I’ve been reflecting on the lives of some early church leaders: Peter, Paul, Philip and his fabulous prophetic daughters. Stephen, Chloe, Epaphras, Priscilla. Aquila. Junia, Sosthenes, Phoebe, Rufus, Lydia, Timothy. A diverse range of men and women, different economic backgrounds, different nationalities, different age group, different gifts. God chose, equipped and anointed them all, along with many others whose names we don’t know. Its incredible what was achieved in the early years of the movement. The audacious scope of the missionary journeys culminating in new frontiers taken. The churches planted and centers of mission birthed in the vibrant eclectic cities of the day. The way that Ephesus was changed as the gospel was preached and signs and wonders followed. The extraordinary miracles that demonstrated that God was In. The. House. Incredible. Their stories remind us that our extraordinary God does amazing things in and through our very ordinary lives.
Those same stories chaIlenge me.
For these leaders, their call was to serve God’s purposes in their day. Paul was an up-and coming-high-flying religious leader when Jesus turned his world upside down and set him on a path marked by kingdom breakthrough, but also stress, struggle and suffering. For Paul and his contemporaries on The Way, their lives were not their own. There have been times in my life when its been a wonderful encouragement to reflect on my passions, and discover my gifts, and respond to a sense of personal calling. However, in this moment I look at these leaders and their example refines my notion of calling. I’m reminded that in every season of life, its His vision for my life that matters. My gifts don’t entitle me to any position, role or opportunity; my dreams and vision aren’t my rights. My call is obedience.
When I think of those men and women, I also consider their capacity.
What it must have been like to live through those times, to lead through those times? What must it have been like to share the gospel in the face of opposition, to make disciples in the shadow of persecution? Did they ever wrestle with the desire or need to be liked and approved of like we may do? I love reading the stories how the believers had everything in common, selling their fields and resources , giving sacrificially for other believer, other churches. But I also wonder what that cost them internally, to not be owned by their money and possessions? I wonder what they had to get past in themselves to live that way. Did possessions and money have the same grip on their hearts that they so often have on ours? What sacrifices did they have to make to plant churches in their homes, to share a common life? How did it feel for them to allow themselves to be known, for people to see their lives, their relationships, their strengths and their weaknesses? To build a strong missional family? What was it like to invest in new believers from such a vast range of backgrounds, model what it looked like to know and follow Jesus? Did they ever think Hey wait a minute, I’ve not got this figured out yet and I’m leading you? How were they able to invest and time and energy into discipling everyone whilst still having jobs and families and lives? How did that work?
These leaders had (or had learned to develop) capacity. Its no surprise that Paul uses the imagery of a soldier, an athlete, a farmer when describing the life of leadership to his young disciple Timothy. Not just a leader’s devotional life, but their entire life. They are all images that speak of capacity. When I think of the soldier, I think of a courageous disciplined servant, with 100% commitment to and perspective on their mission. Ready and equipped to respond immediately to their leader’s direction. The athlete makes me consider the mental and physical fitness required to run and win a race, produced by consistent holistic training. The farmer make me think of hard work, sweat, patience, even boredom, but also a harvest. Then the discipline to sow again. We need a large capacity for this missional life; mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. For the challenges and opportunities, the demands and the disappointments that all come with leadership.
Like many of us, I’d love to see today’s church in the West especially look more like the early church, at least in its effectiveness. As look at their leaders, I’m considering the price, they paid, an expression of sacrificial love in response to His Sacrificial Love. My prayer is that in view of His Mercy, I too would live in surrender, and grow in my capacity, ready for His call.