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The Pilgrim's Guide to Leadership

 

 

A Pilgrim’s Guide to Leadership

Introduction

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.
(1 Tim. 3:1)

Out front. That is where leaders always find themselves – rather like my friend in the photo, pictured high up a perilous mountain in the Faroe Islands, leading his family to places most of us wouldn’t even think of going to. No ropes, just trust, training, experience and plenty of confidence that the Lord will get them to their destination!

Rather than providing detailed instruction on how to lead a meeting or direct a fellowship, this is an article that speaks from the Father heart of God to the hearts of leaders. Whether or not you are currently in active leadership, you are sure to find the principles and challenges we will be exploring relevant. Rather than serving up too many ready-made ‘answers’, let the large number of quotations from leaders through the ages drop the dew of distilled wisdom into your spirit. The multiple choice questions are likewise designed to give you time to ponder and reflect on the whole business of ‘doing’ leadership. Many of them are presented from an exaggerated stance, in order to help you pray into key issues.

There is a lot of talk about the next phase of revival not being centred around big names. I’m with that all the way, but Scripture is also very clear that whenever God wants to do something new, He raises up leaders to bring it about. Just as He anointed and appointed Moses, Joshua, Samuel and David, He is always on the lookout to raise up leaders at local and national level to facilitate and oversee His work. – anointed men and women who are so much in love with Him that they will follow wherever He leads, and bring others closer to Him in the process.

If you feel inadequate for such a task, you are in good company. Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and countless other fine leaders through the ages were decidedly reluctant to take up the reins the Lord was thrusting into their hands. For love of God, and the sake of His kingdom, they overcame their reluctance and embraced the opportunity to serve.

My prayer is that the Lord will meet with you through this article to sharpen the calling He is already placing on your life. May He use you mightily, despite the weaknesses you already know about, and the disappointments and setbacks you are sure to experience along the way. His hand is on you, His Spirit works through you – and He is eager to lead you ‘further on and further in.’

Leadership is a Servant Ministry

If you wish to be a leader you will be frustrated, for very few people wish to be led.
If you aim to be a servant you will never be frustrated. (Frank Warren)

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:43-45

Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself. Rom 15:2-3, 7

By any standards, Jesus’ ‘manifesto’ was radical. He proclaimed that ‘the last shall be first,’ that ‘the poor and meek are blessed,’ and that He was sending His beloved disciples out ‘as lambs in the midst of wolves’. Remarkably, in this upside down kingdom, ‘servant leadership,’ is the only style that the New Testament acknowledges.

It hardly sounds likely to appeal to today’s upwardly mobile generation you might think – yet substantial sectors of the business world are recognising that leaders work best, and influence most, when they adopt a ‘servant’ model rather than a hierarchical top down style of leadership. A true pastor nurtures and protects his sheep. He is even prepared to lay down his life for his flock. The less godly concentrate on the way things are done, (what we might call the rules of procedure) but miss out on considering how best to lead and inspire the people they are meant to be serving.

Leadership that is only concerned to benefit the organisation (or belief-system) that it represents, end up serving its own purposes. All too often ‘leadership’ becomes dominant and controlling, browbeating those who are ‘under’ us, and sucking up to those who are over us. No wonder that they often end up imposing conditions, manipulating events and threatening sanctions.

Selfish and insecure leaders are often driven more by a desire to ‘shine and succeed’ than out of any real desire to release other people into their calling. As someone warned, ‘It is easy to love preaching, but do we love the people to whom we preach?’ By contrast, many of the best leaders are strongly aware both of what God has placed in their hearts, and of their inability to complete the task without God’s help. May the Lord raise up more such leaders after His own heart!

Where would the Church be today without people who have set their sights high and sought to achieve great things for the Kingdom of God?

To accept the will of God never leads to the miserable feeling
that it is useless to strive any more.

God does not ask for the dull, weak, sleepy acquiescence of indolence.
He asks for something vivid and strong.
He asks us to cooperate with Him,
actively willing what He wills,
our only aim His glory.

(Amy Carmichael)

We have all seen teachers laying down the law at the start of the term, determined to impose themselves from the outset (usually as a result of bad experiences they have had elsewhere). I have seen all too many pastors saying things that have no place in a pastor’s vocabulary, along the lines of ‘if you don’t agree with me, there’s the door,’ or, ‘You may have been a leader under the previous pastor, but don’t assume that will continue to be the case!’ Such attitudes create an atmosphere of intimidation in which many feel rebuffed. They may try make one or two attempts to contribute, but then opt out, suppressing their gifting, before it is rejected.

Multiple Choice

1) Leaders should give a clear lead from the front, which people should follow unquestioningly.
2) As servants, leaders shouldn’t expect their work to be anything other than difficult or menial.
3) Leaders should do whatever the consensus in the church desires and requires.
4) Leaders should be clear in their aims and direction, but realize that they will only get the best out of people if they present them with a servant heart.

Character speaks louder than words

God wants lovers as well as workers.

God would sooner we did wrong in loving
than never love for fear we should do wrong.
(Father Andrew)

Our Lord does not care so much for the importance of our work
but for the love for which they are done.
(Theresa of Avila)

The amount of people you can bless is exactly the same
as the amount of people you can hurt.
(Joyce Meyer)

Character is what God etches in us; personality may be no more than how we may to look in other people’s eyes.

Character and example speak louder than words – but words have power when there is an authentic person behind them. Think back to the earliest teachers you can remember from infant school days. Of all the thousands of words that they must have spoken to you every day, you are unlikely to remember more than a tiny handful. The chances are, however, you still have a strong impression of the type of person that they were: kind and concerned, or distant and demanding.

For better or worse, these people have made their mark on your development. Think now for a moment what the qualities are that you most respect in other Christians.

Surely kindness, love, consistency, humility, thankfulness, compassion, gentleness, patience, trustworthiness, prayerfulness and courage would rank high in your thinking? Then you are talking about character rather than gifting!

If we prize only a person’s gifting (and choose to overlook major character defects, it nearly always backfires. Sooner or later, when the pressure is on, character weaknesses will be exposed. All too many college courses in the past focussed almost exclusively on academic studies to the exclusion both of developing a strong character and preparing people for the spiritual and pastoral issues they will come face to face with in their ministries.

I suspect that Christians in bygone ages prayed more about character issues than most of us do today. Perhaps we are guilty of having ‘caught’ the world’s emphasis on image and appearance.

When I was at university, people used to point out the guy who went to more church services and prayer meetings than anyone else. I decided to watch his life to see what difference God made in his life. Frankly, I couldn’t spot any. As he grumbled and groaned along, my line of reasoning went something like this: ‘If your God can’t make you happier than that at losing a game of table tennis, I don’t want anything to do with your God.’ Mercifully, the Lord lent a helping hand. I later met some lovely Christians who shone with the love of the Father. It was their example that inspired me to go to the church where I first met Him.

People usually make their mind up about a church long before the preacher utters a word. It is the quality of welcome, and the worship, and above all, of our demeanour, that speaks loudest. There are no second chances to create a first impression!

Jesus did not say, ‘Come to my theological training seminar, sign this membership card and you’re in – you’re a full-blown disciples now!’ Rather, He said, ‘Come and see,’ and proceeded to model the kingdom of God to them. Jesus used the ‘Show and Tell’ method. He told them what He was going to do, He did it for them, and then with them. Later, when they had got the hang of it, He told them to ‘go and do likewise.’ But He was still on hand, as good leaders should always be, to guide and explain.

For Reflection

How comfortable would you be to pray with Paul:
‘Join with others in following my example . . .
and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you?
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me –
put it into practice.’

(Phil 3:17)

Most of us surely prefer to say, ‘Don’t look at me – look at Jesus!’ But since truth is caught at least as much as it is taught, people are bound to look at us to see if they like the One we are supposed to be modelling. If I have got measles but preach mumps, what are people going to catch?

