Across Europe St Nicholas’ Day is celebrated today. Interestingly his cult was observed in England in the medieval era but fell into disuse. St Nicolas’ name Santa Claus has become linked with Fr Christmas in the popular mind, yet he was a bishop charged with the oversight of God’s people.
I Timothy 3: 1-7
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform: He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
2 Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will.
3 Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
4 Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
5 His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour: The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower.
6 Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan His work in vain; God is His own Interpreter, And He will make it plain.
We expect a lot from our leaders. Whether ministers, moderators, elders, or whatever office they may hold, expectations are way above anything that may be written down in a job description. And I doubt that Paul’s list of requirements for a church leader would get past any Human Resources department!
With candidates few and far between and a shortage of volunteers, it may be tempting to just grab whatever we can get without looking too closely, but too often we may find ourselves in the ecclesiastical version of ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure!’ And that on both sides!
At a recent safeguarding refresher course offered to a varying mix of organisations, I was shocked at the number of people who had experienced what was termed ‘pastoral abuse’. Although one of the worse forms of abuse is sexual abuse, the people who spoke to me talked of bullying, a general lack of a servant-heart replaced by a more hard-edged business management style that brooked no opposition.
Clearly there can be problems. In some cases, where abuse is not dealt with, congregations simply drift away. In others, there are painful splits and the bitterness can persist for decades. At the end of the day, maybe we need to remember that it is Christ’s church, not ours or the minister’s or moderator’s. We are all merely workers in the vineyard with a responsibility for one another and to our Lord. He has decided in his strange and mysterious wisdom to work through fallible folk like us and we need to take our problems to him for sorting out.
For those of you who have perfect loving congregations and absolutely no problems, you are blessed indeed! Long may it continue!
Lord, who chose to entrust your Gospel to the weak and foolish of the earth, give us humility to serve you and your people with humble hearts, ever-remembering that it is your church, not ours. Lead us forward in everything we do in your name in such a way that it honours you and extends your kingdom, not ours. Amen