Housekeeping: A metaphor for church leadership

It’s time for us to start thinking about who will do the housekeeping for the next twelve months. Many churches call these people ‘deacons.’ The word comes from the Greek diakonos, which means ‘one who serves.’ We sometimes call it ‘church leadership’, but it’s a funny sort of leadership. It’s low status, usually thankless, and only noticed when it’s not being done: like housekeeping; and, like housekeeping, many of the tasks are mundane and require no special expertise beyond a deep willingness to serve. And, like housekeeping, it takes time each week to keep things ticking over. This is what it involves:

  • Organising the household’s calendar
  • Managing the household’s finances
  • Caring for the physical space (when we use it)
  • Communicating with other members of the household
  • Consulting with other members of the household on matters pertaining to them
  • Nurturing the growth of young people into increasingly responsible agents
  • Ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable are kept front and centre
  • Encouraging members of the household to contribute to the common life
  • Encouraging members of the household in their endeavours in the wider world
  • Keeping the household running smoothly and harmoniously, including working through conflict when it arises
  • Discerning new ways of being together and in the world in response to changing circumstances
  • Hosting or co-hosting household gatherings, from time to time
  • Praying for the household
  • Taking responsibility for one’s own spiritual and emotional health
  • In all these activities, sharing responsibility, working together, trusting God, embodying Christ and following the Spirit’s lead

The work may not be glamorous, but it’s essential if the household is to thrive. In Acts 6:1-7, the early church experienced conflict. The apostles were so busy preaching and teaching that they became sloppy about the housekeeping, and vulnerable Gentile widows were overlooked in the distribution of food. So the apostles asked the congregation to name people ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ who could be trusted to run the household while they got on with preaching the word. Individuals were named and commissioned and so, the story tells us, ‘the word of God spread and the number of disciples … grew rapidly.’ In other words, a well-run household of faith which embodied justice, harmony and care for the most vulnerable was as important to the witness and growth of the church as the apostles’ preaching.

Of course, the wisdom to run the household of faith is not the wisdom of the world: and so congregational housekeepers face special challenges. They will feel pressured by human ideas of money, time, KPI’s, growth, success, and so on; and they will be tempted to lead out of their expertise. However, ‘the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God,’ writes Paul (1 Cor. 3:19): and so the call is to make decisions based on Biblical reflection, prayer, and the whiff of the spirit, which often looks and feels a bit foolish.

Becoming a housekeeper is certainly a responsibility. But for those who set aside the time, it is also an opportunity to drink deeply from the well which sustains us as the group gathers in Christ’s name, reflects on Scripture, prays together, engages in the struggle between dominant culture and God’s kingdom, makes and enacts decisions by faith, and helps dream God’s new community into being. Taken seriously, it promises growth both for yourself and for the life and witness of the church.

Given this, is congregational housekeeping something you could commit to for the next twelve months? Or is there someone ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ who you would trust with our housekeeping? If so, consider making a nomination. A formal call for nominations will go out on 26 July, to be received by 2 August: but please start thinking and praying now.

And if you find the idea of housekeeping repulsive, then you are sensing the revulsion that Jesus’ first male disciples felt at being instructed to serve. In Mark’s gospel, only Jesus, angels and women are described as serving or ministering: but the invitation was always there for the men, too, and it still is. Or, in our context, let us say it is open not only to people with low status, but to people with high status, too, as long as they are able to set aside their status and work, not in their own strength, but in God’s. You can read a reflection on ministry and service here.

Peace,
Alison

Emailed to Sanctuary, 24 June 2020 © Alison Sampson, 2020. Image credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

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