Church Leadership in the New Year – John Stumbo Video Blog No. 102

John offers four essential leadership skills from Romans 14 to help navigate the complexities of the coming year.

– It’s a new year with new opportunities. What skills will we need to lead well in 2022? Alliance family, we all know that leadership is never easy and that some seasons are particularly complex. Many of us have felt that this recent season has been particularly difficult to be a leader.

But even so, I would argue that it hasn’t been as complex as the season we know as the Early Church. As those first apostles evangelize and church-plant, they are doing so within the context of the dominance of the Roman government and the oppression, persecution of the Jewish religious leaders and of just the simple fact that they had never done this before. This was brand new territory, the establishment of the Church. Yet, I find in that season particular lessons that are meaningful for us today, such as I find in Romans 14, from the model of the apostle Paul, as he demonstrates for us four leadership skills that I think are particularly impactful for us at this moment in time.

Romans 14: “Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master, he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers each day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”

Obviously, there’s many points that we can make from this passage, but the one that I want to bring to us at this moment is simply: Paul anticipates differences. His view of the Church is not one that demands complete uniformity on all matters. I know there is the “decide and divide” form of leadership, but on specific issues in the Church, Paul doesn’t take that, “go figure it out, all come to the same consensus, and then move on in lockstep,” but instead, he takes a different position. Whether it’s about eating or about observing special days, Paul approaches it from the standpoint of: “We’re the Church; we have different viewpoints on different things. On the fundamentals, we will hold fast, we will hold steady, but there are many disputable matters over which it’s okay for us to disagree.”

A leadership skill needed at this moment in time is for us to lead in a way that helps differentiate for people those items, those issues that are really fine for us to fall into different categories and approach them from different vantage points—as long as we keep coming back to the core, the fundamental of the gospel and scriptural truths, anticipating differences.

Number two: Romans 14:13. “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who was in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, for them it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you’re no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Once again, Paul’s obviously doing many things in this section. One of them is demonstrating for us the skill of de-escalating conflict. The tone of voice that we choose, the framing the appropriate question—these are elements of that skill of de-escalation. I know that there’s much pressure for you and I to speak into every issue that arises, but I believe the path of wisdom would be for us to keep silent many times in some of those issues. There is a time for a leader to speak, but not as many times as we would be led to believe, and Paul’s Spirit-led, biblical advice for us is: “Whatever you believe about these matters, keep between yourself and God.” That’s verse 22. That’s his word on disputable matters to us—de-escalation.

Third, Paul elevates the gospel; listen to 14:7. “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down in your brother? For we will all stand at God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘Every knee will bow and every tongue confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

In the midst of this discussion about disputable matters, Paul takes us to the gospel—the death, the Resurrection of Christ, and all the way to the judgment seat of Christ, where instead of us judging each other right now, we will be judged by Him in that day and give an account of our lives before Him. For Paul, this is all part of the gospel. He had already said that in Romans 2:16; he refers to the day when “God would judge the secrets of men’s hearts as my gospel declares,” Paul says. So, as he is calling the Church to work through matters of disagreements, as he is de-escalated the conflict, part of the strategy, part of the skill, is to keep us focused to central on the gospel. One of the sadnesses of our hearts in these days, many of us as leaders, pastors, elsewhere, we have sensed a diminishing of the beauty of the gospel message. And the good news of the loving and living Christ has somehow gotten lost in the disputes and disappointments of the day. And so, could we relearn the skill of keeping the gospel central?

The fact that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again, Christ is for us, Christ is the forgiver of our sins and the redeemer of our souls and the One before whom we will give an account. So, if everything doesn’t feel settled on this side, it will be someday. Perhaps the emotion of the moment would be lessened if we didn’t feel like everything had to be resolved in the moment. The final leadership skill that Paul models for us, is he demonstrates love. Throughout the whole context of the book of Romans, it is overflowing with his love for the Church. The Church he hasn’t even physically been to yet, but he knows many of the people and knows about even more of the people, and love flows through Paul, and his call to love is evident.

Even right here in the middle of chapter 14, he says to them—we’ve already read the verse: 15—”If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you’re no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” “Don’t cling to your rights so closely, and don’t value your opinion so highly that it just runs over another believer in the Church,” Paul seems to be saying. These are disputable matters. Let’s let love be supreme and let the issues being secondary. Demonstrating love in seasons of known differences, in seasons of dispute, is a powerful skill but is something, as with all of them, we need the Holy Spirit.

And so, really the call today that I have for us for 2022, is to come back in dependence upon the same Christ, being filled with the same Holy Spirit who empowered Paul to challenge the Church that had their own disputable matters nearly 2000 years ago and come to us today and say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, we can be the Church, and the Church can be a beautiful expression of our Christ in His heart.” The Alliance family has proven through the decades to be people who love Christ’s Church and invest heavily and significantly in her strength and beauty and establishment.

Perhaps these four skills I’ve mentioned from Romans 14 will be helpful to you as they are to me. Perhaps the Spirit will take Romans 14 and take your heart in a different direction. But it’s with this commitment to Christ and love for His Church that we continue to press forward with expectancy and anticipation in 2022. And for this reason, I’ve asked one of my friends, co-worker, District Superintendent Thomas George, to lead us in a closing prayer, blessing us as we lead the Church.

– Hello family, let’s pray together. Oh Lord, our God, we praise You. We rejoice in this new year that You have provided. As leaders who shepherd Your sheep, as a part of Your body, as those who care for Your family, would You, Lord, re-center our identity upon Christ, our Savior. Would You re-focus us to Your wonderful gospel. Would You, Lord, help us to anticipate, even celebrate, our differences and learn to collaborate together for Your sake, for Your name, for Your glory. Would You, oh Lord, teach us humility to show deference to one another as we live out our love for You. Would You, oh Lord, provide us with wisdom, counsel, and empowerment as Your Holy Spirit works in us and through us in the coming days. We pray all this in the matchless name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.