Here’s another short post (not having Internet at the home and not having an internet enabled office has really slowed down my blogging). Jen and I are in Peoria, Illinois at the Midwest Baptist Conference’s Leadership Retreat. This is my second year to come to the retreat, and I’m really excited about it. Mostly, I’m excited because this year, I’m here as a church planter. A good number of my friends are here too, and I have the joy of picking their brains to hear what they have been doing in their churches.
It’s amazing to me that when I hear someone else’s story, if it’s good, I want to do it too. If I hear that some program or effort worked for one person, I want to do the same thing (of course, I want to customize it myself). I am addicted to competition and comparisons.
Conferences are good for me because they inspire me. Conferences are bad for me because they make me think about all the things I could/should be doing differently to the point of making me feel either guilty for not doing all of that or depressed that I can’t do it all. Conferences are good for me because I get to meet really great people and network. Conferences are bad for me because I regularly compare myself to all of those people and feel either superior or inferior.
Why can’t I just be the person God is calling me to be and leave it at that?
Because the person God is calling me to be is never perfectly clear.
I’ll get specific.
The theme of this conference and the main message of the evening tonight come from Joshua 3:5. This is what it says in the NIV.
Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”
Tonight, the speaker (Paul Johnson, Executive Vice President of the Baptist General Conference) talked to us about how consecrating something means to set something apart for God, and that often boils down to doing something God’s way rather than doing it our own way. This is where I find a lot of difficulty.
How do I know if I’m doing something “my way” or “God’s way”? Specifically, I’m in the process of starting a brand new church in Lafayette. There are many different methods for doing that. Some plan for a big event “Launch Sunday” and go from there. Some plan for a “soft launch” and build up from that. I have my own strategy for how to go about doing things, but whose to say that my strategy is “my plan” or “God’s plan”?
You might think this is strange coming from a pastor, but I, unlike many others who are in ministry, have very few moments in my life where I would say, “I really sensed God’s leading to do …” I heard a number of those comments tonight from people. However, I don’t get those kind of impressions. God speaks to me in different ways. I’m still learning to discern his voice, but how do I consecrate myself to his service and to do things his way when I don’t really know what “his way” is?
I wonder if others know what I’m talking about. Do other people tend to cringe when they hear someone say, “God told me…” or “I sensed God leading me to …”?
Why do I bring this up?
I bring it up because I think I have a pretty good understanding of what it means to consecrate yourself. Not that I do it perfectly or not, but I think I’m developing a good understanding of it. As I see it, being consecrated to God means that my life is not my own, it belongs to God. Then, when it comes to practical decision making, this is my process.
- Where God’s Word is clear on how to behave or think, I will obey.
- If God’s Word is not clear on an issue, I will decide based on the promptings of the Spirit, my own intuition, and my understanding of God’s character (based on related issues from Scripture).
- If God’s Word is not clear on an issue and I don’t have a “prompting” regarding the decision, I will base my decision on the wisdom of those who have gone before me as filtered through the lens of my understanding of Scripture.
- When all else fails, I will decide based on the level of wisdom God has already given me.
The only problem left is to decide how long to stick with stage 2 before moving on to stage 3. How long should I seek the “prompting” before moving to stage 3? According to some, stage 3 and 4 are inappropriate for a spiritual leader. If there is no clear teaching from Scripture or no prompting from the Spirit, then the decision should be postponed.
But isn’t that a little simple-minded? There is no proof that King Solomon spent an hour in prayer before dishing out his great wisdom. Now, he isn’t a great example because he misused a lot of his wisdom, but the point remains. The Bible praised his wisdom even though he didn’t agonize in prayer over his decisions.
So what does this all mean for spiritual leaders today? Well, of course it means that we should be very familiar with the clear teaching of the Bible and also very familiar with the character of God. Most every decision we will make can be decided based on those two things alone. But for the others, perhaps consecrating ourselves means simply to dedicate our decision and the results to God.
Is it just possible that God gave his people brains so that they could use them to make good well-informed decisions? What do you think?
Where should we draw the line between making wise decisions and pridefully following our own plans while ignoring God’s will?