In my work with leaders, two concepts continually come to the front, two task of leadership that help keep them attuned to God’s Spirit in their lives, churches, and ministries.
The first job of spiritual leaders is to discern where is God moving within his cosmic story in their particular time and place. As Hebrews 3:7 says, “Today, when you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your hearts.” Since spiritual leaders have themselves a rich connection to God, they see through the rhetoric, emotion, and excitement of the moment to understand where and how God is moving. Within their particular context, they strive to recognize the difference between good ideas and godly ideas.
God’s story often defies common sense and business sense. How many times did God ignore the older child (who had cultural and economic preference) for the younger child? For someone to discern what God was doing when God chose, for example, Judah over Reuben, that person would have had to rely on spiritual insight more than business acumen or knowledge of social convention. God worked counterintuitively to forward his work at that moment in time. Spiritual leaders are called to discern how God is working—whether his work is intuitive and obvious or counterintuitive and challenging.
The second job of spiritual leaders is adapting to the work of God. It is not enough to see where God is working. We must join into that work. This assumes that God is growing us and developing us. We must change as God’s story unfolds in our context. The reality is, growth requires change. As long as we have discerned God’s work and strive to become part of it, our change is not for our own convenience, but for God’s glory. As Hebrews 3:7 says, “Today, when you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your hearts.”
It is very important that discernment and adaptation continue as God continues to work. On the one hand, if a leader stops discerning, whether because of time constraints or because he feels he’s already got all the right answers, then his “adaptation” will merely be enforcement. On the other hand, if a leaders stops adapting, then discernment is nothing more that philosophical speculation.
Sometimes spiritual leaders can get sidetracked from the process of discernment and adaptation. Here are three dangerous paths:
Repeating what worked in the past. The past is a help and guide, not a dictate. Every place and time brings its own challenges. Here’s a tip for using the past without being choked by it: The more specific the issue for which the past is being used as a guide, the more likely it is not a healthy use of the past. Since every time and place is different, leaders are called to see the big picture of where God is leading. The more specific our vision from the past, the more likely we are simply porting a program or technique. Programs and techniques are always context-specific.
Ignoring where God has worked in the past. Nothing is new under the sun. Leaders have to sense the difference between God’s trajectory and the excitement of the moment. Often, how God has worked in the past is an indicator of how he will continue to work in the present.
Having a “decide and enforce mentality.” Some spiritual leaders see their job as deciding what is right and enforcing compliance to that decision. They decide what the Bible says, for a church-based example, and enforce it in the congregation. I would argue that this sees the Bible (particularly the New Testament) as a rulebook, not as the this inspired history of God working among his people. There are certainly rules to keep (don’t be greedy, stay pure, don’t gossip, etc.). But if leaders are simply enforcers of the rules, they are not open to discerning God working in the present among us.
May God bless us all as we seek him and follow him!
Comment via Facebook