“…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ.”
This Sunday, our congregation will have the high privilege of participating in the ordination and installation of the women and men they elected to serve them as Ruling Elders and Deacons. Along with Ministers of Word and Sacrament, these are the three categories of ordained church leadership set forth in the New Testament and practiced today in Presbyterian churches and others in the Reformed Tradition. Back in the First Century, the Apostolic Fellowship set aside persons to serve as Presbyters (Elders) and Deacons alongside the Apostles who were called to preach and teach. This collective and collaborative form of leadership stood in marked contrast to both the Roman Imperium and Israel’s Sanhedrin with its High Priest. This kind of shared leadership depends on the presence of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Christ alone to fulfill its mission.
On Sunday, we will hear our officers-elect promise before God and us to be servant-leaders obedient to Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and to be friends among their colleagues in ministry. The third promise is almost as crucial as the first, because if there is no willingness to work together in response to a collective discernment of God’s will, then this system of governance cannot be effective. It requires the rejection of selfishness, pridefulness and the desire to be in control. Servant-leaders in the church are willing to “consider others as better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3), and to do whatever is necessary to further the common good.
Christ has promised to be present “where two or three are gathered together.” And our Elders, Deacons and Pastors have all made the same promises to “further the peace, unity and purity of the church” with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love.” To be ordained is to be “set apart” for a special role in the Body of Christ. It is not about power or privilege, but about having the mind of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve.
Most importantly of all on Sunday, you the Congregation will be asked to pray for your elected leaders, encourage them in their work and respect their decisions under the lordship of Christ. Without you, they cannot serve as Christ intends. Indeed, as our Book of Common Worship puts it,
There are different gifts, but it is the same spirit who gives them.
There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served.
So we, who are many, are one body in Christ.