I’ve never had a conversation with God in which His voice was audible. But I’ve had many where His voice was clear.
As a spiritual leader, my daily conversation with God is often drawn by His Spirit back to recurring themes. As Jesus asked His disciples “Who do you say that I am?” or “Will you also go away?”—I often sense His rhetorical cross-examination of my leadership.
It’s rhetorical because Jesus never asks a question to get information. He always knows the answers in advance. He asks questions to gently bring us face to face with ourselves. He wants us to face the answers that already exist, and to realign our hearts with His will.
It’s gracious in that His approach is gentle, motivated by love, and always designed to free me from myself! Hence, the questions rather than accusations.
Here are the questions Jesus most often asks me:
—Are you doing this, or am I? —It’s easy to push ahead faster than He is. It’s easy to hesitate when He finally says “act in faith now.” Often He has asked me to release my agenda, my plan, or my pace to embrace His.
—Am I following you, or are you following me? —It’s easy to try to sit in the driver’s seat, as though I’m doing Him a favor. It’s easy to tell God what He needs me to do for Him. It’s a different experience entirely to climb into my car seat in the back seat and enjoy the journey He has ordained.
—Are you strong because I’m weak, or am I strong because you’re weak? —So often I have subtly attempted to prove my strength to God. All the while, He desires to show His strength to me. He reveals my utter weakness that His massive strength might be evident. We work hard in life to not “feel weak.” When I’m willing to admit my weakness (to Him and others), it’s an open invitation for Him to show His strength.
—Are you increasing or am I increasing? —Per the previous point—since I’m a pathetic weakling, it would be ridiculous to grow an enlarged sense of self. God does not share His glory. He resists the proud. Any good fruit or outcome is in spite of me, not because of me.
—Are you building your kingdom, or are you allowing me to build mine? —Warning signs of “pastoral proprietorship” are easy to see, painful to experience, and oppressive to God’s sheep. He is the only King. He is the only one who is great. His name is the only one worthy of glory. His kingdom is the only one that matters.
—Are you the shepherd or am I? —Am I trying to reform people or is God transforming them? Am I attempting to “manufacture change?” Or am I simply a steward (under-shepherd) of the true Master, true Lord, true author of grace and growth? Am I exploiting others or serving them? Am I taking better care of me than I am of God’s heritage? Do God’s sheep have green pasture and still water as a result of my leadership? Or is my leadership oppressive and heavy to God’s sheep? Jesus is always a loving, gentle, patient shepherd.
—Are these your sheep are or they my sheep? —It’s not my church, it’s Jesus’ and at best, ours as a church family. They aren’t my people or my staff, they are Jesus’ sheep, and I am one of the sheep. These are not my resources, they are God’s and I will one day give a detailed accounting of how His resources were stewarded for His purposes. He has harsh words for leaders who mistreat or exploit His sheep.
—Whose agenda are we following here, yours or mine? —Again, there’s a difference between my agenda for God vs. God’s agenda for me. How easy it is to impose my will on God. If you can’t see a lot of things that are “not the way you would have done them” —then maybe you’ve merely recreated God in your own image. God will often do things differently than you would, and He will never always agree with you. When He is the true leader, things won’t always be “the way you want them.”
—Will this function without you, or without me? —If I’m not preparing God’s redeemed hearts to walk forward in faith without me (should something happen to me), then I’m doing them a grave disservice. No leader physically lives forever, therefore God’s sheep should be dependent upon Jesus, not man. The healthiest ministry is one in which I am expendable but Jesus is essential!
—Will you relax your dependence or deepen it? —Seasons of desperation call us to deep dependence on Jesus. Seasons of blessing tempt us to relax that dependence. When blessing causes dependence to wane, shallow motives are exposed—it’s not Jesus I long for, it’s merely His performance I most crave. Yet, if radical dependence remains through times of blessing, it is evidence of a passion for Him not merely “what He can do.” Leveraging Jesus is not the same as loving Him.
Spiritual leadership is an exercise in rediscovering my own brokenness over and over again, while simultaneously experiencing His great grace over and over again. It’s a perpetual, growing awareness that I am exceedingly small and He is exceedingly big.
Spiritual leadership is very much like being three years old—small, weak, helpless, and rather short-sighted—when, the much larger and stronger hands of your father gently pick you up and place you on His shoulders for a ride. It’s a bit terrifying and a bit fun at the same time. You can see things you otherwise wouldn’t. Yet, you know you’re small and vulnerable. Apart from His grip, you realize you are in grave danger! You’re riding the shoulders of a powerful, dangerous, gentle, loving Father. You have a terrifying awareness that you are utterly not in control. Yet, gradually you discover you can rest on the shoulders of the Father who is in control.
Let Jesus lead the way. Enjoy the journey, but don’t think for a second it’s actually about you.