"Success and Good Luck in Leadership"
A Sermon Preached by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Irvine Presbyterian Church · January 10 & 11, 2004
Copyright © 2003 by Mark D. Roberts
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Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:2-3
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Success and Good Luck in Leadership?
The title of this sermon, "Success and Good Luck in Leadership," might give you cause to worry. For years I've preached scriptural truth, including God's guidance for leaders. But now I'm going to advocate success and good luck? That sounds pretty worldly, doesn't it? Do success and good luck have anything to do with Christian leadership? Or have I morphed into the Dr. Phil of Christianity, full of pop wisdom but little of God's revelation?
If you feel worried, let me reassure you . . . and apologize. My title is an inside joke, actually. The names "Euodia" and "Synyche" in Philippians 4:2 actually mean in Greek something like "Success" and "Good Luck." My sermon today focuses on these two female leaders in the Philippian church. Hence my rather silly play on words, "Success and Good Luck in Leadership."
How do we know that Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the Philippian church? Well, the fact that Paul actually mentions their names suggests their prominence. Moreover, Paul describes them in verse 3 this way: "for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers." The verb translated as "struggled beside" is synathleo . It's related to our word "athelete." Synathleo suggests an energetic partnership between Paul and these two women. They were active participants in his evangelistic ministry, people whom Paul describes as "co-workers," a term reserved for his closest ministry partners. This text implies the full participation of Euodia and Syntyche in every aspect of Paul's apostolic ministry.
There's little doubt that Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the Philippian church. Unfortunately, however, they were having a hard time getting along together, and this was hurting the church. We'll get to Paul's solution to this problem in part 2 of this sermon. But for now I want to pause for a few minutes and talk about an issue about which sometimes church leaders today don't get along: women in ministry.
Women in Ministry
A few weeks ago a woman met with me to talk about our church. She was looking for a new church and had a bunch of questions she wanted to ask the Senior Pastor. Along the way she queried, "Does your church include women in ministry? Are the gifts of women valued here?"
"Yes they are," I answered. "In fact, as you probably know, we ordain women as elders, deacons, and pastors."
My interrogator's jaw dropped. For a moment she was silent, obviously incredulous. Finally she spoke. "You have ordained women as elders ? And as pastors ? Could a woman preach in your church?"
"Yes. In fact come back in a couple weeks and you can hear Pastor Barbara Buck preach."
Again my questioner was silent for a while. "I'm blown away," she said. "I've never heard of this before. I can't believe it. I don't know what I think about it."
As you've probably guessed, she had come from a church that excludes women from certain tasks, notably from preaching and overall church leadership. She had always heard that the Bible limits these ministries to men. Now she was hearing something quite different, and she was stunned.
Part of what confused this woman, and it has perplexed other folk over the years, is that Irvine Presbyterian Church clearly upholds biblical teaching and biblical authority. We are not a church, like some, that considers the Bible to be an authority for our life, but dispensable if other authorities are more to our liking. We seek to live under biblical authority and to guide our life together by scriptural teaching. Therefore, if a person has always heard that the Bible prohibits women from preaching or exercising authority over men, then IPC will be confusing because we boldly uphold biblical authority, yet at the same time we do that which some people believe is contrary to biblical teaching.
Five Fundamental Axioms Concerning Women in Ministry at IPC
There's no way I can address all of the myriad of issues associated with the role of women in the church in this sermon. I won't even try. But I do want you to understand five fundamental axioms that guide our church.
Axiom #1: Biblical Authority
Axiom #1 is this: The Bible is God's inspired Word, the chief authority for our life as a church.
Whether the issue is the leadership of women, or the ordination of homosexuals, or the use drums in worship, the leaders of IPC always turn to the Bible for divine guidance for our life together.
Axiom #2: The Bible and Women in Leadership
Axiom #2 is this: The Bible, when rightly and fully understood, affirms the full participation of women in church leadership.
Yes, I'm well aware that not all Christians agree on this point. I've spent a whole lot of my life working on it and have read just about every major writer who disagrees with me. I've taught seminary courses on the topic of women and the Bible. In fact the very first article I ever published, now over twenty five years ago, was on the topic of women in ministry in the Bible. And, yes, of course I'm aware of the three passages in the New Testament that seem to limit the ministry of women. But I believe that each of these passages, when rightly interpreted, was not meant to limit the ministry of women in all settings, but only in the first-century churches where women were abusing their freedom in Christ.
