Leadership Archive, 2020
5/27 On Prophesying vs Paddling:
The following passage is a foundational, and richly illustrative, scripture crucial to growth and accuracy in prophetic ministry. Isaiah 33:21 (NKJV): ...the majestic LORD will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams, in which no galley with oars will sail, nor majestic ships pass by.
Do you perceive the illustration's meaning? Friends, especially prophesiers, this is important cud to chew. Isaiah says no galley or ship with oars can ride the River of God. That means no "paddling"--no effort, no striving, no perspiration--only floating and flowing with the River.
As a prophet, Isaiah knows this mechanism well. He knows he cannot try to prophesy. Authentic prophesying is not something you try to do, there is no try about it. It is a river you float and flow with effortlessly. This is pinpoint identical to what Peter said about prophesying in 2Peter 1:21 (AMP): For no prophecy ever originated because some man willed it...but men spoke from God who were borne along (moved and impelled) by the Holy Spirit.
Peter stated plainly what Isaiah illustrated. The will and effort and "try" of man is completely non-existent in the genesis or initiation of authentic prophecy. All he/she can do is maintain daily, airtight, cheek to cheek intimacy with the Lord and wait for the prophetic River to overflow. The human will enters the mechanism only when he must speak or write, of his own freewill obedience, to communicate the prophetic message to the target recipient.
One of several ways we can discern and judge New Testament prophecy is by tuning in to the prophesier's level of "paddling". The less they are struggling, striving, and straining, and the more they are floating and flowing peacefully, the more of a positive indication it is. When novice or amateur prophesiers call me and ask me to test a word they have allegedly received for an individual or group, I listen for "paddling" as they share. Some of their words prove to be a mixture, some pure emotion or imagination or ego, some 100% bullseye.
You can even discern and judge your own revelatory life in this way. Be brutally honest and face-in-the-ground humble. Is this alleged revelation the true prophetic River swelling, or, am I paddling those oars because I need to prophesy to meet a selfish need in myself? Isaiah 33:21 is so remarkably helpful. No oars are allowed or legitimate in the River. Only vessels that float and flow peacefully.
Isaiah makes a parallel statement earlier in 32:17, again emphasizing the peace, composure, and calm confidence of genuine spiritual activity in the Lord. Isaiah 32:17 (NIV): The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
If you have a prophetic gift and call, the River will rise and overflow as He wills as you simply obsess over seeking and obeying Him daily. The moment you start "trying" and paddling to prophesy you rape your prophetic calling, aggressively forcing it to give before time what should be gotten effortlessly, organically, and spontaneously through a cultivated love relationship. The greatest secret to ace prophetic ministry is by becoming the River's most impassioned lover and closest confidant. Oh yes, then and only then will that River continuously swell and overflow in you, without you trying or paddling, but as a God-given reward and love gift for keeping your priorities right: your First Love, the Lord Jesus.
5/4 On Ruling as Judah, Not Jacob:
Are you trying to rule (lead) as Jacob? Scripture says Jacob and his descendants would have rule over Esau and his descendants. First the Lord announces it to Rebekah (Gen 25:23), then Isaac confers the reality of it upon Jacob and Esau through a paternally-anointed pronouncement (27:29,40).
There is, however, "small print" in Isaac's prophetic blessing to Esau. Notice Genesis 27:40 (NIV): "...you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck."
Very interesting. Isaac's paternally-anointed whisper to Esau reveals a fatal flaw in Jacob's rulership: it is vulnerable to overthrow. But why? Because Jacob manipulated to gain the rulership rights. Thus, the manipulative supplanter would himself be vulnerable to the divine law of reciprocity (Job 5:12,13, Ps 18:26, Mt 7:2, Mk 4:24, Lk 6:38), i.e, his own supplanting.
Judah's rule, on the other hand, would never be overthrown. Read Genesis 49:8-12 in the NKJV. In a highly metaphoric eschatological prophecy, we are told Judah and his descendants would rule "until Shiloh come", the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Notice in verse 1 Jacob's words pertain to "the latter end of the days" (Young's Literal Translation).