Fathers, Mothers and Mentors

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ,
you do not have many fathers,
for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

(1 Cor. 4:15)

We learn so much just by coming alongside those who are being used by the Lord. Think of someone who served as a mentor to you. What was it about the way they treated you that built and developed you?

It is not that mentors need to know everything. Always be willing to say, ‘I don’t have the answer (the power or the experience) to handle that one – but I know someone who might. Be prepared to call on experts. Draw people in, but trust your own testimony and experience too.

We are blessed if we have received mentoring and fathering into our ministries. My pastor in Paris did just that for me back in the mid 1970’s. He pushed me forward to preach, He praised what I did well, and showed me how I could do better. His successor challenged me in other ways, warning when he sensed my prayer life was in danger of straying from faith into presumption.

The fact is, however, that most Christians have probably not had such hands-on mentoring. Honey bees gather nectar from many flowers, and if we are obliged to snatch help here and there for help, as best we can, this is how it may have to be. Often, however, there may be some deep-laid reluctance in us that stops us from entering into such a heart to heart relationship. Proverbs 28:26 reminds us in no uncertain terms that ‘He who trusts in himself is a fool.’ It is always wise to seek the help of those who have walked the way before us.

Multiple Choice

1) I feel as if I am so much a once-off that nobody would understand me well enough to make such a relationship worthwhile.
2) By God’s grace I am well covered, by the one(s) the Lord has raised up.
3) God’s anointing is so manifestly on me that I need nothing of the kind. Who do you think you are?
4) I am praying to be in such a relationship.

More about character

There is a great man who makes every man feel small.
But the really great man is the man who makes every man feel great.
(G.K. Chesterton)

A good leader takes a little more than his share of blame;
a little less than his share of credit.

(Arnold Glasgow)

Do you want to enter what people call the higher life?
Then go a step lower down. If
you are dead to self you cannot hurt any more.

(Andrew Murray)

‘All the steps of God lead downwards. The last shall be first.’
F.B. Meyer

Ponder. Why did Paul call himself, effectively, the least and the last of the apostles? (It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 1 Cor. 4:9)

I love being in the presence of people who walk so closely to the Lord that they exude His love, and demonstrate His character. People can be so seriously switched off by the opposite (arrogant and dismissive attitudes) that they become enemies of the faith. Karl Marx is a prime example of this. The way he was treated by members of the Church caused him to develop the faith-rejecting creed that imposed untold misery on the millions in the Communist bloc countries who became the unwilling victims of his theories. How different it all might have been had he met with more kindness at the hands of Christians! Ghandi declared that he would only believe in the Christian faith if he saw more evidence of the resurrection on individual Christians’ faces!

Some people are blessed with by nature with a kind and cheerful disposition. Character, however, has to be worked on.

‘The mark of a man is how he treats a person who can be of no possible use to him.’ (Anon)

‘Be kind. Remember everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ (T.H. Thompson)

Multiple Choice

1) That’s too upside down for me. The way I am requires something more upbeat and up-front – especially when it comes to (sport, fashion, earning and spending money, relating to people, prizing celebrities).
2) I’m more influenced by the ways of the world than I would like to be, but I’m longing for the Lord to change me.
3) I don’t give a hoot for what anyone thinks if they aren’t going my way.
4) Nothing’s ever going to change my character – it’s a dead loss!

Leaders are prepared in the fire

On Mount Moriah it was not Isaac God wanted.
It was Abraham.

(Roy Gustafson)

‘The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.’ (Proverbs 17:3) If gold requires a furnace, don’t underestimate the temperature the Lord will test us at!

If a bird is flying for pleasure it flies with the wind, but if it meets danger it turns and faces the wind, in order that it may rise higher. In order to realise the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the stress of the storm. (Anon)

If God sends us on stony paths, He provides strong shoes. The winds howl around the highest peaks. (Corrie Ten Boom)

John the Baptist promised that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit – and how grateful we can be that He did. At the same time, however, He declared that the Lord Jesus would also baptise with fire. (Matt. 3:11). God is so faithful to His promise that He sends that as part of the deal!

The Lord does not hesitate to plunge our soul into a furnace of testing in much the same way that a blacksmith plunges a lump of iron into the furnace (and then into a bucket of cold water) in order to make the iron malleable enough to shape.

Think of the time when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace and miraculously kept alive by the presence of the Lord walking amongst them. (Dan. 3) Watchman Nee described this as ‘enlargement through pressure’.

‘As sure as ever God puts His children in the furnace,’ Charles Spurgeon declares, ‘He will be in the furnace with them.’ The reason for this is simple. The powers of darkness only have so many worthwhile targets to aim at in a region. Cutting edge churches and leaders are sure to be high on the list. It is as wrong to underestimate the devil in this respect as it is to overestimate him. God needs those who have been tested by fire to withstand him.

Multiple Choice

1) I’m fed up with being tested. I’ve reached the point where I’d rather settle for something safe and predictable.
2) I’d rather blame the devil than face my own failings.
3) The Lord never asks me to go through anything that is too tough for Him and me to bear together.
4) I’m fed up with the way I am, Lord. Do whatever it takes to me better and more fruitful than I currently am.

Wider Question

Deacons should be tested. (1 Tim. 3:10)
What form do you think such testing should take?

1) By observing how they handle potentially stressful situations?

2) By being given minimal/medium/maximum opportunity to lead events to see how they measure up?

3)By coming alongside to mentor them?

Harnessing our sense of helplessness

Hezekiah took his morning mail, with all its bad news,
and forwarded it to God.
(William Hoven, cf 2 Kings 19:14f)

Tomorrow has two handles: a handle of fear and a handle of faith.
You can take hold of it by either handle.
Faith makes things possible – it does not make them easy.
(Anon)

Anxiety is not only a pain which we must ask God to assuage,
but also a weakness we must ask Him to pardon –
for He has told us to take no care for the morrow.

(C.S. Lewis)

The greatest undeveloped resource of our country is faith;
and the greatest unused power is prayer.

(Roger Babson)

It is impossible for that man to despair
who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.
(Jeremy Taylor)

There come times when most leaders come to the conclusion that theirs is the most stubborn flock in the world, and that God has presented them with a well nigh impossible task. We are always in trouble! We have to contend not only the expectations that other people place on us, but also with our own sense of failure. No wonder Scripture urges people to pray for their leaders.

Most leaders know only too well what it is like to feel hopeless. That is why we need to ally our sense of helplessness to God’s infinite power.

One plus God is still a majority – but the Lord is so gracious that He does not usually leave us on our own for very long. He delights to link us to at least one other like-minded person who we can pray and share with from our hearts. When we pray with people we trust, we pray from the heart, without worrying about how we are coming across. God uses such prayer partnerships to turn impossible situations around and to win great victories of faith. Pray to use such times of prayer for His glory!

Multiple Choice

When I feel helpless I . . .

1) run away and hide until things get easier.
2) run to friends or family for comfort and reassurance but keep well away from God.
3) round up people to pray, and cry out to Him to turn matters round for His glory.

For Prayer

Have you ever felt so low that you had to reach up to touch bottom? (Anon)

Pray for leaders who feel so discouraged they are nearly ready to quit.

Praise in the face of Adversity

Thank and praise God for everything that happens to you.
For it is certain that for every seeming calamity that happens to you,
if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing.

(William Law)

Pressure squeezes things out of us that we did not even know were there. That is why Scripture calls us to do something that we find very hard to do: namely, to continue to trust and rejoice, even when we are in the midst of tests and trouble.

What causes diamonds? Extreme pressure! The more significant the calling God has placed on you, the greater will be the pressures that you face – along with the temptation to give up and settle for something less demanding. But greater too will be the grace and power that the Lord supplies to get you to the destination He has in mind.

