In our Friday Bible Study we have begun the discussion of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. We chose this book for our text because it addresses so many issues that can come up in the life of a church family. The first one that surfaces in the opening chapters is the problem of division, of leadership differences and the temptation that brings to form cliques or rival parties. In Corinth they divided into the Paul Party, the Apollos Party, the Peter Party, and for the super-spiritual ones, the Christ Party (1 Corinthians 1:12).
These divisions may have been innocent enough when they began. Church people generally appreciate the lessons they have been taught by their leaders. And it is only natural, since everyone has their own personality and way of expressing themselves, that some people would be drawn to certain leaders or to certain messages. But these realities should not cause divisions among them for in the first place, all godly leaders are “only servants, through whom you came to believe…. Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
Secondly, all godly leaders are seeking the welfare of the church as a whole. They are all to be skilled and faithful builders of Christ’s church, yet they arrive at different times in the construction process. Consequently, they bring different proficiencies to the work. The concept of building a structure is a useful illustration for what church leadership is supposed to be doing, although the church is always defined as people not as an edifice made of wood and stone. Still, “each one should build with care” (1 Corinthians 3:10).
Thirdly, it is not necessary for the church to choose between their leaders, determining for themselves who is best. All pastors do a good bit of planting and watering, and not all will see the desired growth from their labors. Evaluating the effectiveness of the servants, however, is God’s business and he will “test the quality of each person’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:13). That is not the job of the congregation.
In addition, the church does not need to limit themselves to only one leader, excluding all others, for “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
As the Apostle Paul continues addressing this topic he does so by noting that he is doing so “for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written’” (1 Corinthians 4:6). In other words, cling to that which is essential, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t allow yourselves to become divided into factions over leadership styles or personalities. Instead, seek to learn and benefit from every opportunity that God sends your way.
So let me apply this brief review of church leadership from 1 Corinthians to us as the Amber Congregational Church. You have had two rather lengthy pastoral stays. Stephen Kish was the minister from 1960 to 1984. Since then I have been your pastor. Many of you probably have no strong recollection of Steve but he was used by God to build the Amber Church from a small and struggling congregation to one that could stand on its own and take full responsibility for its existence and its faith. To be sure, in many ways Steve and I were very different. Yet the church accepted and learned to appreciate us both for what we believed was our part in the work of God. We both knew that “it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). I think it is fair to say that you have appreciatively respected and cared for the different leaders God has given you.
And now you have the opportunity to benefit from a new pastor. It is time for this planter and waterer to move along. My word to you is not to fear this transition. Don’t hang on to the past with any sense of lingering allegiance, as if finding a new minister would make you disloyal to me. You have always been gracious and supportive, and we treasure our relationships here. But we definitely want you to be free to enjoy the excitement that can surround a new beginning. I am confident that the Spirit of God will direct you in this search. I am also pretty sure that whoever becomes your next pastor will be different from me, probably in many ways. That’s a good thing. You can benefit and grow in ways that perhaps you have not thought of before and along paths that I was not gifted to lead you. My counsel to you in this time of change is simple for it is the counsel of God. Embrace his gifts for “all things are yours,… and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21,23).
See you in Worship.