God’s design for Antioch, apostolic, visionary kinds of leaders.
I was sitting recently in an interactive training session listening to two colleagues talk about their convictions and how those convictions had worked their way into thousands of new churches planted, and ten of thousands of people coming to the saving faith in Christ. The longer I listened, the more I was struck with the feeling that I had heard this before. Not that I had heard their exact story before. But, I had heard the underlying story before. Indeed, in our travels all over the world, I had heard it tens of times before. All of a sudden I was caught with the sameness of such people, even while we all acknowledge the extraordinariness of their application of that sameness.
It seems to me that it is a sameness of foundations that sets these people apart within the Kingdom of God. When I say sets them apart, I do not refer to them as “stars” in the sense that such a word has come to mean in the western world. But, I refer to that gifting, role and calling from God, as well as His empowering, that allows them to embrace expansive things from God. Some would call these people “leaders.” As one who believes that leadership is a role, not a person, and that such a role takes multiples of diversely gifted people to effect, I am uncomfortable with the designation, “leader.”
It is however clear that God uses these people to galvanize action in others. And when they have solid biblical foundations about God’s people, the Church. And the nature of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel and through the Church, they do move people to exceptional levels. What caught my attention that day was how often I see the sameness around the world in such men and women. The sameness that I have seen is encapsulated in twelve descriptive words.
They all express these descriptives in a different way, most in another language, and always with differing structure. But, the effect of this sameness is always the same; people are galvanized to extraordinary action. The results of those actions are different, dependent as we are on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But, people moving in fullness and effectiveness is a common result in all of these men and women. What did I see?
They are people of vision.
They see something that MUST be done. In the case of my friends around the world, this “must” is connected to the truths of Scripture, especially about the nature of the Church and the ministry of the Spirit through people. But, this beginning descriptive is also in people of other end persuasions. There is an itch about something that must be done that animates their lives. They cannot let it go.
It is important at this point to emphasize that such a vision does not come from trying to have one. In all of these people, it simply comes! In those who are believers, God has so demonstrated Himself that they are filled with a picture of something that must be done. In my recent conference, I asked one of my colleagues who was giving me a tour through a building that would house some of the vision, “can you see what it looks like?” He said, yes, and for sometime I have seen it! In his mind, it was already finished!
They are people filled with conviction.
Some might say that I am repeating myself in referring again to vision. But, vision about what must be done, is different than the convictions about how it can and will be done. In my friends, centered as they are on the Kingdom of God, those convictions take two important expressions.
- They are convinced about God Himself. Talk to any of them and you will find this generally unappreciated, by most others, reality, that God is able to do what He has asked them to do! You may find some times of wavering. But when they close their eyes again at night, they will see and feel the “must vision” once again. In a short time this rekindling of the vision will drive them back into action.
- They have a deep-seated conviction about people. They are people who believe, sometimes against or in spite of the prevailing context, that people will follow if they will lead. I refer not to a dreamy idealization that causes these people to ignore the realities surrounding moving people. Of course, the younger these people are, the more this idealization risk may have not been tested. But, for the mature person of vision, steeled by the lessons of trying, there comes a conviction about people deeper than the reality of people themselves.
For these men and women who have learned the lessons of life, but taught by God in His word, there comes the reality that the very nature of what God has placed in His people, is movable. God Himself has placed an unholy discontent in His people to live out the sometimes unseen and unrecognized nature of how He has created them. They have been designed by God to know Him, be indwelt by Him, to be empowered by His Spirit and to represent Him. In our case today, we are the representatives of His gospel. These people are convinced that God will move His people, if they will join with others in leading them!
Does this mean that everyone will act? Of course not! But, in most cases, enough people will act enabling these people to lead people in accomplishing much more than so many other “leaders” ever believe that their people could ever do. Whatever the receptivity that the Spirit of God is working in the midst of the culture, these people will take full advantage of it by moving God’s human recourses, the incarnated stories of His grace, into a harvest of the context over above many others around them. They believe in the power of God through people!
They are people who develop a decentralized delivery structure.
I use this generalized term because these are people who understand the fundamental nature of the Church and its relationship to the world around them. Their goal is to make “it” accessible. You may say, “it,” do you mean the Gospel? Yes, but I also mean everything else! Everything people need to come to faith, grow in faith, incarnate the faith, and, extend the faith, must be accessible. By accessible I do not mean “user friendly!”
Accessible means that people do not have to build extraordinary life patterns to access something. This is one of the fundamentals that makes cells or small groups so powerfully effective around the world. People do not have to go far. They do not have to go far geographically to access the friendship, community and accountability found in cell. They do not have to go far culturally to see the Gospel in their midst, lived out by marriages and families who have been transformed by its power. They do not have to go far linguistically to understand the message.
These people innately understand the importance of making everything accessible. Even when you find them gathering thousands, or tens of thousands of people into worship venues, you always find something more fundamental to their effectiveness behind the scenes. That fundamental is the power of accessibility touched through a decentralization of delivery. The gospel, evangelism, training, discipleship and even multiplication are all founded on a principle of take it to the people, rather than, bring the people to us!