To follow on from the William Law quote, take the ten most difficult things you are facing at the moment and resolutely choose to praise God for them. (Hannah Whittal-Smith’s ‘The Secret of a happy life’ and Catherine Marshall’s Something More contain excellent and challenging teaching on this subject. Because He is enthroned on the praises of His people, special power is released by such declarations.

Multiple Choice

1) Trust and rejoice? Whenever I experience adversity it always makes me feel there must be something wrong with me!
2) I’m afraid to praise because deep down I’m afraid that God will one day give up on me.
3) I’m going through the mill right now, but that doesn’t mean the Lord won’t break through tomorrow! If You had been going to give up on me, God, You would have done so long ago. Help me to praise You with all my heart – yes, even for the things that I am finding so difficult now.

Beware the Green Eyed Monster!

Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
(Proverbs 27:4).

Blessed is he who has learnt to admire but not envy,
to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter,
and to lead but not manipulate.

(William Ward)

If you think it is easy to be a leader, you have probably never been one. People who are striving for power, rank or position within the church do immense damage by grasping after something that God has not given them.

In a day that prizes achievement, it is so easy to envy those who appear to have got ‘more’ than us. All to many leaders are envious themselves, whilst, in turn, being envied by others.

Envy can take wings and bring real spiritual bondage. It is the root of nearly every relationship split in the body of Christ. A well-known Christian leader had been ill for a year and was not recovering, despite being repeatedly prayed for. A fellow minister came along and diagnosed it thus: ‘It is not witchcraft you are up against, but something much stronger than that . . . it is envy from within the Body of Christ!’ The moment this was diagnosed, its power was broken in prayer, and the woman immediately began to recover.

Keep us, Lord,
from being envious of those in our charge
who have more obvious gifts than we ourselves do.
May we release them in ways that will bless and develop new ministries.
Help us not to retain the reins of power longer than we should,
for if we hang on,
we run the risk of holding others back.
Lord, it is so easy for You to work
where there is real love and co-operation!

Multiple Choice

1) I never let feelings of jealousy or envy affect me in the slightest. How dare you?
2) I’m forever comparing myself to others.
3) I’m doing my best to bless and pray for those I envy!

For Reflection

You are in a position that someone else would like to be in.

Rather than bemoaning what you do not have, and envying what others have, use what you have.

Handling Failure

Ponder the following nuggets of wisdom.

The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything. (William Magee)

He is always right who suspects that he makes mistakes. (Spanish Proverb)

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken. (Oliver Cromwell)

Failure is rarely fatal any more than success is final. Failure only becomes terminal when we fail to learn from it.
Men do not fail; they just give up trying. (Anon)

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: try to please everybody. (Herbert Swope)

Failure is not sin. Faithlessness is. (Henrietta Mears)

It is when a man strikes rock bottom in his sense of nothingness that he suddenly finds he has struck the Rock of Ages. (James Stewart)

Christianity is the place where souls can begin again. May our churches also be such places.

Every leader knows the feeling in the pit of the stomach that comes as the result of having ‘underperformed,’ or watching something going horribly, embarrassingly wrong. If we make a mistake once and learn from it, we take our place in the long line of people whose success was built on the ruin of previous failures. If we pay insufficient attention to our failings, however, we are highly likely to repeat the same mistake again further down the road – and quite possibly with more serious consequences.

Think of times when you have gone deeper with the Lord as the result of having to cry out to the Lord at a time of apparent failure.

Multiple Choice

1) Failures make me sink into troughs of despair. I despise myself!
2) I treat my failures as once-off blips. I never let them get me down!
3) I come before God, ask forgiveness for what has happened and ask Him why I have failed. After that, I pray that He will deal with any structural weaknesses in my life so that this weakness will not trip me up again.

Broken in spirit or just plain ‘broken’?

One out of every four Americans is mentally ill.
If three of your friends are ok, you may be in trouble!

(Anon.)

Disappointment is the nurse of wisdom.
(Bayle Roche)

To be crucified means, first, the man on the cross is facing only one direction;
second, he is not going back;
and third, he has no further plans of His own
.
(A.W.Tozer)

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger people. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.
(Phillip Brooks)

A friend said to me recently that he felt like a waste of space. Most people, however, regard him as one of the finest worship leaders they know, because he ‘stands aside’ to let the Lord minister through him. Immediately, I saw in my spirit a picture of a slide-bar, rather like the ones that are used to measure the score on pool and snooker tables. One end of the scale was ‘brokenness’ (in the sense of feeling a failure). The other end of the spectrum was a very different kind of ‘brokenness: more a yieldedness that is ‘dead to self but alive with the Spirit.’ May our hearts become stronger and not harder through the things we suffer along the way.

For Reflection

  • However broken you feel, remember that God is close to the broken-hearted. (Ps. 34:18, Ps, 147:3)
  • People who declare truth without brokenness, do I present it in a harsh and callous way?
  • Has my ‘brokenness’ produced authenticity or just loss of momentum?

Many leaders keep on a professional mask of competency. Tom Marshall points out that most people are actually more inclined to trust a leader who takes responsibility for his mistakes. It is their problem if they expect perfection from us. There has only ever been one leader in history who never made a mistake!

Multiple Choice

1) I expect leaders to present an outwardly confident facade, because it ‘preserves the image’.
2) If I reveal my weaknesses, people will despise me. It’s safer not to risk it.
3) I never admit my failings to anyone: they are between me and God.
4) I am quite prepared to reveal my weaknesses to all and sundry in the hope that someone may be able to help me – and that they will relate more honestly to me.
5) I share my weaknesses carefully, with people I can really trust.

Overcoming Condemnation

George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilization, said that condemnation is the enemy’s number one weapon against Christians. A major part of our task as leaders is to help people see where they are giving in to condemnation and what they need to repent of. But how about ourselves?

Lord, when doors open and things are going well, it is easy to give You thanks and praise. But when things snag up it’s easy to blame myself and to berate others. Lord, keep me from believing that You are not interested in what I am going through. It hurts You when I doubt Your love and mistrust Your purposes.

I know I am called to show mercy and forgiveness to others, but I need to show it to myself as well. I get so many things wrong! Keep me from remorse. The more I give in to it, the more the enemy piles in. Strengthen me to resist – and overcome – this persistent tactic the enemy used to get me looking inwards instead of upwards. In the name of the One who has overcome the accuser of the brethren.

For Reflection

  • In what ways are you susceptible to condemnation?
  • Are there particular times and places where you are at your most vulnerable? Late at night for example? Or directly before or after some significant experience?
  • How can you tell the difference between genuine ‘conviction’ (that prompts you to repent of something) and false guilt, which merely leaves you feeling bad?
  • What strategies do you use for dealing with condemnation?

Keep alert, and lift high the shield of faith as you step out on kingdom business.

Leaders must be people of prayer

Prayer is the tool God works with. Give Him something to work with!

We all know that Jesus communed with His Father during His life on earth, but you may not have realised that this has also been His main ministry since the Resurrection. Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 remind us that He is still at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. When we give ourselves to prayer, therefore, we are sharing in the ministry of heaven.

Every time we meet with people we have opportunity to turn the thoughts and information we have been talking about into prayer. It is as simple as saying, ‘Let’s pray together.’

In our fellowships, there is an enormous amount we can do to harness the potential of prayer. Don’t fob God off with a ‘word of prayer’ at the beginning and end of proceedings! Many doors open when we turn to God, rather than just talk about Him.

Lead the people of God into corporate prayer. It is a vital, and by no means easy task. It certainly will not happen unless you make a conscious decision to make a framework to seek God. But when you do make the framework, God adds His power.

The dynamics of prayer meetings can be complicated. As surely as we suffer when meetings are dominated by strong and insensitive personalities, there are also occasions when helpful steering touches are absolutely necessary to bring a meeting back on course, or to hold a particular theme longer in prayer.

There may also be times when it is necessary to correct some wrong emphasis that has been raised by someone’s prayer, especially if it has taken us into realms of error, divination or magic. Not to intervene at such times may be both to grieve the Holy Spirit and to leave everyone else feel frustrated!