Beyond these three passages, I believe that the whole scope of Scripture shows that women are to be full partners with men in ministry. From the creation of male and female in God's image in Genesis 1, to God's raising up of Deborah as a prophet and judge in Israel, to the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit on men and women so that all may prophesy, to the full inclusion of women in Paul's evangelistic mission -the Bible teaches us to utilize fully the gifts of women in church. I believe this passionately.
Axiom #3: Disagreement About Women in Ministry
Axiom #3 is this: Wise, godly, mature Christians will disagree about the issue of women in ministry.
I have dear friends who don't agree with what I've just said about women in ministry. Both my friends and I love the Lord. We believe the Bible. We seek to determine God's truth in Scripture. But we disagree over exactly what ministries are appropriate for women.
Sometimes you'll hear people on both sides of this debate make disparaging remarks about the other side. It's true that some Christian men limit the ministries of women because they are chauvinist pigs. And it's also true that some Christian women include women because they have been swayed by our politically-correct, godless culture. But these stereotypes are generally not appropriate, in my experience, and I'd urge us to reject them. The simple fact is that biblical teaching about women in ministry is sufficiently complex that God-seeking Christians will end up disagreeing with each other about it for a host of reasons.
Axiom #4: The Inclusion of Women in Leadership of Our Church
Axiom #4 is this: Irvine Presbyterian Church includes women in all leadership functions, including the positions of elder and pastor.
Individual Christians can debate the meaning of the biblical passages about women forever, but Christian churches need to make a decision one way or the other. This church, as a part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), will include women in all aspects of ministry (except perhaps counseling junior high boys at camp!). This weekend we will ordain women as elders and deacons because we believe that's what the Bible teaches us to do, and because were part of a denomination that affirms this practice.
Axiom #5: Diversity of Opinion at IPC
Axiom #5 is this: Although ordained leaders of IPC need to affirm the calling of women to all forms of ministry, members of the IPC family can and do disagree over this matter.
There are several women in this church for whom I have utmost respect. They are godly, wise, biblically-grounded women. They have exercised outstanding leadership in various areas of church life: women's ministries, children's ministries, etc. Because of their obvious gifts and track record in ministry, these women have at times been asked to serve as elders. And they have declined because they don't believe that the Bible endorses this option. That's right. Some of the finest women in our church don't believe they should serve as elders, on the basis of their understanding of Scripture.
I can't tell you how much I wish they'd change their minds. But, at the same time, I'm proud to be pastor of a church that calls for agreement in the core matters of faith, and allows for disagreement in the inessential matters. We in this church must be united in our commitment to Jesus Christ and in our conviction of biblical authority. But we must allow each other the freedom to differ over many things, including the role of women.
There are churches, both conservative and liberal, that function like cookie cutters, stamping out people with identical political, social, and ecclesiastical beliefs. IPC is not that sort of church, and it won't be as long as I am your pastor. I believe that if we are unified in what really matters, as long as we are truly one in Jesus Christ, our life together will be enriched by our diversity of opinion on the inessentials. We have so much to learn from each other, about leadership, about family, and yes, even about politics!
But diversity and disagreement aren't fun. Nor are they easy to manage. And sometimes they can lead to real problems. This brings us to the second part of this sermon.
The Call to Unity Among Leaders
We don't know why Euodia and Syntyche were having a hard time getting along. All we know for sure is that Paul urged them to be of the same mind, that he instructed another leader to help them work things out, and that he considered their disagreement to be important enough to mention them by name in his letter, something Paul rarely did.
It's quite unlikely that the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche was a matter of essential theology. When a member of a church advocated wrong theology, Paul didn't urge getting along. On the contrary, he fought for the truth with passionate conviction. But in the case of Euodia and Syntyche we find none of this zeal. So it's almost certain that their difference was attitudinal or strategic, not theological.
Before I proceed, I want to pause and make an absolutely essential point. Sometimes it's right for church leaders to disagree, to fight, and to keep on fighting . When the matter at hand is one of core theology - of key doctrines or moral standards - then we must not simply agree to disagree, to make nice and all get along. As you may know, our denomination has been waging a nasty battle for many years over things that can't be dismissed as inessential. The question of whether sex outside of heterosexual marriage is okay isn't one about which we can simply agree to disagree. And, even more so, the question of Christology, the question of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Savior, is not one concerning which the true church of Jesus Christ can tolerate differences of opinion among leaders. So, though we must show the love of Jesus Christ to our theological opponents, we must also keep on fighting until biblical truth prevails.