Because we are co-heirs with Christ (Ro 8:17, Gal 3:29), who is descended from Judah, we therefore also share in the inheritance of Judah described in the Genesis 49 pronouncement. We have his lionlike rulership persona potentialized in our spirit through the Spirit of Christ. The apostle Paul indicates this (Ro 5:17 AMPC, underline added): ...much more surely will those who receive [God's] overflowing grace...reign as kings in life through the one Man Jesus Christ...
Spiritual leaders in the Body leading with Jacob's persona do so from a sense of insecurity and second best self-image. Like Jacob, they manipulate and "grab for heels" (Gen 25:26), meaning, they feel behind and therefore scheme from behind.
Judah rules from a dominant, lionish identity. He is not spastic, shady, or supplantive, he rules through obvious, overwhelming strength. Notice how his hand is on the neck of his enemies (Gen 49:8)--not grasping for a heel. Notice his victorious, restful demeanor (v9)--not the restlessness of Esau or the all-night wrestling of Jacob. Rule as Judah, not Jacob.
4/22 On the Underground Sewer System, Shepherding the Soul:
Are you teaching and preaching at symptoms? Are you merely snipping bad fruit, without laying the ax to the root? Are you merely nipping at the monster's heel? Are you urging behavioral nip-tucks, without addressing the underground sewer system in people's souls?
Polemical teaching and preaching that focuses on symptoms and behaviors is only a starting point, at best, a rookie mistake, at worst. Symptoms ministry or behavior modification ministry inevitably leads to picking on certain sins and certain types of people, leading to artificial hierarchies of sin badness at one end (the sins we pick on, usually in others) and not-so-badness at the other end (the sins we have oh so much grace for, usually in ourselves). All sin, the entire reality of it, brings various forms of death (Eze 18:4, Ro 6:23, Jas 1:15). That includes your rancid religious pride because of perfect church attendance and not cussing in fifteen years.
Shepherding a born-again person out of the insidious vise-grip of sin, into that phenomenal "free indeed" level Jesus offers (Jn 8:36), requires far more than shouting and shooting at symptoms, behaviors, and bad fruit (oh yes, include demons in this list). Every Christian in the vise-grip of sinful dysfunction has an underground sewer system within feeding that dysfunction. The soul--downtrodden and quietly desperate from soul sewage like emotional pain, unfulfilled needs, shattered expectations, lack of depth understanding, distance from the Lord of freedom, and so on--is the crisis dimension from which rise all manner of symptoms. It is for this reason Scripture says Jesus is "the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1Pet 2:25 NIV, underline mine). And why James says "...the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" from the powerful inner complex that drives sin (Jas 1:21 NKJV, underline mine). And why John says "you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" first and foremost (3Jn 1:2 NKJV, underline mine).
Ephesians 4:11 leaders: you must get to the deeper propellants of sin in a person's life. There are subterranean reasons an individual inclines to certain sins and patterns of dysfunction. If you do not join the Lord Jesus in shepherding and overseeing the soul, you will be merely snipping bad fruit that returns again and again and again and again.
4/9 On Increasing in Sacred Cow Wisdom:
In the beginning and amateur years of ministry many individuals are "sons of thunder". This was Jesus' sarcastic reprimand of a nickname for James and John (Mk 3:17), who had a stormy and scary Mount Sinai ferocity about them (Lk 9:54,55, Heb 12:18-21). Like the brothers, novice and amateur ministers impetuously want to torch any sacred cow (idol, sin structure, inappropriate dependency, etc.) in the Christians and churches around them. They are high on emotion, pride, and a sense of calling. They have their anointed vampire-killing kit and they are ready to go.
In actuality, this type of self-righteous headstrong ministry is immature idiocy, possessing the tactical subtlety of a male frigate bird. After causing a confusing mixture of both messes and miracles, the Lord eventually takes these young guns aside into a time-out desert. During that time of painful breaking and introspection, the Lord teaches them several things about sacred cows in people's lives and in the born-again community. Here is one such lesson.
Recognize when to prophesy boldly and draw a sword against a sacred cow, versus, when to subtly and gently (even imperceptibly) nudge them to starve the sacred cow that it may die on its own. Precious Lord Jesus, what a costly topaz of wisdom!
