A retired army colonel once told me that in this world there were four kinds of people, of which the army could use only three. First, the army needs smart, creative people who know their field and can think strategically. These become generals and admirals. Second, they need smart, non-creative people who know how to get things done with efficiency. These become lower officers, sergeants, corporals, and chief petty officers. Finally, they need dumb, non-creative people who will do what they are told. These make ideal privates and enlisted personnel. The fourth kind of people are dumb, creative people who do things their way, even when they have no idea what they are doing. These people have no place in the army. This kind may have no place in the army, but the church is full of them!
The Bible gives us a chain of command much simpler than the military: Christ is the head, and no one else. We are His body. We don’t have to be creative, we just listen and follow Jesus.
Nevertheless, most Christians are not really fond of this arrangement. We prefer making and following our own plans. We all want to be generals. Church leaders think of ourselves as God’s field commanders, with God sitting far away from the battle at some distant headquarters in heaven. We think that God has left us to order the troops for battle any way we can. Not only do we accept this, but we question whether anyone who feels differently is really working for God.
There are lazy Christians, to be sure. And it is also true that we sometimes carry responsibilities to lead in God’s name. But in my judgment, this is not a major problem among church leaders. A more common problem is that we really don’t trust our Commander. It is easier for us to do all the strategic thinking than to listen for God’s voice.
We are practical deists. We think God gave us the Bible and left us alone, delegating day-to-day decision-making to poor fools like ourselves. Ambitious and self-important leaders prefer it that way. God might interfere with our plans.
If God gave us Jesus and the Bible, then left the world alone, this view would be right. It would be up to us to plan the strategy. But God is not dead, He is alive, and He hasn’t left the earth. Jesus’ body may have ascended into heaven, but the Holy Spirit is still here and communicating with us on a daily basis, not only through the written Word but also through His presence within us. So why are we concerning ourselves with strategic thinking? That’s His job.
The church on earth often models its leadership style after business, politics, and sports. We are obsessed with developing strategic plans for victory. Just go to a Christian bookstore and look in the leadership section, and you will find scores of titles on Christian leadership. Many of the writers are trained to be leaders in business and sports. Yet rarely do we find books on being a follower. There are many books for generals in the Kingdom of God, but few books for privates.
God does not promise to reveal to us His plans to win the world. Instead, He asks that we be faithful in doing our job, wherever we are. The psalmist writes in Psalm 131, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty, nor do I concern myself with great things, or things too wonderful for me.” Instead of worrying about big plans, we should attend to small things such as being loving toward those around us and faithful in our private behavior and attitudes.
Game theory dictates that human contests have two kinds of objectives, finite and infinite. Finite objectives are measurable and winnable in a limited amount of time. They include gaining territory, defeating enemies, overthrowing governments, et cetera. Finite objectives in the church include raising funds, building sanctuaries, reaching membership goals, lobbying for legislation, and so on. These are the objectives we prefer, because we can do them and have a sense of accomplishment afterwards. Infinite objectives are not measurable but are much more important. They include staying alive, keeping our values, preserving our culture, and being like Jesus.
In the end, finite values always come out on top. We can achieve all our finite goals but if we lose our values we lose overall. The Romans, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Nazis all thought they had defeated the Jews because they achieved their finite objectives against them. They sacked Israel, ruled over the territory, and sent the Jews into exile. But in the end, the Jews won while these mighty empires went onto the rubbish heap of history. As long as only a handful of the Jews survived and kept their culture and faith, they won.
This is also true of Christians. We have lost the strategy battle to be the dominating faith of Western societies. Since 1982, the church has lost half of its adherents and is losing more all the time. We have lost the cultural center stage and we are not getting it back any time soon.
But the infinite objective of the church is still there, and we cannot lose. We still follow Jesus. As long as we continue to follow, we win no matter what happens in the world. One day, no matter what happens in Western culture, Christ followers will win because we still follow.
So if we do away with strategic thinking, what do we put in its place? How do we know the right path to follow? In place of strategic thinking goes spiritual discernment. It is the job of every Christian leader to listen to what God is saying.
Discernment isn’t easy. It isn’t enough to have an opening prayer for guidance at meetings and go on with our planning. It takes time and effort to quiet our inner ideas and hear the voice of the Spirit. It is hard not because God speaks softly, but because we are not inclined to hear Him. It takes real humility to hear His voice. We must set aside our business, cleverness, and egos long enough to hear Him, and pray Jesus’ prayer, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
When we do hear God, the first thing He calls us to is to be still. Following God isn’t about what we are doing but what we are. Before we can evangelize the world, transform society, reform worship, or rescue the poor, we must think, feel, and behave like Him.
A soldier is not sent out on the field until he learns to be a soldier. God’s work cannot be done unless we become like God. If we accomplish good things in the world without first loving God, we are merely sounding brass or clanging cymbals.
Some may say, “But someone has to lead. Why not me? Didn’t God make me with a desire to be a leader?” Did God put in Satan the desire to lead? Or Hitler? Who said that a desire to lead is the same as a call to lead; or a desire to speak, the same as a call to speak?
The sad and scary truth is this: no one is qualified to lead without God. The problems of this world are too complex for our puny minds to imagine. We may know the Bible, but that in itself is not enough. We also need the continuing presence of the life-giving Spirit. Until we have God’s wisdom, we should keep our minds on small matters, things we can understand.
The first command that we teach a dog is “Sit.” Once the dog learns to sit still, we can teach it other things. When we learn to sit in stillness before God, and to be content to let Him be in control, only then may we follow Him in greater endeavors. The first command God teaches us, the only command that matters, is to sit until ordered otherwise.
The church doesn’t need any more generals. We just need to start listening to the one we have. If we are content to be His followers, then our victory will be mostly won.