United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“ Empowering Servant Leadership”

By Rev. Mike Capron

April 15, 2018



1 John 2:24-3:11

1.            We’ve been speaking about Seven Marks of Church Vitality from the Revitalization Initiative that you decided to participate in.

2.            Today is the last one: “Empower Servant Leadership”

3.            “Empower Servant Leadership” -- I’m actually going to take those three words in reverse order: we will talk first about leadership, then about servanthood in leadership, then about empowerment.

4.            And as I begin to speak about leadership, I’m going to say something potentially unpopular.

5.            We are not all equal.

6.            We are of equal value as human beings and as children of God.

7.            But we are not all equal.

8.            Ann Marie plays the piano better than I do.

9.            I know more about writing algorithms than Kelley does.

10.          Kelley can run faster than Ann Marie.

11.          And so it goes. We all have areas where we have expertise, ability and experience. And often in those areas, we have some capacity for showing leadership.

12.          And that capacity brings with it both danger and potential.

13.          Before I unpack those though, let me bring God in on this theme of inequality.

14.          It’s quite simple. Whenever God is in the picture, there is inequality.

15.          In Jesus God may have become like us, but we are not God, nor even gods with a little ‘g’.

16.          We are being redeemed. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God”

17.          We are being transformed. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

18.          One day we will be like God. “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

19.          But we are not God.

20.          The danger I spoke about lies if forgetting that.

21.          Most of us won’t go around proclaiming ourselves to be God.

22.          But you have probably met some people who kind of act that way.

23.          Anyone who forgets that there is a higher authority tends to lord their position or expertise over others.

24.          People start to use phrases like, “Who does she think she is?” “He’s full of himself.”

25.          Verse 4 references this when it warns of sin and lawlessness.

26.          I’m intrigued by that word ‘lawlessness’. I think it means pretending that there are no established norms or standards of behavior.

27.          Most leaders assume that there are some established norms to their role. But others, the kind of person we are talking about, figures that they get to make up the rules as we go along.

28.          In baseball, suddenly it is “two strikes” and you are out—at least if I don’t like you.

29.          In court, surprise, that speeding ticket will cost you $1,000!

30.          Oh, and that idea you had at church—it will take a ¾ super-majority vote of the session.

31.          You see where this is going. An important task of leaders is to lay out clear expectations and norms so that the people have a framework in which to operate.

32.          That is part of how we serve and how we empower others. It is how we share leadership.

33.          What kind of expectations and norms should we have? Well, they had better take God into account.

34.          In our case, they had better pay some attention to our Biblical and Presbyterian heritage.

35.          Because just making it up as we go along is not good.

36.          It inevitably leads one down the slippery slope into self-interest and selfishness. That is why this passage alternates between warnings and encouragement.

37.          This leads us to the word servant, i.e. the kind of leadership shown by servant-leaders.

38.          It isn’t self-centered or selfish.

39.          It is outward focused. It gives rather than takes. It is self-less.

40.          Authority exercised is also authority shared.

41.          The leader leads in order that others are served.

42.          Who is the other that is being served?

43.          For some non-profit organizations, this is obvious because they target particular people.

44.          Organizations that serve the blind, well, serve the blind.

45.          CASA, where I volunteer, serves children in the foster care system.

46.          These sorts of organizations have a clear focus, an intended audience, or ‘customer’, if you will.

47.          Churches don’t usually have that kind of clear focus.

48.          If you ask a church who they serve, most churches will give you some kind of answer that translates to ‘everyone’.

49.          There is something beautiful about that. We certainly never want to exclude anyone.

50.          But some focus can be helpful. A decision to try to serve everyone often means that are efforts become diluted and diffuse.

51.          In trying to serve everyone some churches serve no one well.

52.          I’d like to throw this open for some discussion.

53.          Who does this church serve? Where does it, or should it focus?

54.          This is just a discussion, a free exchange of ideas.

55.          <suggest that Becca not talk>

56.          <minute of silent prayer>

57.          <discuss>

58.          <possible that you have a call that is not church’s call>


59.          It is possible that God is presenting us with some wonderful new opportunities to minister.

60.          I’m going to praise my colleague Becca.

61.          I’m really impressed with the say she has been leading this church around the possibility of some friends from Elmwood West joining us.

62.          She has unique experience in this regard.

63.          Using the rules where they exist, and taking it slow for the new things that we don’t know how to do.

64.          I’ve been noticing that and admiring it.


66.          We’ve talked about leadership—and we have talked about servanthood. Let me wrap this up with empowerment.

67.          One of the vital functions of a church is to empower new leaders to fulfill their call from God.

68.          I love that shared leadership is built into our system—that we have the offices of elder and deacon where people work in groups that regularly rotate membership.

69.          Thank you to everyone who serves in those ways.

70.          But not everyone is called to be a deacon or an elder.

71.          <tell story about guy/encyclopedia? What he did had value.>


73.          We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves or underestimate God.

74.          But some of us do. We hear the word, ‘leader’, and we think, ‘that’s not me.’

75.          In his commentary on this passage, C Clifton Black put it succinctly, “Some may suffer from such low self-esteem that they cannot easily acknowledge their supremely honored status as God’s own children. Others find it hard to accept the image of God as a parent who endows us with a legacy of flawless, permanent love, because their treatment by human fathers and mothers has been warped by lovelessness.”

76.          In other words, you are okay. You are loved. And you can be a leader that serves other people. And we as your church want to help empower you to do just that.


78.          See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.