They are people who empower others.
The older they get and the more they really learn from their experience, the more you will see tens and hundreds of others leading with them. Note that I say with and not for. “For” is a uniquely western idea caught most powerfully in the concept of staff. Staff means I help you do something. “With” means that both of us have found something greater and more important than both of us. The cultural structure that they are required to labor under does not stop these people from finding appropriate ways to release power, responsibility and people into leadership.
They understand, innately many times, but from Scripture as they mature, that only people can truly fulfill the vision. Yes, money, opportunity and resources are needed. But, for these people, none of these are a supplement to the power of God working through His people to accomplish His ends. Can it be that followers sense this deep-seated believe/expectation, and thus move in concert with it?
These people all have a plan of action in their minds about how to fulfill the vision.
Not that the plan is always as well thought-out as it should be. But, with maturity, learning from experience, and a willingness to listen to others around them, they develop a plan of action that first arises in their minds. Even where there is no clear detailed path for fulfilling the vision, there is a commitment to find one. Because the vision has so engraved itself into their very being, there is an equal commitment to find the path of fulfillment.
Many of these people do not have as well developed sense of organization as one would like to see. But, a correct understanding of the nature of the Body as seen in I Corinthians, the impact that this has on our understanding of leadership, and a full appreciation for the diversity of gifts given by the Spirit, we can learn to rest in the organized elements necessary to fulfill the plan coming from someone else, if and when necessary.
Still, I find that it is not surprising for these people to have demographical facts about their circle of accountability. Often I will see detailed maps of where something has already been accomplished, i.e. churches planted, and, where things are yet to be finished. With the people that I relate, these maps are always related to the full evangelization of a city, or region, or even a nation. Further, I am no longer surprised to see some form of written goals and objectives. I say some form, because each of these people will have organized themselves in ways consistent with their own culture.
They are persistent people.
Time, money, obstacles, even failure are all ultimately irrelevant. Where most others would not have even started, they venture out. Where others will have ceased, they will continue believing and acting. Obviously, this could also be a weakness. But, in most cases, if the Spirit of God has been the originator of the vision, then, persistence will be necessary.
Note that I add no definition of success. We are a generation conditioned to define success in less than biblical terms. These people, because they understand what God has asked them to do, and because it is related to His Kingdom, and its expansion, understand that purpose ends and not just human terms of success must drive them. When God’s people are growing in intimacy with Him, we are approaching success. When God’s people are fulfilling His designs for them, especially as it relates to the expansion of His kingdom, then we are approaching success.
These people have a built in tenacious but somewhat ruthless sense of accountability.
Some would say that this makes them demanding. But, that is to ignore at least three very important things.
- They are more demanding of themselves than they are any one else.
- Driven as they are by the vision, and the true value and fulfillment that comes to people when they join in its accomplishment, they naturally expect more of people than many do of themselves. Rather than too demanding, the criticism may be driven more by a compassion given way to indulgence than it is to a true biblical tempering of expectation with mercy.
- As they mature they do indeed learn to mix expectation with the process of growth that we have all been inducted into when we came to Christ. Since as I pointed out above, failure does not deflect them from the vision, they can learn to live with, and indeed harness the growth process that we must all grow through. In the final analysis, as they mature these kinds of people do not want to be self-deceived. A full house does not necessarily mean that we are doing what God wants with His people. A big building does not necessarily indicate anything at all about the Kingdom of God and its power to transform lives.
They are people who study history.
There is something about men and women of like nature who have lived through similar experiences in the past that catches the attention of these kinds of people. Maybe it’s a pragmatism that weaves its way into their consciousness. Or, maybe it’s just an innate inquisitiveness that they are born with. Whatever there is in most of them a constant desire to read and study others who have passed this way before them.
I think that it is an unconscious interplay between the dimensions of time, past, present and future, all-interacting at the same time. The past lights up something in the mind, especially about how to accomplish the vision. That insight from the past however must be brought into the future and chewed on. The insights are compared to the present realities, squeezing from them principles or vicarious experiences that can be super imposed upon the future. It is this ongoing process, provoked by the vision, compared to others in the past, analyzed in the present, that helps set the course for the future. I have dubbed this process, disciplined Z thinking.
They are people who give away more than is humanly reasonable.
This more than any other distinctive may be what most sets these people off from others. The more they mature and the more they learn to bring the vision in live with the expansion of the Kingdom of God, the more they will use any and all of their resources to see the Kingdom grow.
New churches planted, thousands of people brought into the Kingdom of Light are more important than the growth of their personal structure. They are most “happy” when there is an explosion of the Kingdom of God in their city and nation. Movements not institutions and their survival, is what these kinds of people are all about.
So, is not extraordinary to find these people giving way what others set up regimens to protect, if it can expand the Kingdom. It is fair to say of them that, “they live with their hands open!’
These people have the ability to understand or recognize primary foundations.