For Action

One of my guiding principles is ‘Get real people doing real things!’ It is always a challenge to make the leap from genuine insight to specific practice.

Make frameworks for prayer – but have safety filters in place when prophecy and intercession is involved so that contributions that would change the direction of the meeting can be assessed. Dividing groups into one-on-one, threes, sixes or altogether times, when everyone is calling on the Lord together, can all be powerful frameworks, depending on the leading of the Spirit and the maturity of those present. Don’t forget that silence can be powerful too!

Multiple Choice

1) I am always looking for opportunities to bring God in on the act, and to pray about situations.
2) I rarely think of turning from conversation to prayer. But I’m going to in the future!

Battlers or Builders

At the end of the First World War, 22,000 fighter planes were hastily scrapped. People soon forgot the vital role the fledgling Air Force had played in supporting Allied forces abroad on the continent – not to mention defending the home country against intense bombing raids.

In Duel of Eagles, a history of the RAF, Pete Townsend shows that Britain owed its freedom ultimately (under the Lord) to men like Churchill, Trenchard and Air Marshall Dowding. Almost alone, these men saw the crucial need to boost air power. Their requests for more planes were met with opposition at every stage. They faced prolonged battles with short-sighted staff at the Air Ministry who did all they could to oppose them. Almost to a man, Britain allowed itself to be hoodwinked by meaningless reassurances that the Germans had no plans to build an air-force – and this at the very time when the Germans were building up the Luftwaffe.

When Dowding requested bulletproof windscreens for his Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, all present dissolved into guffaws of laughter, as though he had asked for something absurd. Undaunted, Dowding continued,

‘If Chicago gangsters can have bullet-proof glass in their cars, I see no reason why my pilots should not have the same.’

How many pilots’ lives were saved as a result of Dowding’s courageous persistence? The whole nation was ultimately saved because of his determination to expand Fighter Command – just in time to win the crucial air battle for Britain.

Leaders who see the bigger picture, and who are prepared to take enormous flak in order to achieve crucial goals are central to God’s purposes in every generation. Just as we owe these courageous and visionary men a huge debt of gratitude, their example reminds us how much we need to be people of vision in our own day. Without vision, evil prospers, and the Church goes round and round in circles. But when we wait on the Lord, He releases the battlers who will initiate His strategy, (like Churchill and King David) and the builders who will develop it (like King Solomon).

Pioneers and reformers inevitably find themselves confronted by ill-informed and narrow-minded opposition. Whether through fear, prejudice, self-interest or ignorance the devil can always find people to oppose the very thing that is most needed.

May you, who are called to pioneer change and challenge vested interests, be given strength and persistence for the task ahead. Whether or not you fully achieve your goals, you are laying vital foundations. You are like the people who laid the first railway tracks out west, inspired by the vision that one day a railroad would run all the way from the East Coast to the West.

I came across an example of this in Ronald Dunn’s excellent book When Heaven is Silent (Word). Everyone praised him as the pastor of a fellowship that was growing both quickly and harmoniously. But Ronald knew that his success was due to his predecessor, who had had the courage to ‘take on’ the group who had been running the church, and ‘running out’ previous pastors. By meeting the challenge head on the trouble makers eventually moved on, preparing the way for a first class church to emerge. As so often, however, the ‘battling’ pastor did not stay in office long enough to see the fruit of his labours himself. It was the ‘building’ pastor who inherited the blessing.

Specific Questions

1) Are you a pioneer, called to battle to overcome vested interests and spiritual strongholds in order to establish new foundations? If so, you will need the support and encouragement of praying friends. May you build according to the pattern that the Lord gives you.
2) Or are you a ‘builder’, developing on the foundations that others have laid? If so, you are blessed: builders tend to have an easier ride than battlers!

Grace and Gratitude

Grace is getting another chance even though you haven’t earned it or deserved it.
(Fritz Ridenour)

Gratitude is borne in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.
(Charles Jefferson)

You may not have received all that you want,
but have you tried thanking God for the things you do have?
Whether we are happy or not in life depends to a great extent upon the depths of our gratitude.
One thing scientists have discovered is that often-praised children
become more intelligent than often-blamed ones.
There is a creative element in praise.
(Thomas Dreier)

I have never seen a man who could do real work
except under the stimulus of encouragement and enthusiasm
and the approval of the people for who he is working.
(Charles Schwab)

‘The best way to trust somebody is to trust them.’
(Hemingway)

Leadership is all about the ability to impart encouragement. No matter how drained and discouraged we may often feel, leaders have to encourage others.

Think again about people who have encouraged you. What is it about their manner and their words that has touched your heart?

Father, as surely as You find ways to encourage me, let me be creative in encouraging others into all You have in store for them. In Jesus’ name.

Leaders need Discernment

Of all villainy there is none more base than that of the hypocrite,
who, at the moment he is most false,
takes care to appear most virtuous.

(Cicero)

The Formula 1 racing car commentator, Murray Walker, boldly declared, ‘I am a prophet. I make predictions which are instantly unfulfilled!’ Even New Wine leader Kenny Borthwick quipped that he has a wonderful gift of discernment whereby almost everything he convinces himself is not of God turns out to be Spirit-led!

It is easy to assume that the gift of discernment is something that we either do or do not have. But discernment is both something to seek, (as a spiritual gift), and to cultivate (as the fruit of wisdom). That is why leaders always need to be asking God questions. ‘What are you doing here, Lord?’ ‘Is this of You?’ ‘Which way should we go?’ ‘Is this the right time to do the thing that You have shown us, or should we wait and pray about it some more?’

The following is not a multiple choice exercise – and neither are these exclusively leadership specific issues.

Take an evening off.

    • The practical side says you need to go shopping. The supermarket calls.
    • The romantic side wants some time together holding hands with your beloved.
    • The lazy side encourages you to put your feet up and leave everything till another day.
    • The faintly guilty side reminds you that you are leading something soon, so you ought to spend some time with the Lord.
    • The genuinely spiritual side really wants to meet with the Lord. A quiet time awaits!

All these activities are perfectly valid in their time and place – but we can’t do all of them simultaneously. Whilst some decisions require serious waiting on the Lord, on most issues we learn to sense fairly quickly what our priorities should be. Following the Lord’s leading in this way day by day, and even hour by hour, makes all the difference to our spiritual effectiveness. It is how the Lord Jesus Himself lived, seeking always to do what He saw His Father doing. (John 5:19)

We must learn to see, as it were, out of the corner of our eye to discern the ways by which God may be leading us. Our part is to recognise the clues that he gives – and then to act on them.

The waking moments are especially important in this respect. This is often the time when the Lord slips important marching orders for the day into our consciousness.

It is equally as important to learn to sense when your ‘anointing’ for something that you are doing is running out. We will not always get this right, but God is pleased that we make the effort.

I do not want to give the devil over much attention, for that would be to fix our eyes in quite the wrong direction. There are times, however, when the Lord will use our spiritual discernment to show us see the ways in which the powers of darkness are working in a given situation. When relationships come under attack, meetings feel like treacle, and confusion reigns – guess what’s going on?! We need to be wise on the uptake, and then quick on the draw.

Occasionally the Lord may have something much more serious to say to us: that someone we trusted in is indulging in immoral or inappropriate behaviour, for instance. Especially in times of revival, God shows how He really feels about wrong practices, and lifts the lid on ‘private’ sins. But we should be equally as aware that there in nothing the devil likes more than slipping in false accusations, and getting Christians mistrusting each other. Remember the Scriptural principle: ‘Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.’ (1 Tim 5:19-20)

Multiple Choice

1) I haven’t the foggiest idea what you mean: ‘seeing out of the corner of your eye!’ Are you insinuating that I need to consult an occulist?
2) I only seek the Lord about the big things in life.
3) I only seek the Lord about the small things in life.
4) I’m doing my best to seek the Lord about everything!

