The Leadership Paradox: Trusting God or Trusting Others?

Every church leader (or Christian for that matter) faces a common paradox. We’re expected to trust God for our personal and ministry needs. Yet, we need the help of others. Leading is not a solo effort. So, ho do we strike the balance between trusting God and trusting others?

paradox - isolated word in vintage wood letterpress printing blocks

Recently I noticed that same paradox reflected in the choices made by two famous Biblical characters, Ezra and Nehemiah. In the Message paraphrase below each one took a different route. One just trusted God and didn’t approach the king for help. The other sought help from the king and God worked through that choice.

Ezra 8.21 I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions.  22 I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, “Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him.” 23 So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened.

Neh. 2.7 Then I said, “If it please the king, provide me with letters to the governors across the Euphrates that authorize my travel through to Judah;  8 and also an order to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, to supply me with timber for the beams of The Temple fortress, the wall of the city, and the house where I’ll be living.” The generous hand of my God was with me in this and the king gave them to me.  9 When I met the governors across The River (the Euphrates) I showed them the king’s letters. The king even sent along a cavalry escort.

See the difference? As contrasting as were their decisions, they both made God-honoring ones.

So, what insight can we draw from their experiences when we face a similar situation?

Here’s a thought. The next time you face a ministry choice that requires resources or help, lean in the opposite direction you usually go. If you usually just ‘pray’ and ask God to meet the need, perhaps you should ask others to help meet the need as well. If you tend to go to others first, maybe your first step should be to seek God’s provision before you ask others for their help or insight.

I’ve discovered that God often works in counter-intuitive ways, through avenues outside those most familiar  and comfortable to us.

What do you think about these two options? Do you think leaders tend to show a bias one way or the other?

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How to Plan an Effective Solo Planning Retreat

My undergrad degree is industrial engineering. So, planning comes second nature for me. Yet as a busy pastor I’ve found that I can never get adequate long-term planning done unless I carve out regular extended times away, by myself, away from the office. Here are a few tips I suggest.

Business concept. Isolated on white
  1. Schedule 2-3 personal planning times each year, preferable overnight in a place with no TV. I’ve used retreat centers and a friend’s cabin in the woods. Ideally I’m in such a location that I don’t have to talk to anybody. I’ve found it ideal to plan those times well in advance of ministry seasons (i.e., Aug/Sept for the coming year plans).
  2. Compile a list of items you want to think about on your retreats. I use Outliner on my iPhone/iPad to jot down ideas and thoughts I want to pursue later but don’t have time at the moment to think about. Another great tool across all Mac and PC platforms is Nozbe.
  3. On the retreat, prioritize what you want to plan, starting with the most important. I’ve discovered I never get to everything on my list, but I do get to the priorities.
  4. Schedule you next retreat as your first task. This allows me another block of time to address long-term planning for items I don’t get to on this retreat.
  5. Go expecting that God will guide this process.

What has helped make your planning retreats successful?

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The 10 Most Important Questions You could ever Ask Yourself

Questions reveal a lot about us. Good questions can point us in healthy directions. Great questions can save us from disaster. Several years ago I read a brief article by Donald Whitney, a pastor and seminary professor, who gave me permission to re-print his article that lists 10 important questions. It is outstanding and I’ve included it below.

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Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

What questions would you add to this list?

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Copyright © 2003 Donald S. Whitney.

Copyright Disclaimer: All the information contained on the Center for Biblical Spirituality website is copyrighted by Donald S. Whitney. Permission granted to copy this material in its complete text only for not-for-profit use (sharing with a friend, church, school, Bible study, etc.) and including all copyright information. No portion of this website may be sold, distributed, published, edited, altered, changed, broadcast, or commercially exploited without the prior written permission from Donald S. Whitney.

What I Learned in an Audition for a Commercial

When most people think of improv, the TV show Who’s Line is it Anyway usually comes to mind. I’d seen the show a few times and never envisioned myself taking an improv class. But several years ago I took several classes and had a blast. It also gave me the chance to hang around some people who didn’t embrace Christ.

3D concept

One year my teacher got me an audition as a pastor in the re-make of Nightmare on Elm Street (which ended up being a very bad movie). I didn’t get the part, but after that I auditioned a few times for regional commercials. The roles I played in those auditions ranged from a looking like a medical doctor to pretending I was a 50 year old former professional football player…who danced (I am not lying).

I once even got a callback for a commercial.

That day the casting agency office was crammed with auditioners. I sat in the waiting room facing the entrance door so I was able to see every actor who came in. And I learned an important lesson.

Here’s what I noticed. Every person who walked through the door quickly scanned the faces of every other actor in the room (as did I). What were we doing?

Comparing.

We were subconsciously comparing ourselves with the others who were competing for the same spots.

Although I’m no mindreader, I imagine these questions surfaced.

  • Are these men more handsome than me?
  • Am I prettier than the rest of the women?
  • I wonder how much experience he (or she) has compared to me?
  • Am I dressed as well as the rest?
  • etc, etc.

My short stay in the waiting room of a casting agency reminded me that we naturally tend to compare ourselves with others in most areas of life.

When that happens, two things can occur.

We become proud of our accomplishments, looks, and experience because we think we are better than others.

Or, we berate ourselves for not measuring up to the rest of the crowd.

I went away from this audition with a fresh reminder and desire to follow God’s reminder to Samuel when he was looking for Israel’s new king.

1Sam. 16.7 (MESSAGE) …GOD judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; GOD looks into the heart.

How have you combated the problem of comparing?

By the way, I didn’t get the commercial role. I guess my mind was distracted by comparing too much.

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What Mac & Cheese Taught me about the Needs of Others

A very successful businessman inadvertently taught me a lesson about paying attention to other people’s needs … with macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese in an individual casserole dish with bread crumbs

Several years ago I ate breakfast at my favorite diner with one of our church’s key leaders. He owned a flourishing business and gave quite generously to our church. As I enjoyed the blue plate special of eggs, pancakes, and Canadian bacon, I asked him how business was faring. He described one recent experience with a potential client that brought a smile to my face and a fresh reminder that I must pay closer attention to other people’s stories and needs.

He had scheduled a lunch with a local company CEO and remarked that she ordered only salad and mac & cheese. I thought that a bit odd as did he until he said, “She explained that her favorite food was mac & cheese.”

He then described a second luncheon with this same CEO at this office that he had scheduled for the next Monday. The menu that day? Mac & cheese from six different restaurants.

From a business perspective he ordered this novel lunch menu hoping to make a good impression on a client that might garner him more business. But I thought to myself, What a creative and thoughtful way to touch a person’s life.

His kind gesture may not have brought him new business, but I’m convinced that this CEO will never forget his thoughtfulness. My friend simply paid attention to someone else’s unique interests.

As I drove back to the office after that breakfast and mulled over this mac & cheese luncheon, God impressed these thoughts on me.

  • Do I pay close enough attention to the leaders, friends, and spiritual seekers in my life to discover their unique interests?
  • Do I consider those interests as invitations from God upon which I could capitalize to become a better tool in God’s hands to minister to them?

I don’t think I will ever see mac & cheese in the same way again.

How have you met other people’s practical needs after discovering something unique about him or her?

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