By Clarence Bradbury
Called by God to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ…
So begins The Salvation Army document known as The Officer’s Covenant. Throughout North America this month, about 200 new officers will be ordained in this branch of the Christian Church. Each new officer bears witness to a definite calling to this specific ministry.
Most Christians believe that ordained ministry is, or ought to be, a matter of calling, and not simply a human pursuit. The fact that God calls humans at all is a testimony to the dignity and honor bestowed on us as the pinnacle of God’s creation. His design to redeem the human race included human agency when He called patriarchs, prophets, priests and apostles to participate as (small “s”) saviors. The Bible reveals that God has not ceased from issuing calls to his created ones.
As I reflect on scripture and human experience, it strikes me that the focus of God’s most important calling in our lives is first on the love Relationship. Relationship then deepens into Discipleship and discipleship emerges into various forms of Leadership. This pattern for discerning God’s call is counter-cultural. On Memorial Day, I was reading about General George Patton who was an astute military leader. On one occasion he said, “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way”. There’s room for decisiveness in Christian leadership as well. The difference I see for Christian leaders is in the sequence. God calls leaders who first take themselves out of the way and cultivate a transformative relationship with Jesus. They immerse themselves into Christ’s school of leadership as learners and followers. They practice dependence on Him and interdependence with fellow believers. Then they emerge with focus, intentionality and passion to fulfill the leadership mandate God has given them.
Another way of saying it is that God calls us to Love, Learn and Lead – in that order.
1. Called to Love
Before God ever calls us to serve Him, He calls us to Himself. In the primeval garden, Adam and Eve communed with their Creator, who “walked up and down the garden in the cool of the day”. God pursues a real and personal love relationship with each one of us. God takes the initiative to make it possible for us to respond to His proposal. The prophets Jeremiah and Hosea remind us, The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness (Jer. 31:3). I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love… (Hosea 11:4). What an amazing idea, that our Maker courts us into relationship with Him.
The apostle John affirms, “This is love; not that we loved God, but the He loved us and gave…” (1 John 4:10). The relationship has supreme value in and of itself. Am I the only one who feels that this is a most difficult truth to embrace and live by? I somehow think that I have to prove my worthiness before God will love me. Or I feel that because I do more for God than someone else, I will receive more of His approval. Such logic amounts to switching God’s price tags by putting the priority on doing rather than being. Lines from Albert Orsborn’s song capture this fact: I must love thee, love must rule me, springing up and flowing forth from a childlike heart within me, or my work is nothing worth. (See also Phil Laeger’s blog for additional insight – http://www.phillaeger.com/2012/02/meaningful-work/ )
Because God IS Love, His first and greatest call is to pursue an undying love relationship with Him. All ensuing activities are defined by love, and expose their true value only as they draw attention to God’s love.
2. Called to Learn
Our relationship with God is marked by learning, following and maturing over time. The gospels make this clear. Jesus called the first disciples “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14). Before dispatching them to their mission Jesus took time to teach them the values and strategies of His Kingdom.
Before Jesus commands us to GO, He calls us to FOLLOW. He said to the disciples, Follow me and (then) I will send you out to be fishers of men (Mark 1:17). While the desire to lead is noble (1 Timothy 3:1), the passion to learn is necessary. Some of the greatest and godliest leaders were/are reluctant. Their absolute reliance on God’s grace thrusts them into a lifelong learning curve. Whatever our accomplishments in the course of a lifetime, Christian leadership is distinguished by the quality of teach-ability. This is most evident in our response to correction. It’s humbling to be corrected. But true learners are eager to know their flaws and be affirmed for their flairs. The process of owning both our flaws and our flairs takes time, but it prepares us for greater influence.
We learn these truths from godly mentors, coaches and soul-friends who God sends our way to shape us for life and ministry. They are antidotes for the pandemic of isolation that cripples so many leaders. The craving for independence and the desire to impress, succeed and excel, converge on us and drive us to go it on our own. This kind of idolatry, with the baggage of stress and frustration, is totally unnecessary. God provides everything essential for life and godliness (2 Peter 1). And His provision is always mediated through people.
3. Called to Lead
God calls every Christ-follower to some form of leadership, whether at home, work, church or community. Faithful leadership in these capacities is equally significant to leadership of an entire organization. If leadership is the ability to influence people toward God’s agenda, then anyone can function as a leader, regardless of office or position.
Differences in the scope of our leadership are linked with our individual stories. Dr. Bobby Clinton’s lifetime study of biblical leaders resulted in what he calls Leader Emergence Theory (LET). His book summarizes the process: http://garyrohrmayer.typepad.com/yourjourneyblog/2012/02/the-making-of-a-leader-j-robert-clinton-free-summary-download-.html . Clinton affirms that God’s calling becomes evident as we gain perspective on the big picture of our lives. It surfaces out of our unique stories.
During my first five-day experience of Focused Living (http://www.leaderbreakthru.com/sovereign-perspective/focused-living.php), I was amazed to discover God’s presence on my journey, commencing when I was born. A full ten years after my ordination, I was visiting with my mother one day when she told me about a defining moment in her life and mine. She said that the moment I was born, the last of four children, she dedicated me to God for “the ministry”. Throughout my childhood and teen years, she never pushed me toward what we used to call “full-time service” but simply encouraged me to follow God’s will. God used her prayers and the influences of other people and circumstances to reveal His calling on my life.
God’s call to lead is more than a momentary impression, or the suggestion of someone who happens to see some potential in us. When we pay attention to the course of our journey, we discern God’s purpose for our lives. We discover the values God speaks into our hearts through the lessons learned during hard times. The more we interact with God’s work in our story, the more we gain a vision of the future He intends for us. We come to see that certain experiences were destiny pointers toward our ultimate contribution. Taken together, the elements of our journey teach us what will be required to have a strong finish, and to leave a lasting legacy.
My next article looks at practical elements of God’s call to lead.