For Reflection

Concerning the things that we take on: compare the following quotes:

    • Would you say that your expectations are higher or lower now than they were five years ago. Why is this?
    • Expectations improperly indulged must end in disappointment. (Samuel Johnson).
    • If they are too low, you are settling for mediocrity; too high you are setting yourself up for a disappointment.
    • Do your expectations veer more towards Paul, who believed that God could turn everything around for God’s glory, or towards Ahab, who replied (sulkily) that the Lord never had anything good to say about him?

Promoting participatory church

Too many fellowship meetings consist of teaching which, though true in itself, leaves people’s deepest needs unmet, and their prophetic abilities on hold. 17+15 does indeed = 32 – but it is not particularly relevant to most people’s immediate situations. No wonder if the more spiritually attuned eventually weary and become reluctant to devote precious time to something that neither meets their personal needs nor enables them to make any significant contribution.

What can be more appropriate than creating suitable frameworks to help draw people into attempting new things? We have hinted already at the importance of corporate intercession. ‘Body ministry’ is another such example. It is so important that people have the choice to prayerfully address the issues that are most on their hearts. This can only happen if the meeting has not been too rigorously pre-scheduled. Giving thought to how we can be more inclusive without allowing things to become a complete free-for-all is a top priority.

One thing I often do in workshops and seminars is to end with extended question times. This makes sure that the teaching ‘itches where it scratches’, by addressing people’s real concerns. Otherwise I risk firing off piles of principles in the hope that people will get watered by sitting under the general spray.

Consider dividing into small groups so that people who might not have the courage to speak in a plenary meeting can have the chance to contribute. This encourages the shy and those who are uncertain of the value of what they have to say– which is particularly important if the central participants are ‘experienced’ leaders, who may not even realize how the sound of their own voice regularly drowns out real gems from others.

The devil works hard to convince people that they are too old or too young for their contribution to be taken seriously – or that women are the wrong sex to contribute in public at all. This leaves only a few strong bucks around – who may be more than happy for things to continue like this!

If we are among those who feel excluded (or, alternatively, who have been only too willing to be in the limelight) are we prepared to make radical changes?

As a male leader I ask forgiveness from those we have squeezed out and shut down – and pray that your spirit may not have been so badly damaged in the meantime that you are no longer willing to risk speaking out and bringing your contribution.

James Rutz’s book Megashift (Empowerment Press, Colorado) powerfully and attractively outlines ways to release the highest degree of participation possible. One of its main contentions is the need to transfer power ‘away from the centre.’ God wants more than a few privileged individuals doing all the talking to a group of largely passive ‘listeners’

The speed at which the church is growing in many parts of the world is quite extraordinary. As Rutz puts it,

‘the empowerment of the laity that we are seeing today represents the ‘greatest megashift in the history of the church.’ (see pages 63-64). Why is this? Because ministers are recognising the call to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. (Eph. 4:12)

At the same time, Rutz warns against usurping what God is doing. There was great spontaneity in the early days of the Azusa Street meetings in California. The Holy Spirit showed what a capable leader He is when He is allowed to work in such ways. But it soon came about, as it has done so often in church history, that meetings had to run according to an appointed order. When some poor illiterate Mexicans wanted to testify, they were ruthlessly crushed by the leader.

Every meeting was pre-programmed and the fire gradually went out. How sad.

Embracing new models

For some strange reason, we no longer drive Ford Model T cars. The automobile industry has moved on since those days! Churches that are basically a one-man show, where the same person (or small group) does all the leading and the teaching eventually reaches a point of saturation. But if the congregation were enlisted, great wealth can be shared.

Encourage people to prepare their own mini statement of their goals and help them to put into words the things that are on their hearts. For many, this may be the first time they have seriously ‘given voice’ to these things, even though they may have thought about them a great deal. Once they speak them out, it will help both them and others to own the vision.

Take the matter of the way people give testimonies in church. A large percentage of them focus on how the person came to know the Lord. This helps to understand where the person is coming from. At the right time, it can be powerful and effective tool for evangelism, but our testimony of what the Lord is doing in our lives involves so much more than this. Encourage people to give testimonies that highlight particular aspects of where they are up to now. This, more than anything, will draw people alongside to support and share with them in their journey.

People likewise often give a testimony when the Lord has brought them through an issue. It can often be helpful to share a matter before it is resolved. This again draws people in and helps them to feel much more a part of their pilgrimage.

Simple structural changes can have a huge impact on the way we church together. Why should the sermon always be preached at the end of the meeting? The service may finish at the very moment when people have been challenged and need time to respond.

Advancing the sermon to give time for a proper response can do wonders!

Likewise, why keep prayer times separate from the worship? Why not let the praise (proclamation and declaration) lead to intimate worship and from then reach onwards and outwards in prayer and intercession? Let the musicians continue to play while the prayers are happening. Find (or better still improvise) music that reflects the country or topic you are praying for. This can draw us much closer to the Lord’s own heart. These are all things that we can explore and practise.

Mourning

Jesus wept.
(John 11:35)

Leaders often feel obliged to ‘keep people’s spirits up.’ They therefore tend to shy away from anything too heavy. There are times, however, when it is can be far more meaningful to share sorrow together

You probably know people who can rejoice with those who rejoice, but who, most emphatically, are quite unable to weep with those who are weeping. The acid test of character is that we are able to enter fully into whatever the situation calls for. Just as we genuinely rejoice for those who are doing well, so we mourn deeply and sincerely for those who are in grief or turmoil.

At best, mourning is a profoundly spiritual response that provides a ‘bass clef’ to our spirituality that balances and completes the ‘treble clef’ of our more exuberant praise. It is the very opposite of self-absorbed grief that thinks only of itself. Mourning enables us to experience the depths of the human condition and that comfort which only the Lord can provide.

Think of all the times when Jesus experiences compassion in the Gospels. Invariably we see His power touching lives immediately afterwards with astonishing effect. The widow’s son is raised from the dead at Nain, the multitudes are fed – and Lazarus is raised from the dead. All this stems from compassionate spiritual mourning.

For Reflection

When Jesus saw Mary weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:33) The word is a very strong one in Greek. Do you allow yourself to be moved by people’s hurts and needs? Likewise, He was deeply troubled in spirit at the last supper, knowing what Judas was about to do. He wasn’t taken by surprise by it. He had warned his disciples about it a whole year before – but it weighed heavily on Him. Many things weigh heavily on our hearts as leaders too.

May we have the grace to share the Lord’s heart over things that are wrong, but to let the burden flow through us in the Spirit to the cross, rather than getting ‘stuck’ in our spirit.

Leaders must be Learners

  • Lord, what I most want to model is . . .
  • What do I need to work on in order for this to happen?

We often feel that we have made too many mistakes and missed the boat. By the time we have gained enough experience as parents to be much good at parenting. Many a leader feels much the same way. There are so many traps we can fall into which might well not trip us up if we were to face the same situation in a few years time. You can’t put an old head on young shoulders; God and His people have to put up with us in our half-formed state!

If ‘life-long learning’ is increasingly being urged on people in the work place, it should be no less the case for those of us who are in leadership positions. Take the matter of which topics you feel you should be majoring on, either in your private study, or for leading your fellowship into. Are you setting aside enough time to get your teeth into real meat?

Like honeybees who gather their pollen from many flowers, we learn from many sources. (Solomon is an excellent example of this, compiling sayings from Egypt and further afield. The book of Proverbs is full of international sayings gleaned from the wise men of other nations, as well as from Solomon’s own tradition.) We cannot afford to be doctrinally or denominationally narrow-minded, or to assume that secular teachers have nothing of value to teach us.

