I have never been asked to be a ballerina. I have never been asked to attend time trials as a hopeful for the Olympic rowing team. I have a bad back and two left feet. No one has ever asked me to consider whether I might appear on one of those quiz shows which are reserved for the extremely intelligent. No one has ever asked me why I am not a boxer, or a chef or an accountant. Those people who know me would know that a disaster would not be far off if I sought to undertake any of those activities. It would not just be me who ended up in a mess, but all those who relied on me to undertake those tasks on their behalf.
But there have been a few things over the years which people have asked me to do; and they have asked me to do those things because they believed that I not only had either the skills to do them or the potential to learn how to do them, but because they also thought that I would enjoy doing them as well. In fact there are some things which I have been asked to do, which as I look back now, I know that I would never have become the person that I am (a more complete version of what God had in store for me) if I had not done them.
I know that many of us have had that kind of experience: of being prompted by others to take on a new avenue in our careers, or to be brave enough to enter into a new relationship, or to do something which we have simply never done before. I suspect too, that many of us have had the experience of being able to prompt others to embark on a new chapter in their lives as well.
In the life of the Church we are always involved in this task (which we call discernment), whether we realise it or not. At our annual general meeting every year we have sought to discern wise and skilled members of our congregation, to work with Fr Ken in his leadership of our parish. Every time a new person is appointed to have responsibility for an aspect of our worship, or as leader amongst our children and families, or as someone who visits the sick and lonely on behalf of us all (every time someone takes on any new role of ministry in this parish), a process of discernment has taken place.
Now, we may not normally call that discernment, and we may not always realise that discernment is going on because actually it often comes so naturally to us, to make those kinds of decisions, but whether we name it as discernment or not, that is what is happening. We know as we look around our congregations the kinds of gifts that God has given to other people. In fact the truth is that we can normally see gifts in other people more clearly than they can see the gifts that we have been given ourselves.
Those gifts and skills and talents are not for us to keep for ourselves, as private possessions, they have been given to us by God. God has given them to us primarily for the building up of the Church, and for the extension of God’s Kingdom.
In amongst all of those God-given gifts and talents are the particular skills that are needed by leaders. As we look around our congregations we know that there are many people who we care for and respect very much, and who are essential members of the Body of Christ, but who we nevertheless know do not have the skills or the temperament or the insights which are required to be leaders;
and we know too, whether they are leaders at the current time or not, those people who we could trust (because of their vision, and skills, and commitment to Christ) to lead us in the future.
Whilst we are always involved in an ongoing process of discernment, there are times when a more formal process is needed to help us to discern particular leaders for particular roles, and as a part of our commitment to develop a ‘team’ structure of leadership in this parish, we are involved in a formal process of discernment at the current time.
We are not voting in this process, people will not be appointed on the basis of having their names written down the most number of times. A small group led by Fr Ken will work prayerfully and carefully through your recommendations in the coming weeks. It is not an election, but it is your opportunity to be involved.
When I am in situations where I am trying to discern leaders for ministry, I normally begin by asking, “have I seen this person do things in the past, which would indicate to me that they would be able to do the kinds of things that I need someone to do in the future?” But I also try to remind myself that not everyone who is able to do what is required, has had the opportunity to show me that they can do them. So there is often a need to step out in faith.
Through this process of discernment we are seeking to identify the leaders in our Church that God is calling to be part of our new parish ministry team. We are looking for 4 leaders to be part of this team, representing the 4 of the 5 ministry areas which have been defined to reflect the priorities agreed by the Parish Council (we already know that the fifth area will be led by Fr Chris), and there is a diagram of those different leadership positions on the sheets which you have been given over the last few weeks and which you have been given again today.
Each one of those different ministry areas will require someone who has the skills and God-given gifts to co-ordinate, and inspire and develop that area of our life into the future. Those leaders will be building on the very strong foundations of ministry which are already in place in the parish, and these leaders will rely on all of the rest of us, in turn, to use our gifts to help our activities to grow and flourish.
As we contemplate these four areas we may instantly have in our minds people who for many years have been involved effectively in the activities which are associated with them. Other people may also come to mind, who we think will be able to undertake those tasks effectively, even if we have not seen them at work in leadership roles before. The important thing to remember is that we are looking for leaders.
Alongside our discernment of lay leaders, we have been invited by our Bishop to recommend to him any people in our congregations who we believe have the potential to be ordained as deacons and priests within the whole Church and with a particular focus of ministry in this parish.
People are ordained as deacons to live out a very special ministry of bridging the gap between the Church and the world. They act on our behalf in the wider community in ministries of service, and connection and social justice. People are ordained as priests to (in a very special way) represent God to us, and us to God. They gather us together as a community, and they give us the sacraments.
In the Bible there are many ways of calling and discerning leaders. After Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, the disciples needed to replace Judas the one who had betrayed Jesus. They decided to do this in a way which would seem very strange to us today, although it was very common in their own time.
They chose two men, and they cast lots to decide which of them would become an apostle. Casting lots is like playing a game of chance. A series of eaves of corn were held out, with one shorter than the rest, and the one who chose, by chance, the short piece of corn was the one who was appointed to replace Judas – that is where we get the idea of “drawing the short straw” from. It seems an incredibly basic way of choosing leaders.
Imagine if we had had five candidates to be our priest here before Fr Ken arrived, and we had simply asked each of them to choose a piece of corn, and then appointed the one who had chosen the short piece. It is incredible, but that is how Matthias, the replacement for Judas was made.
But something extraordinary happens in the life of the first followers of Jesus.
After Matthias has been chosen the day of Pentecost comes (we celebrated that great day together a few weeks ago), and through the experience of Pentecost the first Christians’ whole understanding of who God was and is changed forever.
In fact when Christians gathered after the Day of Pentecost, everything that they did was transformed by that Spirit.
The next occasion after Pentecost when the Early Church needs to discern leaders comes some chapters later in the story in the Acts of the Apostles – when the first deacons, of whom Stephen is the most famous were appointed for leadership.
Now that the Holy Spirit dwelt in the Church the casting of lots (that making of decisions almost by chance) was discarded, the Church knew that this was no longer an adequate way for decisions to be made. Instead the members of the Early Church discerned the first deacons on the basis of their gifts and skills, their holiness, and the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.
In this process of discernment we celebrate the truth that that same Holy Spirit continues to dwell in the Church, in us, who are the Body of Christ. We can have confidence that we follow this morning, in the footsteps of the first followers of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as we seek to discern leaders for this parish at this time.
After our intercessions we will have space to complete these forms for ourselves.
If we have not come with the form already filled in, we will have some quite time to indicate those who we believe to have the gifts and skills to be the leaders of our parish. To indicate where we believe God is calling us to be involved (in whatever way). For those of you who have come with your forms completed, you will have the opportunity to simply be still and to pray, for the rest of us, we will have a short time to complete our forms before they are collected and offered to God with the gifts of the Eucharist.
The process that we are engaged in has been designed to help us in this work of discerning leaders, and in being involved in it, we connect ourselves consciously with Christians down the ages who have been involved in this task in their communities as well.
We will not leave this important work to chance, we will not leave it to everyone else. It is our responsibility, with the help of the Holy Spirit of God, to play our part in the discernment of leaders for the Church which we love so much.