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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Land of the House of Omri--Part 3
Psalm 146
1 Kings 16

How must we lead in the church? We must serve. We have elected our committees and officers recently. We have our deacons and trustees. Our choirs have their directors. Our classes have teachers. What kind of leaders are we going to be?

Most all of us have shared the joys and frustrations of working on committees. Things don’t always go the way we hoped they would. We try to treat one another with respect and as colleagues. But then sometimes when a committee member becomes a committee chair, it seems like a different person has appeared. The one who used to treat you like a colleague now starts telling you what to do. The one who used to listen to ideas of others starts announcing and pronouncing that this is what we are going to do.

Why do we think that chairing a committee makes us a boss? It makes us a servant. It gives us greater responsibility to listen. It requires that we become the channel of good communication. It requires that we seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit to work through each person so that our blindness can be overcome by the Spirit’s light which flows through each one.

Leading is serving, not bossing. The purpose is not to show how great I am as the one in charge, but to see how we can do what God is calling us to do together. We can’t be like the family of James and John and their mother, trying to work the system to get our sons and daughters, our brothers and aunts, named committee chairs and choir directresses or directors. Leading is about service, not status, not titles, but ministry.

How do we lead in teaching? Some people treat teaching as their chance to tell those people what I know. But teaching must be service. What does the class need? What would make their lives grow? If you have not figured it out yet, I’ll let you in on a secret. Just sitting in a room in rows or around a table while someone spouts off what pops into his or her head is not Christian education. To teach is to accept a calling to serve. The service of teaching is building a relationship. We cannot merely recruit teachers to fill slots on a chart to say we have teachers. We need teachers who want to build relationships week after week. We don’t just have a class to fill time on Sunday and Wednesday. We have class to provide the service of helping people learn to know God and follow Jesus in all that they do.

I recently heard a speaker talk about how adults lead youth in churches. He said that he has become very careful about selecting adults to work with youth. He said that there is a kind of entitlement that many adults seem to take on when they talk to young people. It is as if they have been storing up their resentment from all their own years of childhood, waiting for their chance. Then when they become adults they dump all this out on young people because they think it is their turn to boss people around.

There is no service in that kind of leadership. That is the house of Omri. That is the yeast of the Pharisees and Saducees. That is the leadership of a tyrant, of someone who thinks that the role gives entitlement to push people around. What do young people learn when we lead in this way? They learn that someday they can get their own chance to boss people around and put them in their place. They do not meet Jesus in that kind of leader.

The speaker went on to say that we are being blind to how we lead youth. We criticize them and boss them and put them in rows and tell them to be quiet. We give them few opportunities to try to lead, to sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. Then we wonder why so many young people of this generation are turning away from the church. We are like the Pharisees and Sadducees. The signs of the times are right before our eyes. These beautiful blessings of God’s creation are longing to find the way to live as God’s children. If we can’t see the way to listen and lead with service, to offer grace and mercy, to champion justice, then we will have missed one of the most important opportunities God has given us.

If we go full circle back to Psalm 146, we find the character of leadership that God expects of us, that Jesus lived for us. This Lord executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. This Lord sets the prisoners free . This Lord opens the eyes of the blind and lifts up those who are bowed down. This Lord loves the righteous. This Lord watches over immigrants, upholds the orphan and the widow. This Lord brings the way of the wicked to ruin. This Lord will reign forever, keep faith forever, for all generations.

Knowing this Lord, do you want to stay in the house of Omri? Will someone someday remember our gatherings as the house of Omri? Have we hardened our hearts so that we can’t see the signs of the times? What would God have Mt. Level do here and now? How do we need to reorganize our lives to do that? How do we need to adjust our structures to make it happen? What will Mt. Level be in days to come? Will we lead with service, or will we shut out the world and hold onto our power as the Pharisees and Sadducees? Will we float along oblivious to what Jesus has been telling us as his disciples did, never realizing the truth of what we should be doing? Will we fixate on titles and offices and neglect service, mercy, and justice? Will we lord over others as tyrants and make ourselves no different from the world?

I want to tell you today that there is a Lord over us who in grace has come to serve. This waiting Lord sees that you are weary and heavy-laden. He stands dressed in work clothes, holding a bowl of water and a towel to wash your feet, to touch your life at the place of your deepest need. If you have not met this servant King, then why wait any longer. Come be embraced by the washing of regeneration. Come to give your life to the one who loves you supremely. Come to follow Jesus today.

Maybe you have been timid to lead. Maybe you fear you would fail to measure up. Maybe you fear you would be overbearing and unliked. Maybe you fear you would have to give up something you treasure. Let me tell you today that to become a servant in the band of Jesus’ followers is a place where grace abounds. If we cannot be a community of grace then we have not met the God of grace, or we have forgotten where he brought us from. God is calling out leaders to take up the role of a servant. If God is prodding you to commit your life to servant leadership, then do not delay. Those who already lead, if you need to reshape your leadership to be modeled after Jesus, then begin that path today. If you are living in the house of Omri and you want your ministry to be known as the house of the servant king, then come today to offer your body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your worship.

Or perhaps you have no church home. You are new in town or you have been here awhile but never submitted yourself to serve in a particular body of gathered followers of Jesus. If Jesus is calling you to be part of this band of followers, to find your place as a servant leader, the doors of the church are open. We welcome you to join us in serving God in this place.

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As we answer the call to follow Jesus, may the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us now and always as we walk the road toward the House of the Servant King. Amen

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