Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership


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Start Here: Where Does God Fit into Your Thinking as a Leader?


starting pointI got together with a new friend the other night – we met recently at an event and decided to get together and explore the possibility of friendship (you know that dance that occurs when you meet someone who seems interesting and you decide to spend focused time with them to check your first impressions). In the course of our conversation we talked about how we came to faith in Christ. Both of us came to faith from different directions, he had no family connection to church but stumbled into an encounter with some vibrant Christians who demonstrated God’s love.  I grew up in the church and stumbled into an encounter with Christians who showed me how to know God personally.

In my journey I didn’t really have a quest toward a specific faith – I had questions. I was in the first grade when I asked a question that set a tone of how I approach faith. The teacher described the miracles that occurred in the life of Elijah the prophet. The story intrigued me.  I asked, “Why don’t these things happen today?”

The teacher obviously flustered said, “Raymond, wait here until I get the pastor.” (Adults used my full name as a sign of their elevated agitation level, an insight I learned from my mom who usually followed the use of my full name with a litany of my offenses and in ultra serious violations a promise that she would recite my offenses to my father who would then deal with me accordingly.)

Knowing I had not done anything more than ask a question and not understanding the agitation I saw in the teacher I simply waited for the arrival of the pastor who could apparently answer my question.

The pastor arrived and pulled me aside from the class to the doorway, “Young man,” he said, “What did you say to your teacher?”

I remember being surprised at the intensity of his question.  I repeated the Bible story of the day and my question, “Why don’t these things happen today?”

The pastor got the same flustered look the teacher had and said, “You wait here until I get your father.”

I was really surprised by this response and thought, “my dad knows?” We had never discussed this at home but my dad was a knowledgeable guy – a scientist and engineer so I waited for dad to arrive.

Dad looked agitated, that was not a good sign.  He marched up to where I was standing, now in the hallway, and said, “What did you say to the pastor?”

I repeated the Bible story and my question, “Why don’t these things happen today?”  At that point my dad heeled around toward the pastor and they engaged in a lively discussion the nature of which was over my head as a first grader. The net result was that we left that church never to return and went to another.  On the way home from church that morning my dad attempted to answer my question with an explanation that I didn’t quite follow – but at least he engaged the question.

Why do we as leaders stop engaging the question?  I get it, really I do. Life throws reality at us in a way that feels like a little league player put into the batter’s in front of Clayton Kershaw’s 97 MPH fast ball.[i] It’s not a pitch it’s a missile. As leaders we end up with a litany of barriers, obstacles, and disappointments all of which lead to the conclusion that not much is going to happen – the conclusion itself seems confirmed by our situation.  This kind of confirmation bias leads men and women down a rabbit hole of mediocrity.

Consider a statement the apostle Paul made to the Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)

So here is the question, do your questions engage the possibility of God’s work or do you limit your questions and hence your actions to a scope you can both generate and manage yourself?

The discussion with my friend reminded me of my childhood question. Paul pushes me to ask it again as an adult with all the depth of my experience and education. What I have observed in working with pastors and Christian leaders over the years is that those who risk beginning their thinking from the starting point of what God does see a depth of engagement and results that others never see.  On the other hand those pastors who begin their thinking on the basis of their situation or experience consistently fail to see what they hope for and begin to talk like they are victims of a circumstantial conspiracy to rob them of success and significance.

Starting one’s thinking from the what God does is not an exercise of denial about obstacles, setbacks, barriers, or disappointments – Abraham, Isaiah, Elijah, David, Nehemiah, Paul, Peter, Ruth, Esther, Naomi, Huldah, Mary, and etcetera illustrate that faith instead sees the circumstance with crystal clarity. However, these same people started their thinking from the perspective of God’s promise.

Do your questions engage the possibility of God’s working or do you limit your questions and hence your actions to the scope of what you can generate and sustain?  Perhaps it is time to renew your relationship to the undomesticated God of the Bible in a fresh way and to begin asking new questions.

[i] 2014 MLB Player Pitching Stats. Source: http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/order/false; accessed 7 August 2014.

RK PLAYER TEAM GP GS IP H R ER BB SO W L SV BLSV WAR WHIP ERA
1 Clayton Kershaw LAD 18 18 128.1 92 26 26 17 157 13 2 0 0 5.4 0.85
  1. 82

 


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God is Not Silent – Are You Listening?