Like Solomon, can draw from the best of their learning, whilst ‘adding’ the spiritual ingredients that make the picture complete. But how much richer if we have sought the Lord and the wisdom He has entrusted to His servants to approach these topics more directly from His perspective. There are so many resources available to help us these days. See for example biblegateway.com and e-sword.net for two examples of useful and free software.

God has raised up a wealth of teachers and prophets through the centuries whose writings will benefit us so much. If we do not take time for serious reading, our teaching will soon become circular (though we may not realise that this is happening) and our emphases narrow. In all this, the Lord Jesus is our teacher and His Spirit our counsellor – and it is right to dedicate serious resources for appropriate training, and to fund learning material.

Are there aspects of the kingdom of God that you would like to know more about? You can be sure that someone, somewhere will have written on the subject. Books are such a blessing! Those that are heavily underlined and scribbled in, not to mention peppered with curled pages and book marks, can rightly claim to be good friends.

Ask the Lord to direct you to the people and resources that will help you most.

Multiple Choice

1) I never seem to get around to studying much – I’m always too busy.
2) I can’t see much point in studying – what’s wrong with the University of Life?
3) So many other people have taught and written on this subject – what would be the point of me getting involved?

Leadership helps others to reach the place God has in mind for them

Michelangelo saw in a piece of marble in a quarry junkyard potential that the quarry master could not see. From this lump, he fashioned a brilliant sculpture of David.

God sees things that others do not. He takes an unstable person like Peter and calls him a rock. Leadership is all about releasing people to fulfil the potential that God has invested in them. There are ex-terrorists who are being greatly used in the Kingdom of God – but they need to be given the trust, encouragement and right context in which to do so.

If God gives you glimpses over the horizon, be prepared to go out of your way to nurture and develop that person. You never know what they may become!

Many years ago the Lord said to me, ‘You must be prepared to watch many people going further and faster than you.

It is the aim of any good teacher that their pupils should excel above themselves. John the Baptist declared that he must become less and Jesus greater. God wants the next generation of believers to be more on fire than we were and to go further with Him.

Insecure leaders find ways to block promising people, effectively stunting everyone’s development by trying to drag them down to their own level. Don’t let the enemy neutralise our potential. The answer to being ‘kept down’ is not to settle for less, but to be resilient. We are called to shine like the stars in the sky.

Keep going, despite the pain. The Lord can find ways to bring about something excellent.

Nothing can help us grow so quickly as having a good mentor, but the converse can also be true: we can also grow by serving under bad leaders, because we identify the traps, pitfalls and shortcomings we must avoid when our turn comes to be in some more senior leadership position. What a contrast between Saul, who envied and persecuted David, and Elijah, who did all he could to nurture the young Elisha.

For Reflection

Who would the Lord have you reach out to mentor and encourage?

Leaders know where they are going

God save us from hot heads who would lead us foolishly,
and from cold feet which would keep us from adventuring at all.

(Peter Marshall)

‘We are the people who belong to the future and to whom the future belongs, because we belong to the Lord who holds the future.’ Tom Marshall puts it in his excellent book Understanding Leadership (Sovereign World). As leaders we need goals for our private and personal life as well as for our public ministry.

Vision is all about being able to see ahead, and to lead people to the place that you have already seen in your spirit. Bob Gass quotes a famous ice hockey star who commented that he always ‘skates to where the puck is going to be, rather than where it is now’. Getting to where we need to be, however, may make us unpopular in the short term.

To return to the example we used earlier, Churchill saw precisely what needed to be done to protect Britain from German Air power but most other people did not agree with him. In fact, they criticised him ferociously. The House of Commons accused Churchill of being a ‘medieval baron’, and of being caught up with ridiculous notions of Armageddon. In the House of Lords, no one could see what all the fuss was about. After all, Germany had promised not to develop an Air Force! How right Churchill was. Quite simply, Britain would not have survived in 1940 without the strengthening Churchill injected into the Royal Air Force.

Prophets say things that the body of Christ does not want to hear. Revival is going to come, but not necessarily in the way we hoped it would not. It will surely come out of times of difficulty and judgement. People’s confidence in themselves and their own self-sufficiency have to be shaken first. But ‘tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.’ (Is. 3:10)

For Reflection

At some point in our walk with Him, the Lord gives us a mission statement. This serves as the blueprint for our lives.

Often, in Scripture, we can see that this coincides with the call of God. The call may stay the same, but the means by which we are to fulfil it may change radically. Any church or organisation that is continuing to do things in the way it was doing them ten years ago is probably a long way from God’s cutting edge.

It is important for us to be able to identify and define our mission. Try making a list of your goals, priorities and mission statement.

Advancing through Retreat

Are there any exceptions to this principle of ‘knowing your goals?’ Quite possibly. Sometimes, only the Lord knows the goals that He is setting us, and we must be patient until He chooses to reveal them. There are also times when He deliberately takes us into wilderness experiences – in which case we almost invariably lose all sense of bearing and direction for a season.

It may be that the Lord is declaring ‘closed season’ on one phase of our life, and uses some sort of a wilderness experience as a ‘tunnel’ to prepare us for something new. He may also simply be testing and refining us, to make sure that our security really is in the Lord Jesus, rather than in any role or vision.

Either way, these will not be times when we are able to focus much on our goals and visions, let alone achieve them. This is the time when we must find contentment in being rather than doing – something that is much easier said than done when the pressure is on, and there is little we can do for the moment except to survive.

Ponder Elijah hiding from King Ahab by the brook Cherith. (1 Kings 17:5f). Here was a leader with no one to lead. Quite apart from having to trust God for ‘meals on ravens’, this alone is enough to provoke an outsized identity crisis for most leaders that I know. Most of us derive a very large part of our identity from what we do rather than through our relationship with Him.

The confusion that these times bring can be horrible: may the Lord use them nonetheless to develop more respect and love in our hearts for those we are called to serve.

Alternating our lifestyle

Leadership is so demanding that it can be very wise to have rotational rather than fixed leadership, and to allow leaders ‘fallow’ times, when they do not need to be up front. Why should all position of leadership be forever? If we are ‘stale,’ perhaps from feeling ‘indispensable’ for too long – we might well benefit from the principle ‘rotational leadership’.

Jesus was serious when He said, ‘Come with Me and get some rest!’ God uses time away to refresh our vision and to bring new inspiration.

Allow yourself times of respite:
build them into your life and schedule.
They are essential for your spiritual well being.

Find out whether you benefit most by going on private retreat or to those led by others. Whatever you do, make sure of two things, firstly that there is adequate time for meeting the Lord (rather than just receiving teaching) and also to give you the rest and repose your soul requires.

For Reflection

I think I can see why God allows ‘transitional’ wilderness times. But how can I tell the difference between God changing the focus of my life and the wildernesses I stumble into through my own inadequacies?

What do you do when you cannot understand what God is doing?
Do you become insecure and tetchy?
Or are you content to trust that He knows what He is doing?

Leaders must be willing to obey before they fully understand

Your troops will be willing on Your day of battle.
Psalm 110:3

Knowledge is strong, but love is sweet.
(Christina Rossetti)

Things human must be known to be loved; things divine must be loved to be known.
(Blaise Pascal)

I have come to appreciate that, in the kingdom of God, obedience often comes before understanding. The Lord asked Ananias to minister to a man known to the disciples only as their most dangerous opponent. (Acts 9:10f) If he had obeyed this improbable word, would the persecutor Saul ever have become the apostle Paul? Just think of all the churches that would never have been planted if Ananias had refused what, on the face of it, sounded like a kamikaze mission.

Only heaven knows the full loss when we hold back from obeying what He has told us to do. Our understanding often lags behind: may we not allow unbelief or half-heartedness to creep in.

When we are doing a degree, the particular module that we are studying may not make much sense in isolation. It may only be when all the modules are complete that we begin to understand the broader picture. In other words, the overview comes later. For the meantime we must just push on and attend to the details.

There is a wonderful moment in The Morning Star, a film about the life of the early English reformer John Wycliffe.

