Handing over the towel

CommissioningThis past Sunday I was commissioned as the new lead pastor for Grace Church in Richmond, Nelson.  It was a wonderful service for a lot of reasons.  Firstly, the Lord Jesus was honoured.  That was fitting.  After all, he is the great Shepherd and we are his people, the sheep of his pasture (Ps 100:3).  Ultimately it is not about me but about him.  Secondly, there was a sense of gravity or seriousness about the service.  This also was fitting, for this is a very important occasion.  It is no small thing to be called and charged to lead God’s people. It’s not something that you rush and treat glibly or superficially. And then thirdly, I wasn’t the only candidate; three new elders were commissioned along with me.  This diverted the focus from the one to the many; from the single leader to the team.  And that actually is what New Testament leadership is all about. The Apostle Peter, in writing to the early church, says

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3)

Note the word “elder” is in the plural, not singular.  This work must not be carried by just one individual.  Indeed it cannot, for the work is too great and the  abilities of one man – no matter how great his gifting.  Note also they are to shepherd God’s flock that is among them.  This indicates they are very much a part of the people; they serve as ones who come alongside, not as ones who stand above.

And so, after a brief introduction by the chairman of the elders, the three new servant-leaders – Cam, Mark and Quentin (“Q” for short) were called up to the front of the church.  As they approached we watched a short video where they introduced themselves and told us something about their life, their work and their family.  They were also asked what they will bring to the leadership team at Grace.  The first said his experience in leading the worship team, the second said his love for Grace Church and the third said eagerness to be trained and learn.  They were humble, honest and candid answers – quite refreshing as so often in these settings you wind up hearing some well-rehearsed rhetoric that sounds very good but actually lacks authenticity.

Following the video three different elders came and gave a word from Scripture for each individual while another prayed for him.  It was a precious time. And then something occurred that was very unique – each was a handed a white towel.  Embroidered on it was the word “Grace”, which is the name of the church.  This was to serve as a constant reminder of what he is being called to do: to follow the example of his Saviour in sacrificial, servant leadership.

Then it was my turn.  Francelle and I were called up.  Behind us stood the entire eldership team, including the newly commissioned elders and all their wives.  Tony (one of the pastors at Grace) led the commissioning, first by taking Psalm 23 and speaking each line into my life (which I found very rich and meaningful).  Then he read the charge:

Here, in the sight of God, and in the presence of the people among whom you have come to minister, I ask you:

Do you affirm again your faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the power of God to bring new life to all who will believe?
[My response] I do
Will you seek to manage your relationships, your thoughts, your words and your actions so that, at all times, you will be an example of the Gospel which you have just affirmed?
[My response] I will
In all your service will you make it your aim to seek the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the name of Jesus Christ, and His name alone, will be glorified?
[My response] I will
Will you encourage the people God entrusts into your care in their love for Jesus Christ and His Word? And will you seek to ensure the spiritual life and health of your family, as God’s special gift to you?
[My response] I will

He then addressed Francelle:

Francelle, we recognize your unique role in the task Peter will take on and so we have some questions for you:

Do you affirm your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and the power of the gospel to save?
[Her response] I do
Will you give your husband support in the task of loving and caring for the people of this church, seeking to develop your own gifts as the Holy Spirit enables, so that the name of Jesus Christ alone will be glorified?
   [Her response] I will

The congregation was then asked to stand and special prayer was offered up by Tony, one of the wives of the elders and a respected member of the congregation.

I think the last time I experienced such a moment, where I sensed the presence of God in a powerful way like this was my ordination to the ministry twenty years prior.  Tony prayed for a special anointing on my ministry as a new pastor.  I haven’t had anyone pray that into my life for a long time.  I wondered why – is it because we don’t like the word?  Does it sound too Pentecostal?  It’s in the Bible.  According to 1 John 2:20 every believer has received an anointing (or empowering) by the Holy Spirit.  Is it so wrong to pray for a specific anointing for a specific task for a particular believer?  I can’t see why not.  I sure appreciated it anyway.  I’ll take prayer for the empowering of the Spirit of God any time!

So now I’m officially the new lead pastor of Grace Church.  What a great honour; what a privilege.  I can’t believe people actually pay me to do this.

And by the way – I have my own servant’s towel in my office.  It will stay there as a constant reminder to me what my role is all about.  Whenever I feel weary or I think I deserve more or should be treated better than I am, I only need to look the servants towel.  I will remember my Saviour and his wonderful example of servant leadership.   And I will say, “Lord – it is a privilege to follow you.”

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