Pietro_Perugino_-_Prophets_and_Sibyls_-_WGA17241I had just completed reading the second book of Chronicles in the Jewish scriptures.  The conclusion of the author caught my attention.  It reads,

The Lord, the God of their ancestors , sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at this prophets, until the wrath of Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy. (2 Chron. 36:16-16, NRSV)

I reflected on the persistent disregard the king’s of Israel had toward God’s personal communication.  My response is not uncommon, “How can people who have so many clear interventions from God so completely miss God’s attempt to communicate?”

My ruminations about transition emerge from the context of my own experience.  There have recently been times were I felt at the end of my most important contribution.  Oddly, opportunities for which I am amply qualified have closed in front of me. Ageism?  Perhaps. Diversity goals? Perhaps. Cost reduction? Perhaps. The reasons were insignificant compared to the questions I face at this stage in life. I am part of the Boomer generation and I look forward to the convergence of experience, learning, and opportunity. Yet, I sometimes feel convergence slipping from my grasp.  Fear assails my thoughts, resignation like a mental rigor-mortise has tried to rob my creativity and resilience.

In the midst of these fairly common emotions I am reminded to embrace yet another metamorphosis as I learn to apply my knowledge and experience in new ways. Reading the historical lessons of Chronicles has been encouraging – a reminder that God is not silent and that the shaping of destiny and purpose continues through a life time. Decisions made today are as significant as decisions made a decade ago spiritually. Look at faithful men and women in Chronicles who live an entire life of faithful and powerful relationship with God who then fail to finish well in the end through hubris or some other arrogance that leads to a wreckage of faith and not a flourishing of faith.

Hence my rumination, “How can people who have so many clear interventions from God so completely miss God’s attempts at communicating?” And hence, my commitment to remain attentive to that still small voice of God – God’s communication that is clear in the scriptures read and reflected upon or in those intuitive thoughts that emerge from prayer that bear the stamp of God’s own voice.

I went about my day and was preparing to leave my office and run some errands when I heard a knock at the door. A young man in a lime green logo shirt with iPad in hand was conducting an energy survey to find out who in our neighborhood qualifies for alternative energy projects. Janice and I have already explored these alternatives so I was closing the conversation when the young man surprised me with a request, “May I pray for you?” he said.

“Sure, what congregation are you a part of?” I asked.

He told me, we prayed and then he looked at me and said, “A man your age sometimes thinks their time of fruitfulness is over.  Your greatest time of fruitfulness is about to begin. God has you in this time of transition not to forsake you but to complete the equipping and preparation you need for what is next.  The end of your life will see the greatest of God’s work in scope and in impact.  You have been faithful in little, God will make you faithful over much more.”

He said several others things too personal to share in this format that spoke to the deepest parts of my being.

Ok, that was different. Some might even say it was weird.

After he left, I considered my reflection about the kings of Israel and their response to the prophets.  I am separated from their experience by thousands of years and yet the God of Abraham still speaks to me like the God I read about in the Bible.  I remembered something Dallas Willard once wrote:

In the last analysis nothing is more central to the practical life of the Christian than confidence in God’s individual dealings with each person.  The individual care of the shepherd for his sheep, of the parent for the child and of the lover for the beloved are all biblical images that have passed into the fundamental consciousness of Western humanity….The biblical record always presents the relationship between God and the believer as more like a friendship or family tie than like merely one person’s arranging to take care of the needs of another.(1)

I take the young prophet’s words to heart. I listen for the voice of God who is also my friend.

In case some wonder; I am not lost in the pursuit of the next episodic thrill of existential phenomenon. I am attentive to what God says in the scriptures, in prayer, and through the voices of others. I have specific goals and I work toward the convergence I want to see also recognizing that opportunities I have not thought of may well land in my lap as a result of the guidance and grace of God.

Is it a surprise that the prophetic (a gift of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12-14) still finds expression through and in the church?  Not at all. This is the promise of God at work to guide, restore, heal, comfort, and develop God’s people. Are you listening for the voice of God?  What do you do with what God has said or is saying now?  How do you test the validity of what you hear to decide its reliability?  If you are a follower of God through faith in Jesus Christ then be ready to see God act today just like you see God acting in history.

If you are not familiar with God acting in this way then contact me, I am happy to talk with you. Or, pray, ask God to show God’s self to you in a way you can’t miss. Walk the journey of faith with expectation, hope, and joy; one greater than you walks with you.

 

(1) Dallas Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 22-23.