A leader or Benchwarmer? 1 Peter 5:1-5

“Alright, Teddy your up, Billy your on deck, Ryan your…”

“Woops! Oh well, I guess I didn’t need the whole bottle of gatorade anyway. Wow, look at those ants swim though! It must be pretty cool to be an ant in a pool of Gatorade; you wouldn’t ever be thirsty again! I think I’d rather swim in a gigantic bowl of lucky charms! I could climb on top of the marshmallows (definitely one of the green ones,) take a big bite out of it, and then cannonball into the milk. I really like the milk that comes out of a bowl of lucky charms… cinnamon toast crunch too. You know, I could save the milk and put it in a bottle, then at dinner, I could pour the cinnaminy milk into my cup and maybe then the corn wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Ryan!”

“But then what would I drink out of the cereal bowl after the lucky charms were gone…”

“Ryan! …Hey! Stop daydreaming son! You’re up!”

“Up? Oh no! Not again! Hey coach, I don’t need to bat, you can let some one of the other kids take a turn and…

“Dang it Ryan! Put on your helmet and get up there before I…!”

“…but coach”

“Just look at the ball this time… and Ryan, do me a favor? Could you try not to cry in front of everyone again, its embarrassing.”

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There was this absurd rule in little league when I was a kid… I don’t know who made this rule up, but they were a very mean and vengeful person. Anyway, the rule said that all the kids on the team HAD to play three innings every game! CRAZY!
See baseball was never my thing. Admittedly, I do have some fond memories of spitting sunflower seeds and four-leaf clover hunting out in left field; however, no amount of“lucky” clovers would keep me from being called to bat. Baseball had other perks… being part of a team was pretty neat, and the uniform did make me look pretty awesome, but I’d really have been okay spending those afternoons safely warming the bench behind the ball-blocking fence of the dugout.
That’s a common feeling with modern-day Church as well, just without big league chewing gum and knee socks. “No, I’m happy to be a pew-warmer today, most folks would say as they quietly shuffle into the back of the sanctuary. (Think about the ironic similarities between a pew and a dugout bench.) Today’s scripture is a call to us who linger on the sidelines and warm the benches. It is a call from one of our coaches, the Apostle Simon Peter; however, in this particular passage notice Peter speaks to us, not as a coach, but as a teammate.

