So far I have suggested that the essence of Christian leadership is allowing God to lead through us. This is based on the understanding that Christ is the Head of the Church, that He lives within us, and that His ways of doing things are so often in contrast to what “makes sense” to our own way of thinking.
With this as a foundation we now turn to the first of six practical implications that affect the way we lead when we are resolved to having God lead through us. The first of these concerns our priority as a leader. If Jesus Christ leads the church and if He lives in me and desires to lead through me, then my priority as a leader is not to seek out more training and more resources – as helpful as these may be. My priority is to deepen my relationship with Him.
For most this will not be a new thought. It is something you believe in and, in your best moments, have sought to practice. Yet it is a concept that can be easily misapplied as we try to live by it.
The first way we commonly misapply it is to see nurturing our relationship with Him as another thing to do: We plan a programme, make preparations, offer a (quick?) prayer of blessing upon what we’ve done and trust He will work through us. In other words we get things back to front – we initiate things, do all the work to make it successful, and then ask God to make sure all our plans go well and something good comes from it all.
A second way we misapply this concept is by extending the first approach into what I call the “banking” mindset. Here we schedule frequent and extended times of prayer for ourselves and the young people, thinking that somehow the more we pray and the longer we pray, the more “blessed” our efforts will be. In other words, our prayers are deposited into the bank of heaven and when we need God to move we withdraw what funds we have invested and apply them to our efforts. The more we prayed the more successful our efforts will be.
The third way we misapply this concept is to see our lack of sin as the key to success. We plan a programme, make preparations and then confess all the sins we can think of to God, asking Him to “clean us up” so that we can be some sort of clear channel for Him to flow through during the programme. Such a mindset is far closer to Eastern mysticism than it is to Biblical Christianity. If God’s working is dependent on the length of my unconfessed sin list then those I lead are in serious trouble indeed! One need only read through Scripture, much less look at the history of the Church, to see that God in His grace has used some pretty sinful, and even unrepentant, people.
What all these approaches illustrate is a faulty cause and effect mindset: if I want God to do something I have to first do something myself such as remembering to ask Him to bless my programme (frequently and for a long time) or making my unconfessed sin list as short as possible. If this was the way ministry worked then ultimately success and fruit would depend on me and what I did. But success and fruit in ministry always begins and ends with Christ.
If we want God to lead through us we need a new priority. We need a mindset that is different from that described above – one in which we do these things for His sake, not ours. The moment we start to think “Because I am doing this, God will…” (fill in the blank), is the moment we stop allowing God to lead through us because our primary focus has become what we are doing, not what God is doing.
The new priority we must adopt as a leader is to spend time with Him. A lot of time. This time is spent coming abiding in Him (John 15:1-11) coming to know Him (Ephesians 1:15-19a ; Philippians 1:9-11) so deeply that who we are begins to line up with who He is and what we do begins to line up with what He is doing. (Read this paragraph again – it’s critical!)
In practical terms, it is to spend time reading Scripture and meditating on what we read (Psalm 1:1-3). It is to talk to Him, without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It is to hear His voice through all we see around us each day (Psalm 19:1-6). It is to cultivate a spirit of worship, never allowing thoughts of Him to be far away.
Importantly though, it is to do these things not because we should but because we must. We do these things to get with Him, not to get from Him. If you’re thinking “I am going to do all this so that God will lead through me” you have missed the point! You should be thinking “God is already leading. Unless I deeply abide in Him, instead of following Him, I risk expecting Him to follow me.”
As we shift our focus from what we must do, to Him and what He is already doing, gradually and almost imperceptibly (at least to us), we will find that He is leading through us, not because we have made any conscious effort to let Him lead through us but because we have made a conscious effort to look to Him.
To express this another way, we must make Him more important that anything we do. No longer will we find ourselves fitting time with Him in and around all we have to do, hoping and praying He is following our lead. Instead we find ourselves so immersed in Him that we find ourselves following His lead, doing all we do out of time spent with Him.
In Part 4: Our decision making