As the Hillsong Movie makes its way to NZ's shores, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what the movie is telling us about God and godly values. It's abundantly clear that Hillsong did not seek to make a movie about itself, nor to glorify what they do. Even from just the glimpse I have got through the trailers and interviews that have been conducted with the Hillsong United team, their humility shines through all of this.
One of my favourite verse for seeing what God can do through worship is found in 2 Chronicles 20 (quoted here from New King James edition).
21 And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying:22 Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.“Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.”
What is the context of that? Jehoshaphat as king of Judah had word that an army was coming to attack the nation. The Moabites, Ammonites and some Meunites were on their way from Edom on the far side of the Dead Sea. Jehoshaphat sought the word of the Lord and then raised up the army of Judah to march out against the invaders. As part of that he appointed worshippers to lead in the front line of the march. But for this blog I am not just focusing on worshippers, I am focusing on all church leadership and the implications of being in that front line. At the front of the army that is where you have the most risk of being shot at, and that's the same for church leadership. In the front line of the church, the leadership are those who so often get all of the criticism and negativity aimed at them. To withstand that criticism and respond to it effectively requires a special measure of grace and humility. These are some of the key attributes of church leadership, and not something everyone can aspire to - which is one of the reasons why not all of us are suited to be in that kind of position.
Consider what are the most important attributes to be found in church leadership - well, they are not focused on making themselves look good. That is what the world sees in leadership, but it's not what it is about in the church. Servant leadership as is practiced in the church is about receiving a humble calling and a burden of responsibility because leaders have to make some pretty big decisions and they can't be expected to get it right all of the time. At heart they are subject to the same flaws and imperfections as the rest of us face and this means not everything they do will please everybody. It falls on us who are under their leadership in a church to give them as much support as we can and serve them back for as long as they continue to model godly leadership attributes for us to follow. When you see your church leadership at the front encouraging you and lifting you up to a higher standard of your own personal faith just remember what it's actually cost them to be there on that platform and what they've had to endure as part of their high calling.
I just need to reflect here on some of the journey I've travelled in working with church leadership this year. I spent about 12 years in the same church and watched it change quite a lot in that time, and change direction a few times. In the last three years it's become plain to me that the direction it is now going in is different than where God is calling me to serve and looking back five months after leaving, I feel a lot more confident about having made that decision than I did when it actually happened. Prior to leaving I had spent a lot of time attempting to reconcile my differences with the church leadership and, God bless them, they were patient enough to give me the time to try. In retrospect my time at South City Christian Centre (now South City C3) was the bedrock support to a process of developing spiritual maturity that took many years to accomplish. In its turn the five months at South West Baptist Church was another shorter personal development process leading me to Grace Vineyard Church where I am now. Sometimes it can be hard to see where God is leading you to serve and it's easy to criticise the leadership of your church when it may well be time for you to move on. What I like about this journey in 2016 is that I have been able to maintain the friendships that I have made amongst the leadership of all three churches and continue to serve all of them regardless of which one I am actually attending now. God has also called me to serve another church which I expect to be part of in the future. All of the time serving the three churches I have been a part of this year is material to that future.
In the title of this post I've written of church leadership as a "high calling". So often in the world, people would think of that as putting someone on a pedestal and exalting them. In the Christian church it has to be different; we have to see our leadership as ordinary people who have a special calling to serve us, and the sacrifices they often make to give their best to this. Let's all think about the best way we can honour them and serve them back.