“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 2 Cor. 10:12-18
All young leaders need encouragement, and sometimes correction. Some young leaders are timid, always looking inward, and wanting circumstances to be “right” before they can faithfully fulfill the call of God. Other young leaders seek to do too much too soon. They idolize celebrity preachers seeking to by-pass the growth period and discipline necessary to produce lasting fruit. They repeat what they have heard, the stories of those they idolize, but fail to endure hardships that prove God’s faithfulness in their own lives. In order for “our sphere of activity among you [to] greatly expand,” as Paul the apostle suggests, we need both a clear vision and a work in “regions beyond you.”
In fairness to young leaders, it is also true that too often older leaders- those who ought to be mature, “boast” of their vision to “change the world.” See James Davidson Hunter’s book, To Change the World.) Hunter provides a penetrating appraisal of several approaches of Christian leaders to change the world. He highlights their inherent flaws and the presumption of ministry leaders. What is too often ignored is this: change implies power. Christians seeking to change the world have all eventually embraced strategies of political engagement. Sadly however, few Christians are taught a theology of power or how to engage the world.
In this post, I am offering an important foundational understanding necessary to grow as leaders and ministries as we obey Christ’s command to “make disciples of nations,” to change the world.
There is a tension in any growth. Babies cry when they are teething and small children cry when their bones are growing. There is always a painful maturing process if we are to grow. It is painful for an individual to grow in giftings and calling. It is painful for a ministry to develop leadership teams. And it is painful for families of churches, ministries, and organizations to learn to network and cooperate in their calling to make disciples of nations.
During the past 1500+ years, the Church has been led by people, mostly men, with two primary giftings: pastors and teachers. The tension of growth naturally feels uncomfortable for anyone, but especially painful for pastors and teachers. Both pastors and teachers want to protect and teach their members in a safe environment of learning and growing in the Lord. A safe place to hear and study the Bible is very important. I thank God for the protection and wisdom of leaders who watch and pray in Christian communities. However, putting too much emphasis on safety and a kind of lecture-style learning-without-doing will stifle the growth of leaders and ministries.
We Need Everyone to Help
Have you heard that before? “We all need to help right now!” When we work with a ministry or church, including a Youth With A Mission location, we are challenged to take up the urgent issues that frequently emerge in any growing ministry. YWAM particularly, at its foundation, is a pioneering apostolic organization. There will always be an urgent call to reach into “regions beyond.” This is consistent with YWAM’s global calling. Why? Because there will never be enough people, money, or time to do all we are called to do. Actually, it’s also consistent with the calling of any church community. Jesus did tell all of his followers to “Go into all the world…” (Mk. 16:15) and “Make disciples of every nation.” (Mt. 28:18-19)
When a church or ministry location leader calls his or her staff team or volunteer leaders to help in the urgent issues of the moment, every one of them is under pressure to lay aside their “primary call,” if they know what that is. Their “primary call” may or may not be directly related to the urgent issue at hand. This urgent call is always to action, rebelling against the status quo, and not to the tension-free lecture hall experience of most church experiences. Of course, this tension between individual and corporate callings presents an opportunity to grow and mature in the Lord far more fruitfully than if they remain in a safe, secure, and relatively inactive lecture setting.
It is not only the proactive call to action that creates this tension; it also comes as a reaction to crisis. When times are tough, the natural tendency of any community, including a YWAM community, is to hunker down, to enter into a spiritual warfare mode. It may or may not be readily apparent, but “battle lines” are increasingly drawn, and the whole community is mobilized to meet the urgent challenge of the moment through prayer, sacrificial giving, and long hours of sacrificial service. Making this kind of urgent call is actually proper for pioneering and apostolic leaders and it is proper for the community to rally to help.
However, if this rallying to help is not sufficiently aimed toward the apostolic purposes of reaching new spheres or territories, the community will become in-grown. If the reactive “battle” rages on and on without time for reflection, for creative and re-creative thinking, and without releasing initiatives of pioneering activity, the members of the community will grow weary. (Of course, the community may also become ingrown where there is no “battle cry,” where the members of the community are without direction and focus. We can discuss this in a later post.)
When there is a continual “battle,” the community can take on an “us against the world” cultural ethos. If unchecked, this ethos can result in organizational silos growing taller. Those organizational silos can be departmentalism within an organization, or they can become wider organizational silos between political groups, church denominations, or cultural Christian identities. When it happens in a ministry or church, worldviews shrink, attitudes narrow and positions tighten. Unaware, the increasingly in-grown community will begin to find fault in the leaders and criticize anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Some members seeking to grow may feel disloyal, and they may be labeled “rebellious” if they raise questions that point out an increasingly ingrown ethos.
About the Apostolic and Prophetic
This tension between the ministry organization or church community and the apostolic visionary impulse to pioneer is normal. This is what Paul is writing about to the Corinthian community about “spheres of activity” greatly expanding into “regions beyond.” However, this expansion of growth does not automatically occur; it requires spiritual leaders with apostolic and prophetic gifts, those with vision to expand ministry outside cultural boundaries, and those who bring a “check” or correction to leaders and communities who cannot see outside their cultural boundaries.
This “check” against organizational silos comes from a prophetic gifting. Prophets are called to “build up,” but they are also called to “tear down.”
See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and teardown, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10
Perhaps the reason the Church has splintered into hundreds of denominations and local churches split and individuals hop from church community to church community is because their has not been a sufficient understanding and appreciation for the apostolic and prophetic leadership giftings? Perhaps our communities would grow more and more in unity if we appreciated all five of the leadership gifts Christ gave to the Church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers?
Just a thought. What do you think?