Recognizing when to do which requires prayerful observation, listening for the Lord, and zero emotion. If you are primarily prophetic, you will ruin relationships and blessings if you cannot discern when to put your sword away and be more pastoral. If you are primarily pastoral, you will ichabod God's glory and favor if you cannot discern when a two-edged sword is needed to give the sacred cow a quick and bloody death. Increase in sacred cow wisdom.
3/29 On Amateurs vs War-Hardened Veterans:
One of the greatest mistakes amateur leaders make is not realizing they are amateurs. This is not a pejorative or condemnation, but an admonishment to honest self-awareness and craft development. There are many differences separating an amateur leader from a war-hardened veteran, a young gun from a masterfully sharpened two-edged sword. Here are just as few.
An amateur relishes the spotlight and glory of leadership, the emotional strokes, the self-esteem cookie, the ego pump. A war-hardened veteran relishes objectives and results, most of which are cultivated when no there is no microphone, no stage, no spotlight, no crowd, and no immediate reward for the Self.
An amateur talks way too much. Rambles and rabbit-trails way too much. Loves the microphone way too much. A war-hardened veteran knows that five words with keyhole accuracy and cogency can move universes faster than ten thousand words of narcissistic rambling, jumping spastically from one subject to another, and telling stories with no clear plot and climax.
An amateur listens with the patience and attentiveness of a fidgety teenager. A war-hardened veteran listens like he/she is looking for one specific needle in a needle stack. The listening issue illuminates a fundamental and larger philosophy difference between young guns and two-edged swords. Young guns or amateurs try to impose their leadership will on the environment quickly, almost always without reading the terrain and thoroughly understanding it. Masterfully sharpened two-edged swords, or war-hardened veterans, read the terrain and thoroughly understand it first.
Amateurs, become an apprentice that you might become a general.
3/15 On Hermeneutical Integrity:
One of the greatest temptations a communicator of the Word will face is the compromise of his/her hermeneutical integrity. This is especially tempting in America, where a Christian communicator can become rich and famous and adored if he/she is cunning enough. In this regard, there are two compromises to recognize and continually act against, personally and in our leadership sphere.
Many American Christian communicators speak for mass appeal, they speak to people's wishlist, not hermeneutical integrity. Biblical texts are amputated from their original context and original meaning and given a Me-centered, self-help, positive psychology, American dream, populist flavor. Since most people have an earthly wishlist of sorts, this kind of messaging with a few co-opted scriptures has phenomenal appeal to spiritually immature Christians. While it is true Scripture contains many diverse promises that are undeniably blessing oriented, the hermeneutical compromise comes when the messaging is only or mainly along these lines.
A second hermeneutical compromise is what we might call investigative misconduct, the leaving out of Biblical evidence (specific scriptures) that challenge or undermine one's theology. This cherry-picking of Scripture fails to account for and reconcile contrarian scriptures on the subject at hand. This kind of hyperselective Bible reading, the creating of non-comprehensive doctrinal silos, leads to teaching and preaching that is partially true yet filled with What about...? questions.
Christians whose minds and theologies are still-wet concrete are vulnerable to hermeneutical shadiness coming from their leaders. If you are on the receiving end of ministry, inventory those you are listening to. Are you being spoken to mainly according to your wishlist, or with a healthy and balanced multidimensionality? Do you consistently find yourself asking, "What about this verse and that verse?"
Do not be dumb sheep. Grow spiritually, learn the Word comprehensively for yourself, understand hermeneutical integrity, walk with the Lord in a right relationship with His Word.
2/26 On Proof of Concept:
Much of leadership's power and effectiveness depends on proof of concept. Proof of concept is exactly what it sounds like: it means a given concept, idea, or design will work because it has already worked or works on a smaller scale. The term is from entrepreneurship and product R&D (research and development), but oh how transferable and relevant it is to leadership!
You see, when we speak or write or (try to) shape an environment as a leader, people instinctively look at our life for proof of concepts. If you are messaging on the subject of healthy relationships, people instinctively scan your life for evidence or "proof" that you have healthy relationships, even if that proof is on a smaller scale (how you treat the waitress, how well you listen, how patient you are with interruptions or inconveniences, etc.). If you are messaging on the subject of physical wellness, people instinctively scan your body, your eating habits, etc. for evidence of the feasibility and promise of what you are saying. If you are messaging on the supernatural power of the Spirit, people will look for or listen for consistent evidences of that power in your personality and life.