As they mature, they will almost always act out of these foundations, and will not be easily moved by programs and methods that purport to be the next best thing to Jesus.
It is this ability, coupled with a matured understanding of the church, people, leadership and the Holy Spirit that puts so many of them at the center of today’s movements that sweep whole nations of people into the net of the Gospel. The plant new churches in numbers that few westerners could even dream. But, imagine for one moment all of the above named distinctives now coupled with foundational realities, DNA as it were, that God has already built into His creation, the Church. Little wonder than that they are at the epicenter of more fully harvesting all that God has designed!
It cannot be stated too much. These people do not simply do the right things, but they understand why they do such things. It is from this premise than that they are able to fully adjust what they do to see God fulfill the vision that He has given.
It is precisely this ability to adjust that makes them so effective.
Nothing, save the inspired word of God is sacrosanct. Since God, gives the vision that they possess to them not for themselves, but for His Kingdom through His people, they want to do it the most effective way possible. If something is not working, don’t protect it nor justify it, but adjust it!
In this I refer not to any form of cultural relativism, nor a more bang for your buck approach to spreading the Gospel. But, to their sensitivity to the importance of what God has asked of and designed for His people. If they are not demonstrably and measurably growing in their intimacy with Him, and if the Gospel, through them, is not spreading to more and more people, than they have not done their job. If what they are doing stands in the way of seeing these things come to be, than they are willing to adjust. Adjust in such a way that these things are achieved, and the Kingdom is extended.
They realize that getting started is more important than getting started perfectly.
So many others are bound up in the fear of failure, or, the fear that everything they imagine to be necessary is not yet in place. The kinds of people about which I have been writing recognize and embrace the seed principle.
Nothing grows in the plant world unless it is first planted as a seed. Further, when you plant the seed, it does not look like much initially. But, wait a while and the seed will not only germinate, it will grow and produce fruit far beyond its original size or appearance. So it is with just about everything we do. All truly effective things get started as a seed!
In the western Church, conditioned as we have become by the culture that surrounds us, and with an abundance of money, we have become conditioned to launch events. These kinds of people are not interested in launching events. They are dedicated to launching movements. And, events almost never launch movements. They simply spend time, money and people. Most never to be recaptured again and with little eternal, Kingdom building results. But, seeds, planted in the right place, given nurture and time, give birth to whole fields of fruit, and ultimately a harvest!
I can imagine that many of you reading this will be asking yourselves, am I this kind of person? The reality is that God has given to Christ’s Church few men and women like this. In fact, if you think about it, few of these kinds of people are really necessary for the Body to do what God has created it to do. Most people will play out other roles within the effective movement of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. It is however important that there be some people like this.
Having said this, nothing said so far gives any indication that these people are more important, or any more necessary than all of the other gifts and roles that the Spirit has given to the Body. In fact, it is imperative that we all take a much more utilitarian view of our gifts and roles. As Paul says in I Corinthians 12, the gifts given by the Spirit are for the body. They do not belong to any one church, one denomination, or any one person.
Recognizing however that the future of the body is to one degree or another based upon the full release of these kinds of people into our midst, what do you do if you are not this kind of a person? Especially if you find yourself in a position that needs more of what these people are than what you are?
Allow me four suggestions.
Thank God for who you are.
It is God the Spirit who decided the gifts that you received. And, it is the Lord Jesus who decides the role that these gifts will play within the body. Moreover, God the Father will decide the domain or breadth of influence that you with these gifts and roles will have in the body and its extension of the Kingdom of God in our lifetime. I Corinthians 12:4-7. Your job is to embrace whom God has wonderfully created you to be. Our job is to find the way for all of this to work in concert so that the full release of God’s purposes can be felt in this world.
Build a team.
You will go further with the diversity of a team than you can with you own giftedness alone. It is one of the great weaknesses of our day; especially in the western Church that we have deluded ourselves into believing that something called a “pastor” has gifts more important or strategic than any other gift. I Corinthians makes it clear that the discussion at hand is about a whole body, not just one piece of the body. So, it must be with leadership. Leadership must conform to the nature of the body. The body’s wholeness demands wholeness in leadership. What you are not, somebody has been gifted by God to be, even in the place where you are at present. Learn to play out the role of leadership with, not for, or they for you, others.
Find a visionary and relate to them.
The book of Acts is instructive on this point.
F.F. Bruce, in his book The Pauline Circle, cites at least 25 people who worked with Paul to see the Gospel spread among the Gentile world of his day. Each of these people was important to the task. They found their role in relationship to Paul, because, God had called them to His apostolic purpose for the Church. These kind of future thinkers/actors will not be a dime a dozen. They will not be in abundance because God has ordained it so. The task of these people is to play their role. The task of others is to take from them what is needed to keep their particular ministry on the cutting edge of the future.
Get started with the biblical convictions about the Church, no matter how small the start!
Nothing starts out perfect. So, get started with what you know and what you can see needs to be done. Let God grow the seed!