Leadership and the God I See

Wherever you are as you read this, I want you to leave.

I’m just joking—don’t actually leave!

In your mind, though, leave this year (yes please, right?), leave your city, your work context, and if you are with other people right now, leave them too, just for a moment. In your imagination, go back to the time, however old or recent it might be, when you first remember believing that God was real.

When you think of your first picture of God that you remember, who did you believe him to be? How did your personality or experiences influence your picture of God? How did your picture of God shape your early walk with him, and how you interacted with others? How has your picture of God affected your leadership?

I’ll give you an example. For as far back as I can remember, I have tended to have a structured and scientific mind (I go to sciencenews.org for fun), so I have typically seen God through that lens as well. 

In the beginning, my primary picture of God was as Creator. The one who brought order out of chaos, the Brilliant Designer behind all aspects of the universe. I tended to worship God through the order and beauty that I saw everywhere in nature.

So how did my picture of God impact how I saw myself, how I interacted with others, and what I believed my purpose to be?

Well, I expected that I and everyone else would always think logically, act consistently, and make unbiased decisions because the facts were, well, obvious! God was a God of order, and therefore my life and everyone else’s should be ordered and consistent as well. As you can imagine, sometimes reality matched my expectations, but at other times, well, you can probably figure out how that went!

The primary “picture of God” that each of us uniquely believes to be true impacts almost every area of our lives, including our leadership.

A Framework for Healthy Leadership

Before we explore this leadership element in greater detail, I’d like to give you a simple framework for healthy leadership that I have found to be quite helpful over the years. It will give us a conceptual context in which to place the question “Who do I believe God to be, and what difference does that make?”.

Like all good teachable concepts, it has three elements. I have come to call it Life-Giving Ministry Leadership, since if it is done well, it breathes life into three interrelated areas: our self, our team, and our mission.

Who we believe God to be influences how we see ourselves, how we interact with our team, and what we think our mission is.
  1. Our self – this element includes our personality, leadership style, gifts, voice, needs, spiritual health, physical health, and more.
  2. Our team (the people we work with) – this includes organizational culture and structure, trust, accountability, collective emotional intelligence, priorities, and more.
  3. Our mission (the reason the ministry or organization exists) – this includes vision, buy-in and ownership, alignment, outcomes and metrics, success, values, goals, plans, and more.

When all three of these areas are healthy at the same time, we experience the elusive leadership sweet spot in our own lives, in our team, and in our mission. This is what we dream of as leaders!

Now, it is also fascinating to explore what happens when one of the components becomes unhealthy. In order to keep focused, though, I’ll just give a quick summary.

  1. When self and mission are healthy, but team is not, we experience a degree of short-term success. But because we take on a disproportionate amount of the workload ourselves, we are likely on the path to burnout.
  2. When self and team are healthy, but achieving the mission is not, we experience fun and friendships, but few organizational successes.
  3. When team and mission are healthy, but self is not, we experience organizational activity and success, but personal emptiness and disillusionment.

The concept of Life-Giving Ministry Leadership can be used in many ways. One of the big ones is to look at how our particular picture of God impacts all three areas.

Who we believe God to be influences how we see ourselves, how we interact with our team, and what we think our mission is.

Your Current Picture of God

With all of this in mind, let me ask you a question. What is your picture of God right now? Who do you believe him to be?

I’m not asking for a theologically correct answer. This is not a question on a test. I’m also not asking for a list of good pictures of God versus bad pictures of God, and which one you would choose (that might be interesting, but it is not what we are doing here).

Instead, I’m asking for a genuine answer. An authentic answer. In other words, when I stop and think about myself, when I have a thoughtful look inside, what picture of God appears?

Specifically, there are four questions we need to ask:

  1. What is my picture of God?
  2. How does my picture of God impact self, team, and mission?
  3. How does my picture of God fit with Scripture?
  4. In terms of my picture of God, what is my next step toward life-giving ministry leadership?

Let’s look at three examples together.

Example 1 – God is Never Fully Satisfied

Perhaps you and I see God as someone who is never quite satisfied with who we are or what we are doing. Whether we look through the lens of holiness and guilt, or honour and shame, or some other lens, the result is the same. For some of us, the big picture of God we have in our minds is that he is not satisfied with us. We do not measure up or meet the standard, whatever we think that standard might be.

Now it is true that God is perfect, and we are not, and there is a gap between us. But are we aware of how the picture of an unpleasable God might influence how we see ourselves, our team, and our mission? (Remember that our goal at this point is not to wrestle with the theological accuracy of our picture of God, but first, to become aware of the impact that our picture of God has on what we expect of ourselves, our team, and our mission.)

How might my leadership be affected if my dominant picture of God is that he is not quite satisfied with me? It could play out in several ways.

  • For example, a performance mentality might slip in. Goals and standards might become overly important. There might be too much of a focus on the shortfalls of the team. Annual reviews may have too much emphasis on mistakes that have been made or on problems to be solved. I might not spend enough time celebrating success or assessing what went right (rather than wrong) and why.
  • On the upside, though, having this kind picture of God might be a motivator to reject the status quo, to work hard, to set goals and pursue them, to push the team to perform well. And those are good things.

If you or I have a primary picture of God that is like this, what do we need to pay attention to in terms of our own leadership development?