Proof of concept is impossible to fake. People, in general, are observant, even if it does not seem so or even if they keep their observations to themselves. People, in general, can tell if you are experiencing and evidencing what you are messaging. The only way to develop proof of concept is to develop proof of concept! You have to become the firstfruits of the harvest you are seeking in your leadership sphere. You have to become it. You have to become the scale model. You have to become the proof. Leaders are often delightfully shocked when they see how much easier leadership becomes once they themselves start incarnating proofs of concepts.
Are you getting discipled by a leader who is ahead of you in proofs of concepts? The shortcut to maven leadership is not do-it-yourself isolationism and pride, the shortcut is through an usher who is already there. The apostle Paul, in two tremendous scriptures on proof of concept, told his Philippian sphere, "Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do...Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice..." (Php 3:17, 4:9 NIV).
2/11 On Specificity of Vision:
You are not called to everyone, you are called to specific someones and specific activities. Sure, early in your spiritual life or ministerial journey there may be a nebulous or "whosoever will" quality to your leadership gifts. This is not, however, the Lord's ultimate intent. The more you mature in Him, the more you mature in your personality and self-awareness, the more you mature in your gifts, the more you will see ministerial themes recur and narrow. You will evolve, however gradually or suddenly, from "whosoever will" to "I was sent only to _____".
As Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus certainly had a "whosoever will" vision to His redemptive work. However, He had a sharply narrower focus in His actual ministry: He was the prophesied Teacher, Prophet, Servant, and Shepherd to Israel. In Matthew 15:24 He said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." In 10:5,6 He told His assistants, "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel."
Reiterating Jesus' narrower vision, in Romans 15:8 Paul said, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed." And in Galatians 4:4 he said, "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the [Old Covenant] law."
As we grow in the Lord in multiple dimensions, ask for and perceive specificity of vision emerging. Ponder the ministerial themes that recur in your work, themes that have an augmented urgency, relevance, fruitfulness, and spiritual force.
1/29 On Developing Spiritual Leaders, The Voice:
Developing leaders in the kingdom of our King is not the same mechanism as developing leaders in, say, business or athletics or any other non-kingdom sphere. There are some similarities on the ground at practical levels, but aside from those, they are exceedingly different and should be exceedingly different.
One way we develop spiritual leadership is by helping novices, amateurs, or anyone we are tutoring understand the voice of the Lord in their life. Samuel heard the voice, but Eli understood it and its implications (1Sam 3). The disciples heard the voice in the form of parables, but Jesus, their earthly mentor at the time, had to make them understand (Mk 4:34). Apollos heard the voice in the form of extensive Scriptural illumination, but Priscilla and Aquila had to explain what he was not understanding (Ac 18:24-26).
If you cannot discern the voice of the Lord in a trainee's life, what He is saying and doing to develop them as a person and as a leader, it is possible you are not at a level where you should be a pathfinder for that individual. In Scripture, the very idea of discipleship is that one individual is far enough ahead of another individual so as to provide theological, spiritual, and revelatory tutoring.
This mechanism does not diminish the priesthood of the individual believer and their own privilege and obligation to go to the Lord themselves, directly and daily. Leaders who mentor others need to be circumspect that they do not diminish, by their words or aura, that individual priesthood. There is an artful way to discern and elucidate the voice of the Lord in a trainee's life without setting yourself up as their god or final authority. Learn that art.
1/12 On The Shortcut, The Art of Spiritual Courtship:
In 2Corinthians 11:2, Paul said he treated his spiritual leadership like a courtship (Young's Literal Translation): ...for I am zealous for you with zeal of God, for I did betroth you to one husband, a pure virgin, to present to Christ.
In the modern era of internet, profile-based dating, not to mention a process-less hookup culture, very, very few people still understand the art of courtship. While every generation of human history has had its romantic and sexual shortcuts, today's internet and communication technology have almost institutionalized such shortcuts. These roundabouts and hurry-to-the-goal mechanisms largely eliminate the need for advanced social skills, social skills required to win someone over with time and detail amidst obstacles or resistance.
