We live in a world that seeks to conform us to its image, while scripture teaches us that we are to be transformed into the image of Christ. The process of overcoming the expectations of our culture begins with presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1-2) The Lord recently emphasized these points to me through a dream and when I awoke, in my spirit I heard him clearly say, “Become who you were created to be, not who others want you to be.” I realized that this battle is greater than we often realize it to be. Frequently, even our church leaders place expectations on the “congregation” to be what is expected or what is needed rather than helping guide them to fulfill their own destiny. As pastors, itinerant leaders and even marketplace ministers we must learn to present our bodies (those we lead) a living sacrifice that will be acceptable to the Lord and let Him be the one to shape them and mold them into what He has planned for them.
The expression of this act of obedience comes in two forms. First, we must not conform others into the image of our expectations for them and second we must be willing to accept them in the package they in which they come as being usable by God. When I awoke from my dream I also heard in my spirit, “Accept others for who they are instead of who you want them to be and they will see more of Jesus in you.” I have often taught that the tattooed and pierced must be accepted by the church because God has a plan for their lives as much as those in the three piece suit, but when I heard these words, I felt a depth to this message that went far beyond such surface understanding. It is essential that we begin to realize the unique characteristics of each individual’s gifts and their expressions of faith instead of expecting them to look like us. For leaders this can be extremely difficult, as many of us have had to overcome a system that forced our vision to conform to a church board or deacon body’s expectations. Yet, in the same way we found it necessary to become capable of expressing the vision God placed inside of us, we must become instruments in God’s hands to release the vision that He (not their own desires) has placed within others.
As I pondered these ideas, I was reminded of something I learned from my spiritual father, John Paul Jackson. There are at least three phases to the Christian life – the survival mode, the building mode and the blessing mode. These mindsets impact the way we see others and the way we carry out our ministry. By evaluating where we are in connection to these mindsets, we can get a better feel for how much we are placing our expectations upon others and whether or not we are trying to conform them to our spiritual world view of help them transform into who they were created to be. I realized as I pondered that these mindsets describe our journey from initial salvation into maturity, but they also describe our journey from the point of recognizing our call of ministry to the place of becoming a mature leader in ministry.
Survival – when we become a Christian we are so thankful that we have escaped hell that we often just want to know that we will make it to heaven, that is, we just want to survive the rest of our time on the earth. We are not thinking of how our lives can impact others, but what can others do to help us live and understand this new spiritual walk. As leaders, this same principle often applies. People have begun to look to us for guidance and direction and we sometimes find ourselves just wanting to maintain that new calling. This does not mean our motives are corrupt or that our actions are exclusively selfish, but it does mean that the joy of walking into that new role can create a fear of losing the “position” we find ourselves in or the “title” we have been given. Godly leaders are often mature enough when they first respond to the call of God to move from this place almost as quickly as they enter it. For those leaders who do spend time in this place, it can be difficult as their “leadership survival instinct” locks them into a leadership mode that unconsciously expects others to conform to their image and their vision so that they feel appreciated and successful.
Building – as we mature in our walk with Christ, we begin to realize that it is He who sustains us and we don’t have to work just to survive, but rather our life as a believer has a greater purpose than just getting to heaven. Somewhere on our journey of faith we cross a boundary into the recognition that we have a job to do and should be a part of building the Kingdom of God in the earth. In this place, believers want to advance the Kingdom, but have some level of expectation or another that the role others play is to help them fulfill their vision of expansion. They help others primarily because it is needed to get the help they need. Thankfully most leaders make this transition in their leadership almost transparently upon stepping into their role. In this mindset, a leader pursues the process of advancing the Kingdom, but often continues to expect others to conform to their vision, simply because they are the one the vision was given to. In other words, they serve the body with the primary goal of getting the body to support the vision that God gave them. This is the place where most leaders spend most of their time. After all, isn’t that what being a leader is supposed to be about – building the Kingdom? This is not necessarily a bad place to be as a leader, yet it is not the highest.
Blessing – this is the place that a mature believer reaches when they realize that giving is not about getting something back in return. Here the believer recognizes that it truly is the Kingdom that is important and that their own calling or gifts are simply one part of the process through which the Kingdom is advanced and often only a very small part of that process. Now the believer no longer seeks to serve others in order to get what they need, but rather begins to see the value in helping others fulfill their call with the knowledge that as they do this, others in the body will also reach this level of maturity and help them as well. This is a subtle distinction from the Building mindset, but an important one. This too is a subtle difference in a leader, but an even more important one at that level. A leader with a Blessing mentality does not lay aside their vision, but rather realizes that the greater vision is to help others fulfill their purpose and that in so doing, God will orchestrate the fulfillment of their own. This is a place where a leader begins to recognize the significance of Ephesians 4, particularly verses 15 and 16:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)
A Godly leader who speaks the truth in love, is able to help others fit in the right place and work properly without ever laying aside his or her own vision, thus enabling the body to grow and build itself up in that love. In this way a Godly leader’s vision is carried forward not by demanding more of those around him/her or expecting them to all look like him/her, but through acknowledging who those around him are called to be and equipping them to become who they were created to be rather than what he wants or even “needs” them to be.