I have recently been looking into the role of a leader within the church. What I have found has been totally different to my original understanding of the traditional leadership role. Often when we think of church leadership we think of the big dynamic leader or servant leader with towel and water in hand; I am coming to the conclusion that there is much more than this.
What I am going to say doesn’t undermine the role of a servant, but instead adds much more of a depth to this ministry.
Within the Torah the word ‘sharet,’ translated as ‘ministry,’ is used to name and describe the role of the priest. It is used specifically in relation to the ministry done by being a priest and paints an image of what this would look like. Often evangelical use of the word ‘ministry’ is about people, but the ‘sharet’ understanding is more about ministering to God.
It is understood by ‘sharet’ that the main ministerial role of the priest is to worship God with their face constantly directed towards God. This is why the priests would never turn their back towards God in the tabernacle. Within ‘sharet’ we therefore face God first of all in our ministry and then from this position turn to look over our shoulders to see his people.
The image is that of a priest facing God and ministering to him while having his head looking over the shoulder ministering to the people. The priest would have one hand forward to God and one hand going back to the people. The priest would then take the hand of God and the hand of the people and link them together. Within the image of ‘sharet’ we find a priest representing the people to God and God to the people.
A good translation of ‘sharet’ is ‘to minister to God and attend to the service of God’. Often we think of ‘our’ ministry or the ministry God has given us. But in reality it is more about being the people’s representative to God.
A good example of this use of ‘sharet’ is found in Numbers 16:9:
“Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at YHVH’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister [sharet] to them?”.
The writer uses ‘sharet’ to indicate ministry to God but then follows it up with ‘to them’ meaning the people. Ministry is a two way thing, directed firstly to God and then flowing from this its back to the people.
This role within the Jewish tabernacle was never an individual one; it was always about the role of priest being within the body of the priests. Never would a priest minister on his own, it was always in team that this was exercised.
It was always the expectation that several priests would minister at a time, so to always be reminded it was about the role and not the person. You would never find an Old Testament priest saying my ministry, simply because it wasn’t their ministry it was a priestly ministry of the body of priests they were a part of.
We see this same theology within Jesus’ ministry. One of the first things Jesus does is select a group of ‘talmid’ or disciples. Then from this he then uses them to do his miracles for him.
We find that through servants Jesus turns water into wine, through his talmid he feeds the five thousand. Jesus’ ministry was never about him doing it, but doing with others. We see this time and time again. It seems to me that Jesus was highlighting how ministry should happen. It is through Jesus’ power miracles happen but only when we as servants allow ourselves to be used as such.
It is our role as church leaders to firstly make sure we are correctly ministering to God on a personal level and through this serving God by bringing others into his presence. This for me isn’t a lower understanding of servant-hood but a higher view of it. We only minister as God’s servants, not as anyone who is owed anything by God but because we know we owe everything to Him.
As I think through what this looks like day to day in my own church role, it reminds me in a comforting way that I am only one priest within a body of priests. It isn’t my role to change the world, it neither is my role to solve everyone’s problems. It is simply my role to be a worshiper of the living God and when appropriate link the hands of his people and him. For me this takes away the huge weight of having to do everything and be everywhere, it is his ministry at the end of the day. It also reminds me that my soul isn’t worth loosing within this role of being a church leader, but within my work it is of utmost importance to make sure that my worship is central to the mistrial role.