The shortcut phenomenon and its near-institutionalization, however, is not only in the realm of romance and sex, but in the realm of leadership, and in the context of this mini-article, spiritual leadership within the church.
I regularly, perhaps often, engage with leaders in the born-again community that have an agitated (but often silent or subtle) undercurrent of impatience. People are not changing fast enough. Numbers are not increasing fast enough. More money is not coming in fast enough. Opportunities are not opening fast enough. Where is the shortcut? Where is the accelerator? Where is the winning tactic?
To be clear, there are leadership modes and tactics, and spiritual modes and tactics, that tend to slow things down or speed things up. Regardless, there is an inescapable art to leadership in the body of Christ that will not change: the art of spiritual courtship. People need to be, literally, wooed and won with time and detail. Solomon said that a person who can consistently win a soul is wise (Pr 11:30). Many Christians use this proverb for evangelism, but evangelism as such did not exist when Solomon philosophized. The proverb has a more practical and ubiquitous scope, one application of which would certainly be leadership and the art of courting a person, a group, an organization, a church.
There is a delicacy to spiritual leadership. There is a romancing and wooing of the Bride to her heavenly Husband. This process, whether it happens a bit faster or a bit slower, cannot be ignored. Like a maiden being courted pre-modernity, Christians will become suspicious and resistant, defensive and resentful, if you try to rush them to a goal without taking the time to win them at a warm emotional and relational level. This is not something you can fake or force or rush. This is not something you can funnel into the scheduled meeting times twice a week. This requires patience and detail, and the returns are truly astounding.
How much do you know about the people you lead? I am not referring to their superficial dossier, but to secondary and deeper knowledge. Stuff that you actually have to try and find out, i.e., quality unforced time and listening skills where you do not talk for long stretches of time. To do that you actually have to care about them.
12/27/19 On Shepherding the Poor:
Temporary poverty can have transformational benefits, like humility, deep appreciation for the non-material happinesses in life, relational development and interdependence, pinpointing and changing poor money habits, and so on. Chronic or inveterate poverty is not, however, the Lord's ultimate ideal for His people or anyone. Deuteronomy 15:4,5 (NIV) say: "...there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow..."
Many individuals, though, for whatever reason, will become poor or start life poor. A few verses later, the Lord acknowledges this realistically (v11 NKJV), "For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.'"
In reading verse 11 one might too quickly assume "opening your hand wide" only means humanitarian benevolence. For spiritual leaders, I challenge you to read more depth into this scripture. Opening the hand wide, for spiritual leaders, also means giving the poor comprehensive economic shepherding and financial responsibility-building. Here are two of the most important economic empowerment points in Scripture. The following is not exhaustive.
Depth identity. Chronic or inveterate poverty is not a mere lack of cash or mere arithmetics. Poverty that persists over many seasons (or generations) is the fruit of a deeper identity that produces a financial personality that produces poverty-enabling behaviors. If we are to shepherd people economically we will have to redig and relay their deepest assumptions and approaches to themselves, others, life, and their Maker.
Calling discovery. Moses wrote that God gives His people "power to get wealth" (Deu 8:18 NKJV). The Hebrew word here for "power" is koach, and in this context it more specifically means "ability or strength." Thus, in everyday vernacular, God gave us signature strengths or abilities or powers through which we can generate personal economy. Each person has something(s) or can do something(s) that, when well-developed, can be valuable enough to create personal economy. We shepherds have to help those in our care to better discern their koach, develop it, or make other adjustments to accommodate its presence and growth.
Chronic or inveterate poverty makes a person feel and live like everyday is their last stand. Being in this survival frame too long hogs the body's, brain's, and soul's resources, setting the precursors to major health problems and leaving little or no vigor for personal design discovery, intellectual development, creative contemplation and strategizing, and overall life development. Most importantly, it tempts a person to wonder about the nature and engagement of the Father in their poverty. As spiritual leaders ministering in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can answer those wonderings about the Father and reveal Him, first, by mobilizing humanitarian care for them in the short-term, and second, by dignifying their human value with comprehensive economic shepherding and transformation for the long-term.
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