God does not conform us but works to form Christ in us. Transformation is an inside job by God who is our Advocate, our Endorser, and Empowering Presence. He invests in us to make us the best version of who we are created to be. Christ in us is our, and our world’s hope for transformation.
What could occur if church leaders adopted this same posture? Would messages change? Would pastors begin focusing on helping their church members succeed? What kind of impact and influence could be released into our world if our leaders worked to empower people just as God does?
I have the smallest inkling based upon my own awakening to how leaders should serve others. In 2010, I walked away from a church system that rewarded those who attracted followers, to attempt something different. Below is a small snippet of what happened as a result.
What God values
In mid-2011 a friend contacted me after attending a conference on Christian Philanthropy, asking if I knew one of the speakers (name withheld). I did not know him, but apparently at lunch with my friend afterward, this gentleman mentioned that I had ministered to him and an associate in 2007.
My friend reported that this man had presented the clearest, most powerful vision he had ever heard for Christian philanthropy. He also said that whatever I had spoken to he and his friend in 2007 had strongly impacted him. After a little digging, I discovered this gentleman was leading a new charity organization that was creating a buzz in many circles.
A few months later while he was traveling in my area, this gentleman invited me to dinner. When we met at the restaurant he was sick, had forgotten his wallet, and yet may have been the most personable individual I had ever met. As our conversation unfolded he made his intentions clear, ‘I want to get more of God in my organization.’
By now I was well acquainted with the story of his organization. It was a remarkable charity based in NYC that had taken the nonprofit world by storm. Though he was a strong believer his organization was not ‘christian.’ The charity was (and is) creative, innovative, popular, and successful. It was impressive on every level.
Substance and progress
When I asked what he meant by ‘wanting more of God in the organization,’ he said, ‘we don’t pray together that much.’ I replied, ‘85% of your donors don’t identify as Christians. You have tech zillionaire’s acting generously. You have miraculous provision. Your staff uses no profanity (in NYC!) and you want more of God in your organization? It appears he’s already in there.’
Organizations praying together is routine, but something unique was happening with his group. I then realized how bizarrely we think. We value religious practices while failing to appreciate the progress, advancement, and impact that is happening. Our values are misaligned.
Our values should be anchored to substance, progress, and transformation, not religious compliance or appearance. Leaders who value religious practice while devaluing progress and substance model God poorly. I love prayer, but prayer is not the goal. The goal is impact, accompishment, and success. Prayer is only a means.
My new friend requested to connect via Skype or phone periodically – which I was happy to do. On one of our first sessions, he mentioned that a legendary band was promoting his organization on their tour. Between sets they were showing videos highlighting his work, requesting concertgoers become financial supporters. I was amazed, but he was troubled.
He asked me, ‘Is God okay with this? ‘ There was no illegal behavior; he was just concerned about the ‘darkness in the whole music scene.’ I responded that according to the Bible, Daniel loved Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon) and served him. He jumped in his chair, making furious notes of it all.
Co-opted and undermined
I was amazed at his humility and realized that it could be used against him rather than to advance him. I think about this frequently related to my friend and other like him because these people are crucial for transforming our societies. Keeping these rainmakers free from those that want to control them wrongly is crucial.
Over the next
They suggested their networks could grow his organization, but they really wanted his influence to grow their own. This is a significant problem today – churches co-opting those succeeding in the world to grow congregations, at the expense of the furthering the Kingdom in the world. This squanders the potential these strategic individuals have to bear influence in our world. I encouraged him to maintain his personal and organizational sovereignty.
It is all supernatural
During this time ‘the supernatural’ was being highlighted to grow churches in ways that undermined many people’s confidence. In his humility, my friend might have been tempted to feel ‘less than’ when comparing his own experience against churches that were ‘supernatural.’ Godly leaders should encourage, not undermine people in who they are and how God uses them.
I reminded him of a unique idea he had at the beginning of his organization. It was revolutionary at the time and had proven wildly successful over the years. I asked him, ‘you realize that idea was ‘God speaking to you,’ right? It is as supernatural as anything you see from church platforms.’ He was honestly hesitant to believe it.
‘You mean my ideas are as much from God as words of knowledge for healing?’ I said, ‘More so because your ideas work.’ He made the connection at this point – God was ‘speaking to him.’ He needed to value it as much as any ‘supernatural display’ he had seen on platforms in meetings .
One of my primary focuses was keeping him from being undermined or co-opted by those who wanted to use him to further their own success. He was (and still is) extending the Kingdom of God in remarkable ways in our world. Guarding and protecting these rainmakers is crucial.
My ability to help keep him from being co-opted was dependent on me being free from wrong motives. If I were tempted to use my gifts to draw his attention to me instead of investing them to help him do what he was called to do, I would fail. This is the test of Christian leadership.
I received key input for him at times, including dreams that came to pass within minutes of contacting him. That input was for his benefit though, not mine. Using my gifts to create opportunities for myself would have been wrong. He impacts the elite. Serving him accomplished a greater good.
When he was completing his autobiography I received an email from him. He had a dream that seemed to be a warning about his son, was troubled, and was looking for input. I responded and got an auto-reply that he was unavailable for a month, completing his manuscript. Moments later I received a text from him asking if we could talk by phone.
I told him the dream was not about his son, but about his own life as a teenager. I asked, ‘Why did you rebel as a teenager?’ He responded, ‘that is the million dollar question’ and that this factored prominently in his book. I explained the dream, why he had rebelled as a teenager, and the necessity of explaining this correctly in his book.
He ended up rewriting significant portions of his book, which became a New York Times Bestseller when it was released. This rewrite was important. As a result, his book clearly communicated about the gospel and God’s heart. This might be the most strategic input I brought.
Leaders who serve
This is just a snapshot of my involvement with this gentleman and how I helped him. His work is remarkable. His influence and impact
In spite of my focus on him, he always asked about my endeavors. He had my two sons
Our goal is not becoming as popular or as widely known as possible; it is inspiring and helping others fulfill their own purpose in the world. Making them enamored with us in ways that deter their own vision, is a failure. Our calling as leaders is not creating followers – it is helping people find their place in the world – and fulfill it.
The job of christian leaders is empowering people to fulfill the mandate of redeemed humanity – extending God’s Kingdom on the earth. We fail if we convert people to become apologists for church growth instead. My friend is doing something remarkable in the world; his gifts would be wasted if co-opted wrongly by ‘the church.‘
Learn the lessons
In the coming days, many like my friend will awaken to God’s purposes for their lives. If we do not find a better path of Christian leadership these individuals will co-opted by the church growth industry, and the world will not receive what God gifted them to bring.
We cannot let this happen to another generation. Our view of Christian leadership and how it functions in our world must become clearer so we lead people to the Lord, His plan, and their purpose. Doing this gives us our best chance to a bring about a new and better world.