However, having said this, I must add that the vast majority of disagreements, both in our denomination as a whole and in our particular church, have nothing to do with core theology. They're differences of opinion, or style, or preference, or strategy, or you-name-it. When it comes to such disagreements, we must remain unified in Jesus Christ, reconciled to one another through Christ. This is true for all members of the family at IPC. Yet leaders accept an even heavier burden in this matter. We who lead, even when we differ, must be unified in Christ. We must love and respect one another in spite of our differences. We must never let our inessential disagreements hurt or divide the church of Jesus Christ.
My friends, as we share life together, and as we lead this church together, we will differ. At times we'll even express our differences inappropriately. We will do and say things that cause hurt to our brothers or sisters. In these situations we must reconcile. We must do whatever it takes to shatter the barriers between us. If we have done wrong, we must confess. If we have been wronged, we must forgive. We mustn't try to sweep our differences under the rug. And we may not tolerate relational divisions between us. The health, unity, ministry, and future of this church depend on our commitment to be one in Christ together.
This means that if you're a leader of men's ministries or women's ministries, if you're a deacon or an elder, of you're a pastor or a lay leader, you must be committed to reconciliation and unity among the leaders of this church. And you must do everything in your power to protect, preserve, and prosper our oneness in Christ.
One of my greatest disappointments as your pastor came many years ago, when two church leaders, an elder and a staff person, had a deep disagreement. Ironically, it had nothing to do with church business. It was a personal dispute. I first learned of the problem when the elder came to tell me about it. In his view, I needed to discipline the offending staff person. I agreed that the staff member had done wrong, but I told the elder that the two of them had to work out the matter between them. The elder was at first very reticent, but finally agreed to meet with me and the person who had offended him. When the day of the meeting came, the elder didn't show up. In fact he never showed up at this church again, and wouldn't respond to my phone calls or letters. He simply took his family and left. I felt profoundly sad about this, and, frankly, I still do. What this man did was wrong. It hurt him and his family. It hurt this church and the broader kingdom of God.
Let me hasten to add that this experience is not the norm for our church. I'm delighted to say that I have seen leaders and others do the hard work of reconciliation again and again. Some of my proudest moments as your pastor have come when I've seen people reach out to those they've offended, or who have offended them, and reconcile.
Several years ago we faced a terribly contentious issue in Session. Two elders were on opposite poles of the issue and both expressed exasperation with the other. But one of the elders went way, way beyond what was appropriate. He said hurtful and divisive things. What happened in that meeting could have done real damage, not only to the Session, but also to our church. The offending elder was not spiritually mature enough to acknowledge his sin and seek reconciliation. But the elder who received the abuse was mature enough. He initiated a conversation with the one who had offended him. And he continued to reach out until they reconciled. I don't think they ever agreed on the issue over which they were divided. But, in the end, they were unified in Christ, and this is what truly matters. To this day I am deeply grateful to God for the elder who initiated the healing of this relationship. Our church is stronger today because of what he did.
Are there any Euodias or Syntyches out there today? I don't know of any hostilities among leaders, but it wouldn't surprise me if we've got a few. Moreover, I wouldn't be surprised if some of you continue to harbor hurt or anger toward others because of things that have happened in the past, but concerning which there has been no reconciliation.
If you're one of these Euodias or Syntyches, then your marching orders are clear. First of all, "be of the same mind in the Lord." Though you may not come to full agreement with the person who's hurt you, you must be reconciled in Christ to that person. It's your responsibility to make sure that such reconciliation happens. Yes, it's the other person's responsibility too. But don't wait around for him or her to get things going. You make the first effort.
But what if your effort fails? Or what if you're afraid to confront the other person? Then you must get help. Look for a "loyal companion" who can assist you in the process of reconciliation. This helper may be an elder, or a deacon, or a pastor. Be sure to choose someone who won't try to sweep the whole matter under the rug. Find a person of wisdom, courage, and love. Don't put it off. Live out your unity in Christ today.
Philippians teaches that all Christians should seek unity. In verse 2 of chapter 2, Paul appeals to the whole congregation with these words: "Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." Everything I've said in this sermon relates to every person here today, and I pray you'll take it to heart. But if you're a leader - and especially if you're one who will be ordained today - know that the vitality of this church depends on you.
This day, may each and every one of us commit ourselves afresh to the unity of Christ's church. And in our Christ-centered unity, may we learn to embrace the essentials together as we learn to accept our differences in the inessentials. And in all things, may Christ be exalted. To him be all the glory!