The beginning of a new year.
The end of a very difficult and painful year for many. I watched the new year celebrations on TV and I thought I was living in some sort of dystopian novel. The presenter was talking about how wonderful 2022 had been, and I was wondering what he’d been smoking. Or drinking.
2022 was hard. No question. So much suffering for so many. And more on the horizon.
Yet here we are, looking forward at the start of a new year. So, let’s consider what we find in the Bible when it comes to beginnings.
In the beginning God . . .
In the beginning was the Word . . .
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . .
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
I’m sure you can see a theme here. It’s not hard to spot. In the Scriptures, it is God who initiates, who acts. He is the one who leaps forward, who creates, speaks and stoops to do business with his creation. He is the supreme initiative-taker. We are the recipient of his creative acts, his redemptive work, his ongoing mission to restore the world, to save it, to make it new again. He calls out his people, leads them, dies for them, sends his Spirit to live and work all things to his glory.
SEEK GOD WHERE HE IS ALREADY WORKING
At the beginning of the year, it is very tempting for leaders to think of new initiatives. To look “leaderly,” some leaders believe they have to be seen to be doing new things. New projects. New groups. New, new, new. This is because they believe—falsely—that good leaders should be out front being seen to initiate. First, let me recognise that there is nothing wrong with initiating new activities, new ways of doing things. I don’t wish to quench the Holy Spirit’s leading if, as a leader, you believe God is calling you to start up something new.
However . . .
I remember some wise advice from a godly leader, delivered to me many years ago.
The best thing a leader can do is seek out where God is already at work and go and join in.
Thunk. That one has sat on my soul for a long time. Think about it for a moment. Where God is already at work. Instead of feeling the pressure to lead by initiating, a good leader seeks out where God is already at work. That’s because . . . well, I just quoted some examples above . . . God is the one who initiates, who acts, who speaks, who leads his people. Christ is the head of the church (Colossians) and by his Spirit, he works within the church to lead it and helps its members grow.
What does that mean for leaders?
LISTEN TO YOUR PEOPLE
A lot of churches have formal ways for people to serve and grow. Coffee serving, kids’ groups, home groups, food banks, prayer nights etc. These are all well and good. They are important. However, if a leader only thinks of God’s action taking place in these formal spaces, then that is a mistake. God is at work in many ways that are outside the formal set-up found in many churches. God groups people together to reach his world and teach his people that don’t fall into the formally recognised structures presented by the church. Therefore, a good leader needs to become a good listener. Listen to your people and seek out where God is working both inside and outside your formal structures.
Some leaders are threatened by God’s work taking place outside formal structures. This is both a misunderstanding of godly leadership and a sign of immaturity and insecurity. Other leaders, upon hearing of activity outside formal structures, are tempted to co-opt this activity and set it within recognised, formal structures. The men’s bike group, the women’s hang-gliding club (!), the food bank volunteers who decide to go off and pray for the homeless—once these people are identified, they are then told to name their group and submit a paragraph for the website. Following that, they are invited onto the stage at a Sunday service and interviewed. Wow, just look at us, our leader is starting up such amazing outreach activities! This is all done in the name of “support.”
May I encourage a different approach?
First, when you identify something exciting taking place outside formal structures, simply stand back and worship your initiating God. He is the one who has sent those three families down their street with cookies at Christmas for the neighbours. You didn’t do that. He did. So please don’t be tempted to formalise the activity by creating a “Neighbourhood Christmas Cookie” group. Just leave them alone to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit without taking this activity and publishing it on your website.
Second, “and go and join in.” How can a leader join in? Didn’t you just say keep away? Actually, no. I think a leader can join in by exercising some humility and asking a simple question, “What can I do to support you?” Don’t force people to publicise what they’re doing, but do offer whatever support they believe they might need to follow their calling. To make more cookies, we could do with some extra hands in the kitchen. Great. I won’t give yet another notice on Sunday, I’ll ask the Lord to lead me to people who might help. After all, the Lord is leading his people, he’s not asking you to take over and lead. He’s already working! He’s already raising up his people to serve, heal, teach, love his world. And he doesn’t need publicity on Sunday or a spot on the website. He’s quite capable of achieving his goals without your help. So, as we start this new year, may I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open for God’s initiatives in your church community. He’s already at work. He never stops leading his people.
Leaders must remember that the Lord’s activity is beyond the control of their programmes, their announcements, their websites. Invisibly, within his followers, the Lord leads his people by his Spirit. So, don’t quench the Spirit. Instead, be encouraged when you hear of wonderful things happening that the Lord is doing. After all, the Church’s purpose is to give glory to God, not the leader.
But I’m sure you knew that.
Be encouraged as you begin this new year. The Lord is already at work!
Give him glory.