“Leadership 101” is/was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on August 28, 2022. The text upon which it is based is Acts 20:17-35 — Paul’s farewell address to the Church in Ephesus. To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20220828
Pentecost 12 (NL4) John B. Valentine
Acts 20:17-35 August 28, 2022
Okay ... folks. Just one more week and we’ll be done with our summer-long sojourn through the Book of Acts!
I don’t know how it’s been for you ... but ... for me at least ... it’s been a good reminder:
• that the Book of Acts is something that we probably don’t spend as much time with as we should ... and
• that a lot of the challenges which the Church faced back in the first century have their echoes here in the twenty-first century ... and
• that ... as much as we so the work of the Church as our work ... that ultimately it is God’s work ... the Holy Spirit’s work ... and that we ... at best ... are junior partners in that work which God is working in the world.
It’s been eye-opening ... and reassuring ... and challenging ... and comforting ... all at the same time.
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Anyhow ... back when I was first mapping out our journey through Acts earlier this Spring ...
I thought maybe today we would look at a story from Acts chapter twenty that NEVER gets read in worship ...
A story from the first part of Acts 20 ...
The story of a young man named Eutychus.
Do you know the story of Eutychus?
He’s the only person to have his name recorded in the Bible for the singular act of having fallen asleep in the context of worship.
Yup ... you heard me right! Eutychus fell asleep in church. And got written up in the Good Book for it!
But then I thought better of that approach ... because I know ... for a fact ...
• that some of you have occasionally fallen asleep during my sermons ... and
• that some of you rather regularly fall asleep during my sermons ... and
• that ... all things being equal ... men fall asleep more often than women do during sermons ... and
• that it could be said that these pews sleep eight comfortably.
So I’m going to tread lightly on the sleeping-through-sermons subject ... and leave it up to you to discover what happened to Eutychus all on your own.
Instead we’re going to spend our Word-time together this morning looking at the second part of Acts 20 ...
At Paul’s parting words ... his farewell address ... to his dear, dear friends in the church in the town of Ephesus ...
And ... in doing so ... we’re going to probe the question of “leaders and leadership” in the community that is called to be church.
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You see ... in the second half of Acts 20 ... Paul is saying goodbye.
He doesn’t know just where he’s headed ... and what his future holds ... but he seems pretty well convinced that he’s not going to get to see the church in Ephesus again ... and so he does a bit of review of the time they’d spent together.
And he talks about:
• his own practice of leadership ... and
• what he has attempted to accomplish among them ... and
• what he hopes for them for the future ... and
• what leadership among them might look like after he is gone.
And in so doing ... he seems to lay out three basic principles for effective leadership in the church ... and ... in a certain way ... leadership in life.
So let’s take a quick look at those principles:
• Because ... well ... they provide a pretty good set of standards by which you ought assess me and Pastor Pam and our church council ... and
• Because ... since we Lutherans affirm “the priesthood of ALL believers” ... these are standards to which we ALL ought hold ourselves.
So here we go.
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Principle number one for effective leadership among God’s people:
GODLY FOLKS ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE ‘ALL IN’.
When Paul says:
• that he has served the Lord among them “ with all humility and with tears” ...
• that he “did not shrink from doing anything helpful” ... and
• that “I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus” ...
He’s really just saying that he is ALL IN ... fully committed ... willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ ...
And that those who would seek to follow him as leaders in that community had better be ‘all in’ as well.
If you ever watch any of those poker tournaments which fill the sports channels at odd hours ... the only time the cameras really focus in on what’s going on is when one or another of the folks sitting around the table declares that they are “all in” ... and pushes however many or few chips they still possess into the middle of the table.
To be “all in” means that you are ‘fully committed’.
To be “all in” means that this is the hand that you have chosen to stake your survival on.
To be “all in” means that it this or it’s nothing.
And Paul says ... “Look at my life” ... “Look at what I have been doing among you” ... “I’ve been all in ... because that’s what leaders do.”
Paul’s Leadership Principle #1 is that GODLY FOLKS ARE ALL IN.
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The again ... Paul’s Leadership Principle #2 then goes like this:
GODLY FOLKS HAVE GOT TO KEEP THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING.
That what Paul is insisting on when he says:
“I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus” ...
and “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
As some of you know ...
A couple of times since I’ve served as pastor among you ... I’ve been a candidate for Bishop of our Sierra Pacific Synod ... and ... thankfully ... each time that election has rolled around ... I haven’t been the one to be identified as the one who will fill that position.
But every time there’s a Bishop’s Election process ... you have to fill out a form that asks you a series of questions about your priorities ... about:
What ... in your eyes ... is “the main thing” which our ought be about... and
What it is that you’d do to ensure that “the main thing remains the main thing”?
It’s a simple question ... really ... but the variety and diversity of responses is pretty telling.
Some of the candidates try to boldly assert three or four things ... and then call it one thing ... and ...
Some of the candidates try to boldly assert the one thing that they think most of the people in the room want to hear ... and ...
Some of the candidates try to make the case for one thing that isn’t really what the folks in the room want to hear. (Trust me ... that approach is a great one to take if you don’t want to get elected. It’s worked like a charm for me!)
But the long and the short of it is that each of the candidates has to do a curious dance with the question “What is the main thing” and “How do you intend to keep the main thing the main thing”.
Now ... granted ... in a certain way the “main thing” for bishops is filling a certain administrative role ...
But isn’t the real “main thing” for all of us being ... as Martin Luther described it ... “being Christ to our neighbors”??
• Sharing the love of God?
• Sharing the truth of God?
• Sharing the peace of God?
• Sharing the hope of God?
• Sharing the life of God?
• Sharing the grace of God?
• Sharing the Word of God?
It’s pretty clear that that’s the main thing ... “doing unto others as God has done unto us” ... sharing with others what God in Christ has shared with us?
Paul’s Leadership Principle #2 is that GODLY FOLKS KEEP THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING.
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And leadership principle number three?
GODLY FOLKS ARE CALLED TO BE THERMOSTATS, NOT THERMOMETERS.
What does a thermometer do ... folks?
It merely reflects the temperature in a particular area.
If a thermometer reads 70 degrees and you place it in an area where the temperature is 50 degrees ... the thermometer will change to reflect fifty degrees ... right?
And what does a thermostat do ... folks?
It determines the temperature in a particular area ... does it not?
If the room is at 50 degrees ... and you set the thermostat to 70 degrees ... the temperature will eventually adjust to what the thermostat is set at.
I don’t know about you ... but I think that this is my own current biggest frustration with leaders nowadays ... be it in our local elected leaders ... or our candidates for national office ... or our pastors or our bishops or whomever.
Because of news media and opinion polling and social media and all ... it seems as though ... while we say we want leaders who are thermostats ... we expect them to behave as if they’re thermometers!
If the news media and opinion polls and social media say that this is where this particular demographic is at on a particular issue ... you can pretty well guess where it is that our so-called ‘leaders’ will gravitate.
Now ... let’s be clear here.
IS IT TOUGHER TO BE A THERMOSTAT OR A THERMOMETER?
It’s tougher ... much tougher ... to be a thermostat! But that’s what God’s people DO ... because all of God’s people are called to be thermostats ... and not thermometers!
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Think on these things .... and act on them too!