with the Holy Spirit and are maturing in their faith. But there seem to be areas where the church I lead is lacking in energy & zeal. There are initiatives and causes and great needs in our community which need to be affected by the church and brought into God’s kingdom. Me and my team try to do this; but we’re just not made for it. We are restorers not revolutionaries. We are pastors not pioneers. We are too safe. Too classical. The musical notes on the page issued by me the conductor are simply not enough.
There is a different way. Thank God, there is a different way.
It’s a way of looking at things where God is still the creator and the inspirer of music. Where notes and phrases are still full of His splendour.
In this new world, pastors are not conductors. They are leaders of a band. A jazz band. It doesn’t matter whether it is a big band or a small band. But it’s certainly not classical.
Here’s the difference. The leader doesn’t issue detailed musical instructions in the form of dots on a page. The leader is less bothered about accuracy of notes and much more interested that the musicians stay true to a feel, a key, a style and a timing. The leader doesn’t wave a baton around from a separate podium correcting mistakes, but creates the musical foundation himself – perhaps on a piano, making the rhythm and the tempo and the chords clear. This breeds confidence. The others join in, hooking into the spirit of the music, the groove.
Then the pioneering starts. The dangerous bit. The radical bit. But the thing that jazz was made for. The leader gives a nod to a musician and a solo begins. Where the solo goes – nobody knows. It will be improvised creatively with a mix of inspired magnificence and intermittent mistakes. But in jazz, the mistakes become part of the creativity and allow you to investigate places you’ve never been before. The solos are terrifying. They are not safe. But they usually end in a round of applause and a piece of music that has developed into something greater than the sum of its parts. However, a soloist can’t do what they like. No. The other musicians in the band are, what is know in jazz terms as, “comping”. This means they are sticking rigidly to the style, flavour and feel of the piece. They are hammering out the basic chord progressions with clear timing, in a clear key with a clear “groove”. It is not a case of “anything goes”. The soloist has no option but to remain within the spirit of the piece. And then, 16 bars later the solo is over. The leader will either decide it is time to consolidate and play together as a band or to let another of his team take a solo.
This is where it seems that the Holy Spirit is leading me. To create a team where each of us are committed to staying true to the spirit of the book. True to the essence of the good news of the Kingdom of God. Where everything revolves arounds the fact that a resurrected Jesus means new life for all who follow Him and hope is available for everyone. Yet it is also a place where I as a leader am far less uptight about everything being exactly right and very safe. Rather I realise that pioneers and radicals and revolutionaries and the makers of movements are simply soloists who work much better when let loose. They tread new ground, the open new doors, they begin ministries, they infiltrate politics, they rescue prostitutes, they shout out against injustice, they snatch people from the jaws of hell and of course … they make lots of mistakes. But they take you further and higher than you could ever go without them. 16 bars later, they’re just part of the team again. Revelling in the grace of God along with you.
I think Jesus chose jazz soloists for his team of 12. He set the rhythm and the timing and the key. But he chose a bunch of individuals to let loose on the world. I think Paul was a soloist. He wouldn’t have stayed in our churches for long before the need to go on a musical adventure for Jesus took him away. At the same time he knew the future of the Kingdom of God depended on the strength of solid local churches. Where leadership teams had people who could hammer away a solid rhythm for everyone else to hang their ministries on. A kind of elder-groove. Sounds fun eh?
So where does this leave us. The world may not be becoming a harder place to be a christian, but it is certainly becoming a more complicated place. Instead of local churches playing it safe by forming an orchestra of people who obediently follow dots on a page, we need the insightfulness and the adventure of teams where the well-grounded and the frequent flyers can both operate. Where the rhythmic and the radical can minister together. Where shepherd and sheepdog work on the same field.
Where are these movement makers? They’re the ones in your church who you overlooked previously because they seemed just a little unsafe? Not the rebels. Not the hostile. Not the deceitful. But the ones who who just seem a bit too …. risky. They’re not perfect. But many are effective. Give them 16 bars and they can revolutionise your ministry.
How do you attract them?
Change your tune.
Teach about the spirit of the Kingdom rather than the rules of the Kingdom.
Talk about the flavour of your church rather than the details of your church.
Share your life not your latest anecdotes.
Hammer out an exciting new groove.
You’ll soon find them joining in.
Then when you’re ready
Let them go solo.
The best classical orchestras sound breathtaking and beautiful but they’re only really very skillfully joining the dots, over and over and over again.
Jazz takes you on an adventure. It finds a solid groove and moves and morphs over and around that groove, investigating new and exciting places as it goes.
The choice is yours. As for me, I think I know which sounds more like church was meant to be.
As for Paul the Apostle. I reckon he could have played a mean saxophone.
By Russ Westfield
Pastor of New Life Church, Nth Lincolnshire, UK, www.newlifechurch.uk