Weighed down by much persecution from the ecclesiastical authorities, the bemused academic is finally able to make sense of why God has allowed him to be driven from his beloved university. Now he knows what his life calling has been all about: it is to translate the Scriptures into the English tongue.

The call of God may well lead us to serve in places where we receive a hostile welcome. Are we still willing to go? There is nobody more empty in the whole world than the person who holds back when God calls!

Multiple Choice

1) I need to know before I am prepared to trust. It’s just the way I am.
2) My mind goes skitty-kitty if I don’t know what is going on.
3) I’m going to do my best to keep trusting and following, despite the circumstances.

Anointing and Authority

By definition, leaders live with the visions God has given them. They then have to impart them to people who only hear them occasionally. Keeping them to the fore of people’s minds, without sounding repetitious or nagging, is a skilled art. Presentation (‘the way we pass things on to others’) is enormously important. Far too many truths and even prophecies are ‘dumped’ on people in ways that make them passive recipients, rather than inviting them to become participators in some project. Unpacking this concept would revolutionise a certain type of church leadership that we might rather callously describe as ‘one-man’ centred, even if a whole group of people speak for the ‘one-man’ at the centre.

I can say something one way and it leaves you unimpressed. But if I can find another way to bring the same truth to your attention, you can’t wait to learn more about it.

In life, our aim is for people to be proactive rather than passive. In creative writing, it is better to keep in the active tense and to avoid the passive voice. If I write, ‘The baby was caught by Rosalind,’ the phrase sounds rather boring – just a purely factual report of one of my wife’s deliveries. The moment I turn that round to the active voice, however, and say ‘Rosalind caught the baby,’ the whole scene begins to liven up. It lines the reader up for an exciting context in which the midwife rushes through the door, finds the lady already pushing and gets there just in time to catch the baby.

The risk of exposing people too early to new things is acute – yet it is only by having a go that people learn. People are usually more prepared to have a go at new things if there is a certain degree of privacy around, or a ‘mentor’ to guide them through it. Fear of (public) humiliation deters many people away when they first begin to develop ‘participatory’ church practices. It is a delicate balance between protecting people from the risk of embarrassing failure, whilst wanting to stretch and develop them.

In all this, being ‘right’ isn’t enough. We have to be gracious in the way we demonstrate our ‘rightness’ – which is difficult if we’re feeling insecure and under pressure to perform ourselves. By choosing to be courteous, and to offer much praise, we may appear to run the risk of making people feel that they are further on that they really are, but encouragement is so important, and the Lord can find ways to swing the pendulum back again.

Leaders need peer support

If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life,
He will soon find himself left alone.
A man, sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.

(Samuel Johnson)

After the friendship of God,
a friend’s affection is the greatest treasure here below.

(Anon)

The firmest friendships are formed in mutual adversity,
just as iron is most strongly united by the fiercest flames.

(Charles Colton)

Every one of us needs at least one person we can relate to closely who will sharpen, encourage, and, if need be, correct us. The pressures of life are such that we must actively take time out to meet with such people.

We soon find out in leadership that the enemy tries to wear us out by sending certain types of people our way to drain us. This is a diary matter. Are we allowing our schedules to be dictated for us by others? Are we making enough time to reach out to train the potential-filled?

Time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted (Army Maxim)

In Old Testament times, preparing and offering the sacrifice took a long time; the actual moment of eating it was much quicker. (Incidentally, aren’t meals a wonderful time for going deeper with people!)

Nehemiah spent 120 days preparing to ask the governor for permission to return to Jerusalem; the actual moment of asking only took a moment. Even the walls were rebuilt in a surprisingly short time.

In our instant generation, many things need preparing for diligently. We must be wise concerning the timing of the things we pray for too. The best generals only reveal certain parts of their orders at the right moment – and that may be quite close to the moment when they need to be obeyed. On other occasions, much notice may need to be given in order to provide people with the maximum chance to prepare for change.

Leaders protect their marriages by identifying their top needs

I used to say, ‘Guys, avoid setting out to conquer (a woman’s heart)
unless you are prepared to take responsibility for it afterwards.’

‘Women, beware your desire to have a strong man –
you can end up with the wrong kind of strongman.’

What is so remarkable about love at first sight?
It is when people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes remarkable.

(Anon)

Choose a wife rather by your ear than your eye.
[After all, you will hear her voice a great deal!]

(Thomas Fuller)

In marriage, being the right person
is as important as finding the right person.

(Wilbert Gough)

One of the great similarities between Christianity and marriage
is that for Christians, they both get better as we get older.

(Jean Rees)

In marriage seminars we have sometimes conducted a simple but surprisingly effective exercise. We invite people to choose from a list of ten qualities, and then to select the three or four we feel we need most, in order of their importance to us. We then try to gauge our partner’s primary needs. It never ceases to astonish how far off target even mature and experienced couples can prove to be at this point.

The great value of the exercise is that understanding our own, and our partner’s real needs will cause us to reappraise the way we relate to them. To summarize the process – which can be done with any close-knit group –

Step 1: From the list below, take time out as a couple for you and your partner to work out your top three or four needs. Keep these lists to yourselves for the time being.

Trust
Acceptance
Admiration & Appreciation
Approval
Encouragement
Care, Comfort & Affection
Understanding
Respect
Devotion
Validation
Reassurance.

Step 2: Write down what you imagine your partner’s top needs are.

Step 3: This is where it gets really interesting: compare your notes! Again and again, we find that even people who thought they knew each other really well end up missing or mistaking their partner’s top needs altogether.

To take an example and to push it to absurd levels. Suppose a man’s chief need is for financial security. Presuming this also to be his wife’s top need, he rushes out to provide her with a new Daimler every month for whole year. He then sits back, assuming she will be grateful to him forever for his incredible largesse. The trouble was – she had never wanted a line of Daimlers stretching down the street. She would have been more grateful for some help with the household chores and with more vocal praise and appreciation for all she was doing.

After some years of doing he starts wondering (and perhaps resenting) why so much output has yielded so little return – almost as though these considerable efforts have not been appreciated. It may take him a long time to realise that the size of the gift is no substitute for daily care and attention.

Over a period of time, the effects of ‘missing the mark’ in this way can cause attritional damage. Partner X may have put in a huge amount of effort giving quality ‘y’ to Partner Z. In the same way, much teaching – and even prophecy – can miss the hearts of the people for whose edification it was theoretically intended.

By the way, if you think you are too busy, or too ‘together’ to need to do this exercise, it may be a sign that you really do need to do it!

Leaders must work to overcome their prejudices

Very few people take the trouble to use their brains
as long as their prejudices are in working condition.

(Roy Smith)

No person is strong enough to carry a cross
and a prejudice at the same time.

(William Ward)

Keep praying,
but be thankful that God’s answers are wiser than our prayers!

(William Culbertson)

If we could read the secret history of our enemies,
we should find in each man’s life sorrow
and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Prejudice is a huge problem in the Church. It keeps many from endorsing legitimate ministries and quagmires others in woefully inadequate worldviews. God is always looking to explode or unravel our prejudices! Whilst His word itself can never change, our perception of it may suffer from too narrow an interpretation of it.

It is often God’s delight to put us together with people who we initially do not get on well with. His Spirit works like sandpaper to smooth rough edges, and to release the blessing that is in both parties to come to the surface.

Some however are neither teachable nor befriendable, especially if they are so locked into their way of seeing things that they may never be able to see things in a different light. There is nothing so tragic as seeing good people burying themselves in legalistic attitudes and doctrinal bigotry.

Leaders cannot afford to major on minors. It is so easy to get sucked into someone else’s deception and end up seeing things through distorted lenses. Neither should we expect God automatically to work in the way that He did last time. He loves to take us by surprise!

