Several years ago, I was part of a ministry whose board of directors had some personality issues that interfered with the operation of the ministry. The issues were not immoral, nor were they evil in nature … they were personality issues that stemmed from how they were discipled in Christ. As I analyzed the situation, it appeared that the root problem was that the leadership style was more corporate leadership style than a Biblical servant leadership style. Some of the board members owned businesses where they controlled and managed their work lives around being the boss and being the sole decision-maker. There were other issues where attitude and dominance would be suspect when put under the microscope … practices that would be opposite of what you would expect from a Christian non-profit. So, I started to notice how people were trained in their leadership practices based on a discipleship model taught in the Scriptures.
Several on that board were perplexed over the spirit that had taken over the ministry. As we discussed this fact, I had this thought. Many people have not been discipled by anyone, and therefore are running on a different set of rules than what is expected by the Gospel. In other words, their training was inadequate for what they were positioned to do. In practical terms, this problem of training can be identified not only in how someone uses their leadership skills to control things, but also as a statement of missing the foundational teaching in Christ that accents compassion, discernment, and character development.
Over the years, I have worked with many leaders in the church. Most of them had the right ideas of how to lead people and create an environment for personal and corporate growth. However, how we exercise our leadership gift can always be traced back to how we were trained. This is true in all walks of life. If we were not trained in producing a service or product that was exceptional, we would easily just get the job done, regardless of the quality. In discipleship-making, the right training is essential. Learning to be the only Gospel people may see is a tremendous responsibility. People watch how we behave, and listen to our words, and if there is a discrepancy between those two, our witness (and even our representation of Christ) is instantly put in jeopardy.
Training begins by understanding God. He is the one we are being trained to represent, so unless we understand Him, our training will be harder to complete and be correct. Knowing God’s immutable characteristics are essential:
1. God never changes. He is always the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He is the same God in the Old Testament as in the New Testament. He never changes.
2. God is both Grace and Justice. He loves and He judges. The modern church has failed to present the side of God that no one wants to hear: He will judge the living and the dead, and His judgment comes down to, “What did you do for Jesus?”
3. Salvation is His goal … not religion. Religion can be toxic because it replaces the relationship we are to have with Jesus. Religious activity follows the dictates of the religion rites rather than being in a relationship with Jesus.
4. God warns and prepares us. He reveals His plans to His servants as Amos 3:7 points out, God does not surprise us. Learning His Word helps us to discern God’s intentions in the world.
5. God’s mercy is new every day. God’s forgiveness is always available for those who fail at life. God does not remember the sins we have confessed, and He has forgiven us.
Being trained with the right information about God is the foundation of good discipleship. Too often today there are teachings about God that are figments of our imagination that are not consistent with the Scriptures. I find people quoting principles coming out from popular authors rather than the Bible. There are distortions about God everywhere in literature and from pulpits, often selling ideas about God that are not in keeping with who He is as described by Scripture. Modern doctrines of prosperity, the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit, replacement theology or supersessionism, the hyper-grace movements, and the emphasis on race and social justice. There are many more themes that are competing for our attention, but all are distortions from the truth found in His Word. If God never changes, then new doctrines are not new … they are distortions.
When God is revealed only as love in our presentations, that is a distortion of His nature and ignores His justice. Recently, I heard a pastor say that it is not our responsibility to confront anything, all we are to do is love people and let God do the rest. If that were the case, you could never teach about the Ten Commandments because that confronts people with God’s ideas on how to live. We do not need to apologize for what God calls truth. His truth is what the human heart needs to hear, (and most often rejects,) but that does not mean we recalibrate truth to pacify the offended.
How you were trained or discipled will be the emphasis you bring to others. Our objective is not to read into the Scriptures, but to let the Scriptures read into us.
Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler