Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

The consequences and rewards of leadership


"Have thine own way Lord, have thine own way; Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still."
-Adelaide A. Pollard,1862-1934; The United Methodist Hymnal

By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.


This month and next, ministry leaders and officers from churches across Oklahoma will gather for training at Local Church Leader Workshops. These annual meetings in the districts are designed to inform and empower the people elected by their peers at Charge Conferences last fall.

Attendance at a workshop is an enlightening experience for a leader. Last year, one first-time participant said, "It's where you learn you don't have to reinvent the wheel as a leader in the local church."

This year, I'm scheduled to attend nine of the 12 workshops. I hope to see many of you there. I look forward to these get-togethers because the worship is always uplifting and the fellowship is priceless. You'll return home with fresh perspective on how to do your job.

As the workshop dates near, my focus for this column is leadership. There is a simple truth, known by every church leader but often unaddressed, like the proverbial elephant in the living room. That truth is: Those who accept leadership of any kind must be prepared also to accept the consequences that accompany the role.

All too often, we sugarcoat the responsibilities of an assigned task. How many times has a pastor or other designated person said to you, "You can do that job! It's easy! They only meet twice a year!" Have you taken on a job, downplayed at first, and later found it requires far more than you imagined?

Holding an office in the local church is not easy, and we should admit that reality and name it. Yet, my intent today is not to discourage you from leadership, but to build you up and remind you that effective leadership has both consequences and rewards.


Leadership at every level

History has given us outstanding leaders whose names are bywords today: Lincoln, Ghandi, Kennedy, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and others.

Yet leadership is not a limited birthright of the so-called great. It is far more subtle than that. It can and does come to many of us, although we may not consider ourselves great in any sense of the word. The moment your name is placed before any group, both consequences and rewards will find their way to your station.

In this presidential election year, candidates for that post place their names before the voters and must accept the good and bad that come with that choice. The person who puts ideas and thoughts in books for the world to read submits to the cold appraisal of critics. The person who speaks as a prophet must be prepared to be ridiculed; some have been stoned.

And the person who steps out of the path of the ordinary to follow Christ and represent the church as an officer also must be prepared to pay a price. Leadership can be demanding, sometimes lonely, and even sacrificial.
No one knew this better than Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, he is misunderstood by most people-especially his disciples. Yet the lessons we learn from his leadership prepare us well for the tasks we are called to do.

Jesus never attempted to conceal the cost of being a leader and a disciple. He named the requirements outright, for all of his followers to hear. He spoke of narrow roads that lead to life, counting the costs before you build and, ultimately, of the sacrificial demands of the cross.

He succeeded by holding fast to an unshakable faith and a willingness to stay close to what God's will was for him.

In one of the most memorable scenes in the New Testament (Matthew 20:22), Jesus questioned those who seek special privileges without accepting the consequences. He asked: "Are you able to drink the cup that I am going to drink?" With audacity rooted in ignorance, his followers answered, "We are able."

Cultivate a strong, immovable faith in God, and seek daily what God is calling you to do. Whatever the level of your skills and talents, you can accomplish anything with God!


The reward

Leadership brings with it certain demands. Leadership also holds a reward.
The reward a person receives is incalculable when serving in the local church. In giving of yourself, you will discover resources within you that you may have never known.

The satisfaction of knowing you are doing something greater than your abilities is awe-inspiring. That occurs in every level of service.

Where would your church be without someone picking up the litter on the church lawn? Have you given much thought to who opens the church doors every Sunday and turns on the heat or air? Who makes the coffee? Who sets up the tables and chairs, and who locks up after meetings? What if no one produced the weekly bulletin or stood at the door each Sunday to greet people as they arrived? And who can overlook the faithful servants who call on the sick and shut-ins?

Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes. It's not just about chairing a board or committee. You can contribute to God's Kingdom in unlimited ways.

Bishop Phillip Brooks puts it best: "Oh, do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come upon you by the grace of God."

Ask God to direct you in His way. You'll be amazed at what the Master Potter can do with imperfect clay.


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