Discernment and Decision Making

Setting Direction: The perspective of a leader

“Where there is no vision the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

Setting Direction by Jim Van Yperen

The perspective of a leader

Churches, like nature, abhor a vacuum.  Without a common purpose, direction and vision, a congregation will wander.  A church without clear, identifiable direction is a church inviting confusion and division.  Scripture puts it this way, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” A flock without clear direction will wander, each to its own way, resulting in chaos and confusion.  Literally, the proverb warns, “Where there is no vision, the people are undisciplined or get out of hand.”

Scripture offers the perfect picture of this in Exodus 32. Moses is up the mountain receiving God’s revelation.  Israel grows restless in Moses absence. Unwilling to wait, the people stiff-arm Aaron to “make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses” they said, “who knows what has happened to him?”

So, Aaron created a golden calf as an idol for the people to worship. When Moses comes down the mountain he sees the people running wild and out of control and becoming a laughingstock of their enemies.  (Exodus 32:15)

Consider the threefold observation Moses made:

  1. The people were running wild;
  2. Aaron let them get out of control;
  3. Israel became a laughingstock to their enemies.

People run wild when leaders fail to lead.  Leaders fail to lead when they create their own vision without listening to, and waiting for, God. The perspective of the leader must always be through the lens of God.

Many helpful words have been written about creating a clear and compelling vision.  The problem with much of the advice, however, is that it limits God’s revelation to human effort — to marketing methodologies relying upon goals, tactics and “keys to success.” This is not the perspective of Scripture. In fact, the word audition, not vision, better describes the leader’s role in understanding God’s direction.  The emphasis of Scripture is more often to hear and obey, rather than see and do. Webster defines “audition” as the power to hear or the sense of hearing; the act of hearing.  Both the Hebrew word shama and the Greek word akouo meaning “to hear,” carry with them a sense of action.  The hearer not only hears, but discerns, interprets and obeys.

Hearing God speak is essential to faith and to leadership in the church.  It is not a picture or visual image that a leader sees as much as a Word from God that the leader discerns, describes and invites others to follow.

This is the difference between faith and method; spiritual discovery and marketing. The word “success,” as we understand it, is not in God’s vocabulary.  God is not impressed by our methods.  Rather, a vision is the pathway for a dynamic, faith-dependent pursuit of God’s will that proves our faithfulness. Vision requires audition to define and describe God’s will. To be an overseer, a leader must be an “under-hearer.” Your ability to oversee God’s work is directly related to your receptivity to hear and to describe God’s voice revealed in Scripture.

Five ways to embody God’s vision:

  1. Hearing, and discerning. Vision is not possessed by a leader. It is a gift from God such that the vision possesses the leader. This requires the ability to listen carefully and to discern rightly. A leader is always asking, “how is God speaking through His Word, His Spirit and His people?” then, ”What is God saying?”
  2. Having heard and discerned, leaders now ask, “what would obedience look like here?”  Describe what God is saying in story, words and pictures.   Vision must be described before it can be prescribed.
  3. To cast the vision, leaders must be the first to participate in and practice the vision. When the Apostle Paul was summoned before King Agrippa, he stated his call and conviction emphatically, “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”  (Acts 26:19)
  4.   At every step, members are welcomed into the vision process, invited to join leaders in prayer and study, to seek and discern God’s will.  (Resistance is directly proportional to involvement.)  Having heard, discerned and described, the leader now invites others to follow.  Here again, Christ must be center.  The invitation is to follow God, not the leader. When John the Baptist was told that there was another, meaning Jesus, who was baptizing, John pointed to Christ, not to himself.  “He must become greater, I must become less.”
  5. Proclaiming and encouraging. Leaders throughout Scripture remind us of our heritage to encourage faithfulness. Casting vision requires continual communication and encouragement toward persevering obedience.

The perspective of the leader is always to glorify Jesus as Lord and get oneself out of the way.

Reflection for Lent

From Christine Valters Paintner, (Abbey of the Arts) a great framework for thinking through Ash Wednesday and Lent:

“The kind of fast drawing me this season isn’t leaving behind of treats like chocolate or other pleasures. This season I am being invited to fast from things like “ego-grasping” and noticing when I so desperately want to be in control, and then yielding myself to a greater wisdom than my own.

I am called to fast from being strong and always trying to hold it all together, and instead embrace the profound grace that comes through my vulnerability and tenderness, to allow a great softening this season.

I am called to fast from anxiety and the endless torrent of thoughts which rise up in my mind to paralyze me with fear of the future, and enter into the radical trust in the abundance at the heart of things, rather than scarcity.

I am called to fast from speed and rushing through my life, causing me to miss the grace shimmering right here in this holy pause.

I am called to fast from multitasking and the destructive energy of inattentiveness to any one thing, so that I get many things done, but none of them well, and none of them nourishing to me. Instead my practice will become a beholding of each thing, each person, each moment.

I am called to fast from endless list-making and too many deadlines, and enter into the quiet and listen for what is ripening and unfolding, what is ready to be born.

I am called to fast from certainty and trust in the great mystery of things.

And then perhaps, I will arrive at Easter and realize those things from which I have fasted I no longer need to take back on again. I will experience a different kind of rising.”

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