For Reflection

Never tell evil of a man if you do not know it for a certainty; and if you do know it for a certainty, then ask yourself: ‘Why should I tell it?’
(Johann Lavater)

Never believe anything bad about anybody unless you positively know it to be true; never tell even that unless you feel that it is absolutely necessary – and that God is listening while you tell it.
(Henry Vandyke)

Unless we are willing to help a person overcome his faults, there is little value in pointing them out.
(Robert Hastings)

Walk softly, speak tenderly lest you find you have to eat the harsh words that you say; pray fervently, do not run before you can walk, and most of all do not run down God’s people.
(Anon, adapted)

Take the matter of what we, as leaders, hear about people. How much do we allow this to influence us?

1) I never believe a word of what I hear.
2) I believe every word I am told.
3) When I hear bad things about someone, I try to remember that there may be another side to this story. (Pvbs. 18:17)

Keep me open to heed godly warnings (or praise), but help me to bear in mind that the person speaking to me may themselves be prejudiced or mistaken.

Leaders must be willing to confront but quick to forgive

The church that is married to the spirit of the age
will find itself a widow in the next generation.

(Anon)

Most of us instinctively go a long way out of our way to avoid unnecessary confrontation and disputes – but most of us also get caught up in at least some of these time-absorbing, relationship-souring and faith-deadening conflicts. If only we would engage our brain before opening our mouth and remember that ‘a soft answer still turns away wrath!’ (Prov 15:1)

There come times, however, when the right and prophetic course of action is to take a stand against the conventional or the counterfeit. In 1 Kings 18:17-18 we find Ahab the Shifty accusing Elijah of being the cause of all the trouble in Israel.

Elijah flung the taunt back in the king’s face. ‘You’ve got it wrong, Ahab. This drought has come upon the nation because you chose to worship the Baals. You’re the real cause of all the trouble, not me!’

The king was dumbfounded. Nobody had ever had the nerve to speak to him like this. The prophet’s bravery struck him as forcibly as the truth he was speaking. The truth of the accusation led him almost meekly to agree to the terms of the challenge Elijah proposed: an unprecedented contest to demonstrate to the nation whether God or Baal was really Lord. The stage was set for a showdown in which the power of God would come so dramatically that the nation was set free from the grip of the Baals.

Prayer

Father, forgive us for all the foolish quarrels we get caught up in. Forgive us when we have allowed arguments to dominate and pride to separate us. Grant us grace not to feed these divisive and judgemental spirits in ourselves or in others, but to sow such peace as defuses anger and reduces the spirit of competition. But when we have to confront, grant us grace to do so wisely and lovingly, not regarding the other as our enemy but as a fellow pilgrim on the path. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Multiple Choice

1) I go miles out of my way to avoid confrontation.
2) I am always on the lookout to confront anyone who is out of line!
3) I really want to learn how Jesus confronted ‘sinners’ and to listen to the Lord for each individual case.
4) I keep my distance from people who have failed.

For Reflection

He who forgives ends the quarrel.
(African proverb)

A fault confessed is a new virtue added to a man.
(James Knowles)

A Christian will find it cheaper to pardon than to resent.
Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirit.

(Hannah More)

‘I can forgive, but I cannot forget,’ is only another way of saying, I will not forgive.’
(Henry Ward Beecher)

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.
(C.S. Lewis)

For him who confesses, shams are over and realities have begun.
(Williams James)

Leadership and Perseverance (2 Cor 4:16-18)

You have probably heard about the remarkable type of bamboo seed that requires watering for five long years. During this time there is no sign of growth. It is impossible to tell by the naked eye whether the seed is alive or not, but, in faith, people keep watering it. After five years, in the space of just a few weeks it grows an astonishing five to ten metres!

We need considerable faith to keep holding onto something that is only visible to the eye of faith – and to take hold of it again when we temporarily lose hold of it. We do not need to lie down when we do wobble and wait for a lorry to put us out of our misery! If children get up when they tumble over, why are we sometimes reluctant to do the same in the realm of the Spirit?

We are often overly hard on ourselves – and there are bound to be others who will be even harder on us. Faith holds on, therefore, until we see the fulfilment of all that we have been called to do. ‘Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’ (Luke1:45)

We must continue on the course God has launched us, even when we feel as though we are not getting much reward. We are in good company. The great Vincent Van Goth only sold one painting in his lifetime. The first Protestant missionaries to China saw only one convert in ten years labour, and then only one more in the next ten. But just look at the millions there are today – in what has been described as the fastest growing Church in history. There would have been no hint in those early years of danger and struggle of the mighty harvest that is being reaped today.

For Reflection

Where would you place yourself on that spectrum?

1) ‘I just hunker down and hope that everything will work out okay in the end.’
2) I am a pessimistic-realist. I’ve seen enough broken bones to know that the worst can happen.
3) God has called me to . . . so He will find a way for it to be fulfilled.

Leaders trust God to find a way through

 Obstacles are those terrifying things we see when we take our eyes off our goals.
(Anon)
What God sends is better than what men ask for.
(Croatian Proverb)

Again and again the path ahead will look impossible. The Lord is wonderful in opening doors where previously all we had seen was a solid wall. As Armin Gesswein put it,

When God is about to do something great he starts with a difficulty. When He is about to do something truly magnificent, He starts with an impossibility.

There is a well known verse, Jeremiah 33:3: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ But not everyone is so familiar with the context of that verse. It was while Jeremiah was in close confinement in prison that the Lord gave him that wonderful promise. It is good to remember times when you have felt completely hemmed, and when the Lord has given you a promise to sustain you before sending the deliverances you were longing for. We cry out loudly enough concerning these difficulties at the time but can often barely remember them a month or two later unless we make a note of them. God is so faithful!

For Reflection

Nothing is accomplished without courage.
Behold the turtle: He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.
(James Conant)

Leaders, watch your minds!

We will end with something we could well have made our starting point. The direction of our heart and mind is the thing will, in the last resort, play a major part in determining how well we lead others.

Mind management is not much more than a matter of keeping us away from dangerous chains of thought that lead to wrong courses of action. It is all about understanding, nurturing and developing the desires that God has placed within our hearts.

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
(Prov 4:23)

What do you do to bring your thoughts captive to Christ?
(2 Cor 10:5)

What are the times when your mind is at its least alert and protected? Meditate on how George Müller set about his daily life of faith.

The first thing I do, after having asked the Lord’s blessing upon his precious Word is to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching into every verse to get blessing and . . . food for my soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not give myself to prayer but to meditation, it turned almost immediately into prayer.

Rule your mind or it will rule you. (Horace)

The sins of the mind are the last habitation of the devil.
(Jarol Johnson)

Every man has a train of thought on which he rides when he is alone. The dignity and nobility of his life as well as his happiness, depend upon the direction in which that train is going, the baggage it carries, and the scenery through which it travels.
(Joseph Fort Newton)

Nothing is easier than self-deceit, for what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.
(Anon)

Sometimes an open mind is one that is too porous to hold a conviction.
(Norman MacFarlane)

Impossible desires are punished in the desire itself.
(Philip Sidney)

Cultivate an eternal perspective

If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. C.S.Lewis wrote,

‘Aim at heaven and you’ll get the earth thrown in . . . Aim at earth and you’ll get neither.’

We are so tempted to think only in the ‘here and now’. There was a man who came back after serving the Lord in Africa for forty years. He was very poor and had no pension to look forward to. When his ship berthed in New York, all the rich people on board were feted home with great parties – but there was no reception committee waiting for him. ‘Lord,’ he cried, ‘why is there nothing for me when I have served you for so long?’ And then a great conviction was borne upon him and the word of the Lord came to him: ‘My son, you have not yet come home.’ God wants us to maintain this eternal perspective.

May His Spirit lead you, and His love and power shine through you always.

Of one thing I am certain:
the One who started the good work in you
will bring it to completion by the day of Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 1:6 NEB)

Material in this book may be freely used if properly attributed.
©November 2006, Robert Weston,
Ruach (Breath of Life) Ministries