Leaders are on the same team (1 Cor 3:6-9)

Yesterday we saw how foolish it is to divide over leaders. To begin with, leaders are merely God’s servants. Paul reminds us not to see them as anything more (or, conversely, anything less).

In today’s passage we see a second reason it’s foolish to divide over and compare leaders: they have different roles, with complementary functions in God’s work.

3:6a ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it’

Now, I’m no gardener. You can ask the landlord of any house I’ve lived in. In fact, my idea of gardening is to spray enough weed-killer around that you don’t have to think about the garden for another year. Yet despite my lack of gardening know-how, I do know that your plants don’t grow unless someone waters them. From experience. But I also know that if there’s no seed there, nothing’s going to grow no matter how much you water. Planting & watering: the functions are complementary. You need both.

Paul’s point? Don’t go comparing leaders. Each has a different set of gifts; each has a different role to play. And the church needs them all.

There’s one church I know whose pastor was very good at standing up to sinful behaviour. He purged the church of some bitter, divisive people who were destroying it. But he wasn’t the right person to take it to the next stage of growth. His job was to weed the church. The next guy who came along then watered it – and it’s been growing ever since. But it’s crazy to compare them, because each was needed for that church to grow.

Don’t go comparing leaders. Don’t compare your present leaders with those you’ve had in your church’s past – either favourably or unfavourably. Don’t compare the various leaders who are currently on staff with each other. Each leader has different gifts and different roles – in the kingdom of God and in the life of your church.

This is particularly important to remember in times of leadership transition, when responsibilities are passed from one leader to another. About 3 years ago, I stepped down from the pastoral team of our church to lecture full-time. I had to hand over the care of the young adults I’d been the pastor to for about 8 years. For this to happen in a healthy way, my church had a responsibility. A responsibility not to talk nostalgically about the ‘good old days of Tim’ or to go around saying how the new guy’s so much better than Tim. Both attitudes are divisive. Both can cause damage. Now I’m not sure what they all said among themselves, but the impression I get is that my church handled this well. They accepted that we’re different people, with different strengths and different weaknesses. They didn’t get hung up on comparing.

All are important. All are needed. And yet – leaders’ functions are nothing when compared with God:

3:6-7 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

You can plant all you want, and you can water all you want. But without the things you can’t control: climate, sunlight, water supply, nothing’s going to grow. Leaders are servants with different functions. But in the final analysis they are just that: God’s servants, through whom God functions. And because they belong to God, leaders are working toward the same goal:

3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.

Since God’s the one who’s really doing the work, all the different labourers are one. They’re working in different ways to achieve the one purpose.

I don’t know you watches American football. I’m a big fan. There’s nothing quite like watching grown men in tights headbutt each other. (Although in the rules these days they’re cracking down on the headbutting bit… Leaving the tights strangely untouched.) But if you’ve watched a bit, you’ll know that more than any other sport, everyone on the field has a very specific role.

There are some guys – normally the big ones that look like they’ve just eaten a fridge – like, the whole fridge in one bite – they might actually touch the football once in a season. And only if it ends up loose on the ground. Because it’s not their job to throw or catch the ball. Their job is to protect the guy with the ball from being hit by other guys who’ve just eaten whitegoods.

Other players are only on the field a few minutes each game. Their whole job might just be to kick field goals. The rest of the time they’re sitting on the sidelines just watching. In some games late in December, if you see a mound of snow on the sideline, that’s probably the kicker.

In fact, in any team there’s just a few players that get all the attention. The quarterback, who’s the brains behind it all. And the wide receivers whose job it is to run down the field & catch. They get all the praise. All the focus. Two seasons ago, one of the players in the news was a guy called Drew Brees. A quarterback from the New Orleans Saints, who broke the all-time passing record for a season. It was big news.

I was watching one of the dozens of interviews he did after breaking the record, and I noticed something really interesting. Something that made me smile. The media were building it up as ‘Drew Brees breaks the all-time record’. Making it all about him. Asking him how he felt and how proud he must be. And do you know what? All Drew did was talk about his team. How it was a team effort. Everyone had their jobs, and everyone contributed to this record.

And no matter how much the interviewers tried to make it about him as an individual, how tempting it was to glory in this amazing achievement – Drew kept a quiet but stubborn insistence that it was all about the team. And not in a fake way. Not falsely modest. In his mind, it was clearly a team goal. A team achievement.

But what made me smile was that I know Drew is a committed Christian. And there he was, in front of millions of people, humbly living out what it means to be a Christian leader. In fact, I think he’s the kind of Christian I’d like to have in my church. Because he gets it. He gets the fact that it’s not about us as individuals. It’s not about one person. About one leader. It’s not about the people in the more glamorous jobs getting all the attention. Like pastors or worship leaders or deacons. It’s about a group of people who have a common goal. They might have different jobs, but they’re on the same team, with the same objective. The advancement of the kingdom of God.

Anyone who divides the church of God by setting up one leader in opposition to another is missing the point. We’re all playing for the same team. God’s team. Because leaders and the church all belong to God.

3:9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Leaders are co-workers. They’re players on the same team. And that team is God’s team. It belongs to God. And if leaders are co-workers who belong to God, then you (the church) are the field being worked. You’re the building being constructed. And that also belongs to God. So how can we be divided amongst ourselves – over leaders or anything else – if we all belong to God?

To think about

Are there times you, or people in your church, have compared leaders? What effect did it have on your church?

What’s something you can do this week to affirm your church’s leadership team?

(Leaders: when are you tempted to bask in the glory? What stops you from giving in to that temptation?)

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