Vol 4:16 Mission and Leading Christ’s Community – Part 12: Leading is Not Controlling

In the adult class of the community I serve as pastor we are exploring Jack Levinson’s book, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life. In the chapter on Joel’s Dream, Levinson expresses something about the gift of leading:

“A better leader, a greater leader, a preeminent leader, allows the spirit to authorize people who lie outside of his or her control. And those who lie outside a leader’s control may not be those whom the leader can control at all!” (p. 98).

Levinson was writing about Eldad and Medad, whom Joshua wanted Moses to silence because they were prophesying without having been part of the group in which God took a portion of Moses’ spirit and placed it upon the seventy elders, who were empowered to share Moses’ burden (cf. Numbers 11: 1-30). Levinsin points out Moses’ response to Joshua as interesting. Moses is elated that Eldad and Medad, though they were not part of the 70 are filled with the Spirit and prophesying – “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them” (Numbers 11:29).

And these two unauthorized apart from the authorized seventy were prophesying – and not under Moses’ control. But as Levinson expresses, “Yet the spirit does control them, and the best leader, who knows this, can like Moses, relinquish control to the spirit” (p. 98).

What practice can we take from this for the exercise of our pastoral leading?

I think as pastors we often take control of the ministry of our churches, the vision of our ministries, the people of our communities, because we trust ourselves more than we trust God’s Spirit amongst us. We may trust the Spirit moving in us, but we are suspicious of the Spirit moving in others, especially if the Spirit moves in ways that are different than our own experience. We are aware of our call by God for engaging in ministry, but we question or wonder about the extent or depth of the Spirit’s call upon the lives of others. Since, we are unsure of how the Spirit may or may not be active in others, we find it easier just to exert spiritual control – being the ones who can give sole expression to how the Spirit is to move.

But that is not leadership, that is not exercising the gift of leading – that is a form of lording it over others, a form of control, actually a form of arrogance. Yet, in becoming aware of this, we might still respond with John’s words about being careful to test the spirits (cf. 1 John 4:1) – how can we be sure the people we are seeking to pastor, to lead, to disciple are indeed under the influence of God’s Spirit?

Well, I think it takes more than just running programs, casting vision, taking charge, being out front with the big picture – I believe it requires us as pastors to walk alongside with the people we are called to serve for us to discover, to see, the Spirit active not only in us, but throughout the entire community we are called to serve. Leading then, requires more walking alongside with God’s people, hanging out where they hang out, inviting them to hang out with us, sharing in their lives, they sharing in our life – a lot like it must have been like with Jesus and his disciples, and then after Pentecost, like the Spirit with the people of God. In discovering how the Spirit is active in each person’s life enables us to guide and shape people, not in our own image, but to be more open and yielding to the presence of God’s Spirit – particularly through engaging God’s Story and Vision, prayer and spiritual conversation.
And if it is another spirit that is active, we are more able, along with the rest of the community, to set one free, as we walk with them and lead them to being set free from influences contrary to the life-giving purpose of God. Testing of the spirits, I believe is not to be done far off, but can only be done as we walk alongside with one another.

To lead effectively, to lead in the way of Christ cannot happen from being out in front of the people of God, nor above the people of God, rather it requires us to be among and with the people of God, breathing the same air, sharing the same lives, having the same experiences. We are called to be in the midst of what people are struggling with, in the midst of the joys, and hopes as well as the despairs and discouragements. It is in the midst of life, in the messiness of life in which the Spirit is poured out upon all humanity, upon the people of God who are community, which is the context of leading, the context in which the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh. And rather than having ownership of the Spirit, we recognize that the Spirit has ownership of us, control of us – ownership of the people of the community and control of the community.

So, rather than seeking to curtail the moving of the Spirit, may we be open to discover the myriad ways the Spirit moves through the different personalities, different passions, different gifts of persons within our community. And rather than trying to control the Spirit, as pastors, can we not try to learn to sail in the wind of the Spirit and invite others to unfurl their sails as well so that we as a community move and live at the behest of the moving Spirit?

Such a living in the presence of the Spirit is an adventure – adventures cannot be controlled all that well, though we prepare ourselves for them. As we lived prepared to encounter the Spirit and to see the Spirit active around us, let us be open to engage in the adventure that is the outworking of God’s redemptive mission in the world in which God is making all things new.

  1. Linda Wiens says:

    The terms “walking alongside each other” and “hanging out with one another” suggest a casual, even lazy approach to a possible life in the Spirit. I know that is not the intent here.

    So we might want to think about ourselves as “facilitators” or “helpers” through whom God implements His redemptive mission. If we see ourselves that way we take responsibility – but not ALL the responsibility.

    When I realize I need to curb my drive, my need for control, or my push for the results I think needed, that realization is usually due to major obstacles or resistance. That signal, even though late, can cause me to ask, “What of this is REALLY up to me?” – “Might God have a different plan than I do?” – “How is facilitating different from leading in this situation?”

    These and some other questions, humbly asked, may well grant us God’s good answers, God’s peace, and the goodwill and collaboration of others.

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