1 Peter 5: 1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Lets take a moment to break that passage down, starting with Peter’s opening salutation, “To the elders among you, I appeal (extol) you.” The word “Extol” does not simply mean to encourage, but literally, to “encourage with enthusiasm!” This is exciting for Peter, Petra, the apostle whom Jesus nicknamed “the rock, the foundation of the church;” however, as alluded, Peter wasn’t an “Apostle” this day.
“I extol you as a FELLOW ELDER” he says, “who will SHARE in the glory to be revealed.” Peter’s words do not come as an authoritative command nor a needy plea, but an excited invitation to be leaders of the church from a humble equal. In a society of mega-churches and televangelists, how many of us, could lead with the humility that Peter demonstrates in this passage after having been nicknamed, “the rock of the Church,” by Jesus himself.
“Be shepherds of God’s flock who are under your care,” he continues.
“Wait, what?!? Well shoot, I could have sworn we were the sheep! Shepherds? We didn’t sign up for that! I really am good with being a follower.”
This kind of sounds familiar…“You want me to what Coach… to bat?? No, I really am okay with being a benchwarmer!”
Rewind! Unlike my moderately traumatizing years of little league baseball, Peter’s call to the plate was not of force, but the gift of an opportunity. “Not because you must, but because you are willing,” clarifies Peter.
“Well” you may ask, “What if I am new to this ‘Church thing’ and I don’t know the lingo yet. What if I don’t really understand all the traditions or if I can’t pray in public without turning into a babbling awkward idiot. What if I don’t have any scriptures memorized, or even worst yet, what if I have doubts? You can’t call me up to bat!”
Relax. You (a plural “you” going out to each person in this room, myself included) are exactly who God wants in the batters box. God doesn’t want Babe Ruth, and verse 5 alludes to this stating, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” God indeed wants you! A fellow elder and a humble teammate.
Pause again. You may be thinking something around the lines of, “I am not sure I appreciate being called ‘elder,’ are you trying to say something?” Well yes I am, but not what you think. Elders in the church are persons of faith, dedication, and good judgement (note “good” not “perfect.”) They are those who strive to live their life as a demonstration of the Jesus’ love and exemplify his teachings. There is no educational qualification for the office of Elder, no age requirement, and no sign with a measuring stick declaring “you must be this tall to ride this ride.” …And when looking at our unique faith journeys, I strongly feel God’s plea is right in line with the old 90’s surf motto made famous by the brand, Billabong, that we indeed “enjoy the ride.”
Their are two interchangeable words used throughout the New Testament when speaking of “elder.” The first is “Episkopos,” and is the more common of the two. It references an official acting as overseer, controller, or guardian for the Church or community. In Peter’s passage, the word used is Presbuteros, and its connotation is much more communal in nature. This is where the word Presbyterian is derived; a denomination in modern Christianity that simply means an elder-led church. Notice that throughout the New Testament, the term “elder” is most often plural, as it is in today’s passage, and the word for Church is singular, suggesting that the early church was one unified body composed and lead by a variety of elders (age of the essence.)
The etymology of the Greek language is a bit heavy and playing off little league references is a bit more enjoyable than breaking down the historical church’s models of leadership, so we digress. Though not specifically one of the ten commandments, it is indeed a sin to speak in sporting parable without integrating a quote from the great Vince Lombardi, so we turn to the sage (the elder) for his words of wisdom on the subject.
“Individual commitment to a group effort” states Lombardi, “–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
You know what one of the most damaging statements of our time is? “There is no ‘I’ in team.” We have all heard it. It is a constant theme in dugouts, locker-rooms, bullpens conference rooms, etc., but despite its good intentions, the statement makes it far too easy to become complacent with our seat on the bench.
The ball was scary as a kid (actually I still quiver a little at the thought of a batter’s box,) but my coach and my cheering parents knew that everything was going to be okay, they knew I could handle it, and they wanted to see there son on the field and in the action. What parent wants to watch their kid sit on the bench for nine innings?
Just the same, God wants us in the game! Hell yeah we’re going to strike out on occasion, and we may very well get hit by a pitch, but thats what being the Church, not attending a church, is all about! “There is no ‘I’ in team…” Yeah it sounds great, but is it a cop-out to sit on the bench?
“Individual commitment to a group effort- thats what makes a team work,” declared Lombardi. Indeed there is no I in team, but we all have heard it said, there is indeed a “me” in team, and we have a bunch of “me’s” sitting here today!
An elder is a teammate and my job as a “leader,” sitting up here this morning, lies in producing more leaders. My goal is, as was Peter’s some 2000 years ago, to empower you, to encourage you, and to serve with you as we, together, grow as a Christian community.
Peter’s call to the people wasn’t original. It was in Gospel of John, when Simon Peter received a similar message from Jesus, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asked. “Then tend my flock.” Peter was relaying the lesson, the calling.
Back in college, studying to be an English teacher (somehow I took a strange turn and landed in Louisville as a Pastor, but thats another story,) we learned about the Lancaster education model. As the schools were growing in the early 19th century, the British educator, Joseph Lancaster, unable to shrink his classroom size, initiated a model through which his pupils would teach one another, motto being “Qui docet, discit” or “he who teaches, learns.” In this model, Lancaster would organize his classroom in rows, teaching the first row of students directly. Those students would then turn around and guide the next row in the lesson, switching roles from learner to teacher; and the process would continue throughout the classroom with each student indeed becoming a teacher, a leader, in the process.
In the educational world it became quickly apparent that by allowing and encouraging, by “extolling,” the students to take on the role of teacher, the students grew a much better understanding of the subject matter and the confidence in their ability to put their teachings into action. Just the same, we in the church grow the most in our faith not simply through our passive listening, but by actively teaching; and our church grows the strongest when leadership comes from an individual, but from the team.
I have used the words of CK Chesterson before, but feel that his call indeed rings true today. “Just going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian,” he states, “anymore than standing in your garage makes you a car.” A car is meant to transport us to new and exciting places, and our roll as Christians, as disciples, as elders or apostles is to transport the church and the many individuals that God places in our life on step closer to perfection. So what does it mean to “pick up the bat” and “step up to the plate” today?This week? This month?
In Isaiah 6:8- The profit writes, “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” What is your reply?

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