Vol 4:18 Mission and Leading Christ’s Community – Part 14: Leading and Praying

Our church board includes as a regular practice the reading of a missional book together. This year we are reading Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns of Missional Faithfulness. This past week at our board meeting we talked about Pattern 6 – Dependence on the Holy Spirit – which is a chapter on the role of prayer in the life of a missional church.

Prayer is not only a key aspect of discerning the leading of the Spirit, helping us develop sensitivity to becoming aware of where and how God is active in the world, but also, I believe prayer is a key element in exercising the gift of leading if we are to participate in cultivating missional congregations.

When churches ask of their pastors to be strong leaders, this can often be interpreted as being leaders who know what they want, where they are headed, and how to lead a church to get there. Often, such leading is expected to be displayed in the character of the leader. However, I think such “strength” of leadership can often oppose a sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading.

Often “strong leadership” focuses on a pastoral leader taking charge, setting direction, etc., and it is dependent more on the leader and their vision, than a being sensitive to being guided by the Spirit.

Now, yes, many pastoral leaders would object to this caricaturization of their roles, because they would express that it is not their vision they are expressing, but what they believe God would have them do. Perhaps, this is the case, but I wonder to what extent prayer plays a role – is it the first action in exercising the gift of leading, or is it something that is done after a pastoral leader faces a struggle or impasse?

I propose that the first act of leading is not putting our ideas out there, but rather, developing practices which develop within us a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, discerning where the Spirit is moving within our communities, discovering awareness of where God is active in the world, seeing “signs” of how as congregations we are to participate with God in God’s mission in the world. Such practices, I believe call us to regard prayer and praying as the first act of effectively exercising our gifts of leading.

After all, we are not called to express our own ministry agendas, but rather we are called to lead a community of people to be open to the activity of the Spirit in their lives so that we may see where God is active in us and in our world. This requires a sensitivity of pastoral leaders to the moving of the Spirit – and as Pattern 6 describes of Treasure in Clay Jars, that sensitivity only comes through our embracing prayer and praying as a primary aspect of our leading.

In prayer, it is not so much laying out our requests to God, but in being in communication with God, we place ourselves in a posture where we develop a greater sensitivity to the things of God; we develop our ability to be more open to the ways of God and hearing the word of God and seeing the activity of God in the world. Prayer is not about what we have to say, but about growing to be in a place where we become more deeply aware of God’s missional action all around us – a missional action in which we are called to participate as missional communities.

A person who is in a posture of prayer before God, open to the Spirit, will be one who is more effective in leading, than one who displays all the “right” characteristics or qualities of leadership in their own self. Scripture, after all, is full of characteristic non-leaders whom God was able to use to advance God’s reign in the world because they relied on the Spirit of God, rather than relying upon themselves – indeed when they did rely upon themselves, they more or less made a mess of things. May we discover that true leading begins with placing ourselves in a posture of prayer open to God.

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