  • You may need to allow yourself and your team to just “be” once in a while; to take the foot off the gas pedal (for yourself and those you lead), and embrace the value of catching your breath and being with God (rather than performing for God). Maybe you need to take a look at self-care or team-care. Maybe you need to have someone come in and help assess how your team is really doing, personally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Example 2 – God is Actively Speaking

Perhaps you and I see God primarily as someone who still speaks today. God is speaking to humanity, and we need to listen. God speaks through his Spirit, through his people, and through signs and wonders.

How might this picture of God affect our leadership?

  • More than likely, if my dominant image of God is that he is actively speaking today, then I also see one of my primary roles to be to speak on behalf of God. To proclaim. Prophecy might be an important part of my leadership and the mission of the organization. 
  • With this picture, hearing from God will also likely be a key element of how I lead myself and my team. Potentially, lots of “God is telling us” and “I heard God say to me” kind of language. The power of this kind of leadership is that it can be inspiring, action-oriented, and feel “cutting edge” and apostle-like. The risk, of course, is that leadership can become spiritualized and unquestionable. The distinction between the voice of God and the voice of the leader can become blurry.

If you or I have a primary picture of God that is similar to this, what do we need to pay attention to in terms of our own leadership development?

  • It is critical to remain humble, and to incorporate a community of discerners around you. Thinking of the language of APEST (Ephesians 4), this picture of God resonates well with Apostles and Prophets, and if that is you, you need to make sure you have Shepherds and Teachers on your team to help discern God’s voice from your own.

Example 3 – God is the Great Shepherd

Perhaps you and I see God primarily as someone who is the Great Shepherd. One who comforts, protects, and provides strength for his sheep. We hold fast to the belief that God is our rock in the middle of the storm. We see God as the unshakeable lighthouse that we can run to for complete safety and protection. God is unchanging and is our ever-present help in times of trouble.

In terms of ministry leadership, two of the highest values are community and togetherness. Non-confrontational interpersonal relationships are a top priority. Potential change and movement must be carefully processed together before any decisions are made, or any actions are taken.

How might this picture of God affect our leadership?

  • Leaders with a primary picture of God as shepherd tend to lean toward meetings (both official and unofficial) that are heavy on conversation and discussion. It is important to listen to each other.

If you or I have a primary picture of God that is similar to this, what do we need to pay attention to in terms of our own leadership development?

  • You need to be intentional about moving discussion toward decision. Then you need to make sure that decision gets put into action. And then that the action is followed up on.
  • Leaders with this picture of God also need to become comfortable with expressing vision and taking action to move the ministry into a clear direction. You need to be comfortable with change. Finally, leaders like this must learn to accept that not everyone will agree or come to consensus, and that is okay.

Which Picture is Correct? 

Alright, one last comment about the pictures of God that we have in our minds. Earlier I mentioned that step one is to recognize that each of us has a primary image of God, and that the image we have influences what we expect of ourselves, our team, and our mission.

Step two, then, is to assess the extent to which our picture of God is consistent with the descriptions of God presented in Scripture. This kind of analysis is not our task today, but I want to highlight that it must be done. As we do it, though, there are two potential pitfalls that I want to highlight:

  1. The first pitfall is assuming that my picture must be more right than your picture. One, that is arrogant, and two, you don’t know why other people have the pictures of God that they do. Their stories have shaped them just like your story has shaped you. Let’s not make our pictures competitive.
  2. The second pitfall is assuming that I can arrive at a complete picture of God. You and I will never have a complete picture of God until we experience him face to face in the new heaven and the new earth. And perhaps we will need all of eternity to fully grasp who God is!

As we wrap up, let’s go back to the four questions:

  1. What is my picture of God?
  2. How does my picture of God impact self, team, and mission?
  3. How does my picture of God fit with scripture?
  4. In terms of my picture of God, what is my next step toward life-giving ministry leadership?

I invite you to take a day, a week, or a month, and work through these four questions. Perhaps by yourself or perhaps with a trusted friend. Dive into your life, dive into Scripture, and take intentional steps as you go on an exciting journey of Life-Giving Ministry Leadership!

 


[Mark Wessner is President of MB Seminary and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies for Leadership.

Choosing to Quit
Choosing to Quit

I was raised to never give up. An image was displayed on my family’s refrigerator door that I still remember. A heron is being choked by a mostly-swallowed frog who is gripping its predator’s neck…

Leadership and the God I See
Leadership and the God I See

Wherever you are as you read this, I want you to leave. I’m just joking—don’t actually leave! In your mind, though, leave this year (yes please, right?), leave your city, your work context, and …

4 Messages to Avoid During Church Finance Updates
4 Messages to Avoid During Church Finance Updates

Church finance updates can sometimes do more damage than good. The message often feels the same and can sound something like this: church giving is behind but there’s a chance to meet budget by the …

The Cannabis Question
The Cannabis Question

Many questions have been raised since the Cannabis Act came into effect on October 17, 2018. Various resources have been developed within our family of MB Churches to provide guidance to those asking …

Ten Principles for Discerning God’s Will Together
Ten Principles for Discerning God’s Will Together

Whether it’s with a ministry team at church or with our own family, we regularly find ourselves trying to discern God’s will with others. In this blog, I will outline ten principles for helping us…

All Will Be Well – Hope in the Era of COVID-19
All Will Be Well – Hope in the Era of COVID-19

A life without hope is a life doomed. As 1 Thessalonians 4:13 tells us: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *