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  • Hannah Williamson

Gather, Empower, Release


Church has always been part of my life. In fact, my mum tells me that she started to have contractions when she was sat at the piano in church. It was probably on the day of my birth that I first met people who belonged to the church and then I am sure only a few weeks later, if that, that I attended church for the first time. Gathering as the church holds something special and although the church is not perfect and I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, I totally believe in it and love it with all my heart. I remember when I first became a youth pastor and sitting with my team trying to look at how we could gather young people - whether that be in larger groups of smaller groups. The ‘gathering’ of people was something we wanted to focus on. When Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 18:16 that he would ‘build his church’ the word was a greek word ‘Ekklesia’ which essentially meant a gathering of people around a common focus and so focussing on gathering, in whatever form Is important. However in this passage in Luke 9 we see three things taking place - gathering people, empowering them and releasing them.



I think there can sometimes be a large focus on gathering people or on ‘the gathering’ but we let the empowering and releasing get a little lost. These three things were so important to the early disciples and those who started the early church. They were not just called to gather people, but to also empower them and release them to reach a world that did not know the hope of Jesus. I wonder what would happen if we spent a little more time empowering those around us and then releasing them to win others and ultimately as the passage says ‘proclaim the kingdom.’ I want to look at these three words giving some practical thoughts on how we can ensure all 3 are top of our priority list when it comes to building the church….


GATHER

‘And he called the twelve together…’ Luke 9:1

The word ‘call together’ in the greek is ‘sugkaleó’ and is a mixture of two words means together and to call, invite or summon. I love the thought that there was an invitation. In our world of marketing, it can be easy to lose the personal touch of an invitation. So many things are prying for our attention. We work hard at advertising our churches and of course there is nothing wrong with this. In fact I do think it’s important to have good clear website, social media and any other mediums we use to reach people. However, maybe we should not forget the power of a personal invitation. When Jesus called the 12 disciples, he offered a simple invitation ‘come follow me.’ It was very personal. He wasn’t at the front of a large crowd asking people to put up their hand if they wanted to be part of his team, he didn’t ask for an application form or ask people to sign up by his website…he just simply asked an individual to follow him. Rodney Stark is a historical sociologist who did a lot of research into the rise of Christianity. He speaks often about how Christianity spread like it did because of the close connections people had with their families and friends. John Mark Comer mentions him and this idea in his book, ‘Disappearing church’ saying, ‘in an age where we have cheap tools and technologies to grow churches and ministries rapidly through weak ties, we can forget that the church has always grown through strong ties. Rodney Stark, the sociologist of religion, has researched the explosive growth of the early church and notes the power of strong ties, for when someone was transformed by the gospel those who had strong ties to them could not help but be affected by this change.’ It can be easy in the world we live to rely on the marketing that is around us, but marketing doesn’t save people, Jesus does. Maybe we need to get back to good old, ‘sharing your faith’ or ‘inviting someone to your church’ or even just inviting someone for a coffee to talk about what you believe.


What should I do with this?

Consider how you can help people gain courage to talk to others about what Jesus has done in their lives rather than just focussing on your marketing strategy.
Consider how you can use marketing to share stories of life change - thats making the best of both worlds!
Encourage people to be gatherers not just consumers in your church!

EMPOWER

‘….and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases…’ Luke 9:1

So, let’s say you have gathered people. That may look like a small group gathering that you lead or a church full of people. Or, like Jesus in this instance it may look like a gathering of potential leaders. I want to focus in on these potential leaders. It’s one of the things I am most passionate about. Jesus had gathered 12 young leaders who he knew at the time were going to be the ones to launch the early church. They had a lot to learn and a lot to go through before then but this was what they were going to do. We only have to look a few books on, to the book of Acts to see this taking place. At this point, however, Jesus is preparing them for what was to come. I don’t know the exact timing of this but Jesus was only with these guys for 3 years so we can presume that quite early on he delegated to them. The word power in our vocabulary often holds negative connotations because power is so often misused. This word power is not that kind of power but talking of a Holy Spirit infused power that can only come from God. It was what enabled them to do the miraculous. It also says he gave them authority. This word authority means ‘power to act’. It is a weight of responsibility. It is hard to give people we are leading a weight of responsibility as often the true weight comes when you become the leader and the buck stops with you. However, in order to train and develop the next generation we have to actively seek to pass over authority, giving them opportunities to learn to ‘carry the weight’. Jesus sent the disciples out with this authority and he was not with them which meant they had to learn to rely on all he had taught them. Once it came to the start of the early church they really had to go for it, but at this point they could learn what it meant with him still around. Maybe there are some things we can learn here about developing and releasing leaders?


What should I do with this?

Identify some younger potential leaders around you - not only empower them by encouraging them and giving them responsibility but pray Holy Spirit power into them!
Find ways to delegate authority to younger leaders. How can you give them opportunities where they have to make the decisions and learn?
Find ways to delegate authority early on, coaching them through the decision making process so that when they do have to lead without you around they have had an opportunity to grow beforehand.

RELEASE

“…and he sent them out…” Luke 9:2

Finally, Jesus sent them out. This is the word ‘aposetelló’. They were commissioned to be ambassadors for him. They could not stay where they were but had to move into other areas. It says later in this passage that they went through the villages preaching and healing. We have to remember that these were just ordinary young men that had spent time with Jesus. That being the key part - they had spent time with Jesus. I think if I had been leading this group, knowing what some of the disciples were like, I would have been tempted to ‘keep them close’ a little longer. Sending them out was a bit risky. Did they even fully comprehend who Jesus was and what he’d come to do at this point - probably not. But Jesus saw fit to, very early on, ‘send them out.’ This is again an area where I think churches often hold back. People need to ‘complete a course’ or have taken 12 steps before doing anything. Now, don’t misunderstand me, there are things we do in churches to protect ourselves and properly train people and I am all for that, but I wonder if sometimes we don’t always release as quickly as we could.


If you look into some of the stories of where Jesus set people free, he sent them out very quickly. Take for example the man full of demons in Luke 8. After he has been set free it says in verse 39, ‘And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.’ Immediately he was out there sharing what Jesus had done in his life. Did he fully understand it - probably not, but something about his testimony was sharable! Or take the woman at the well in John 4. Her lifestyle was a bit questionable but regardless, she was released immediately to share with others the good news of Jesus. In reality even looking at the disciples, they had 3 years with Jesus and many of them were teenagers and then they started the early church. Most of them did not wait till they were 40. More than likely, they were in their early 20’s. How many people in their early 20’s do you know that are planting churches? This is such a challenge to the church today and I hope we will consider ways to release more, and to release quicker!


What should I do with this?

What areas are you holding onto that you could release to someone else to do or lead in?
Who around you needs releasing?
How might you be holding younger leaders back by not making space for them to lead?



At the end of this particular passage it says this, ‘On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart…’ (Luke 9:10). I think this verse is important to note in the context of gathering, empowering and releasing. Sometimes this could mistakingly be understood as when you release you leave people to go off and that’s the end of your involvement with you. A kind of ‘sink of swim’ attitude. I don’t think this is what the releasing was all about. Jesus released but he was also there to coach, support and give feedback. The disciples went out to share the gospel and heal but then they came back and were able to share what God was doing. This is an important part of leadership and particularly when it comes to developing leaders. We don’t just push young leaders out of the nest and hope for the best, but we ensure we are there ready to encourage, hear their stories and challenge them to greater heights. My prayer for you is that you will be the type of leader that gathers people, empowers them and releases them to do the same!



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