Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Discerning God's call

Part 3 of 'Growing Leaders' by James Lawrence is entitled 'Growing leaders discern God's call'.

In my opinion this part of the book was a bit of a mixed bag - see my comments later in the post for some thoughts on this. Lawrence made some helpful points but I think he probably needed to say more (which he might go on to do).

Here's the gist of what he was saying:

Those in leadership positions often have mounting pressures on their time which means they run at full throttle the majority of the time. The effect of this is that they get burnt out, and end up compromising physically, emotionally, relationally, intellectually and spiritually.

How do we get around this? We get around it by discerning God's secondary call on our lives, and prioritising based on this. His primary call is God's call to faith and discipleship - the call for all Christians. But his secondary call is His purpose for our life. We're called to different jobs, responsibilities and relationships. And we are made differently.

How do we find God's purpose? He gave 5 steps:

  1. Identify a starting point.
    Determine your SHAPE - Spiritual gifts, Heart's desire, Abilities, Personality and Experience. Work with the things that are a given about you. Also account for the things that are responsibilities that you already have, for example if you are a parent.

  2. Discern where God is leading.
    Prayerfully consider where God is leading your life. If you were to write an obituary of your life, what would it say. Is this what you'd like it to say? "If you were guaranteed that it was part of God's will, your friends would support you, you had all the resources required and it would succeed, what three things would you most like to do for God over the next five years? What do those who know you best think you should do with your life?

  3. Develop a personal life statement.
    Where do I think God is leading? Develop this through prayer, reading, fasting, submitting it to others and obeying it.

  4. Implement you personal life statement.
    Prioritise the most important and fit things around it. Identify how you work best and work around this. Make specific targets. Plan a week at a time (otherwise priorities get squashed out)

  5. Revise your life statement regularly.

Four brief thoughts on the section:

  • Recognising priorities is good! His diagnosis of busyness damaging life in various ways is very true. One antidote to this is, as Lawrence argued, is recognising the specific responsibilities you have, and the way God has made you, and making sure you fill your time with these things and don't let them get crowded out. Planning your week is a very useful way to do this.

  • Saying 'no' is an important skill to learn. Lawrence quoted Stephen Covey, who says "The greatest incentive to saying 'no' is having an even greater 'yes' burning inside you". There are some helpful thoughts in this - if we recognise our need to keep our personal relationship with God going, our relationships with others, to use the gifts we've been given and to ensure we rest then this will help us to say no. I guess I think he could have gone further in this. I'll post more on this another time. (My list of things to blog on in future is ever increasing!)

  • Mo McCracken was being interviewed at Formation this month, during which he said "My theology of guidance is such that if your church asks you to do something, you should really take it seriously". This really got me thinking. I think too often we are very introspective when it comes to decisions about future and discerning God's call. In fact, I think as we serve, grow and share our desires and passions within church, the church should do a huge part of directing us into areas of ministry/work that we're gifted for. I think though this section was helpful, and did include some brief mentions of discerning Gods call by asking others if they think we've got it right, much more could be made of the role of church in discerning God's call in our life. I'm not someone who understands myself very well, and tend to be very down on myself, so this introspection and figuring out for myself what I should be doing in life is very difficult. Some people are good at it, but I think everyone, whether good or bad at introspection, should be led by the family around them.

  • My final worry is that this push to discern God's call doesn't seem to be a huge emphasis in the Bible. Much greater is the emphasis to bring God glory in whatever we are doing, to find contentment where we are and to meet the needs that arise around us. The danger with looking for a personal life statement based upon SHAPE and discerning God's purpose in life is that we become discontent with where we are now. I've always been in smaller churches, in which you end up doing as many things that you don't like doing and feel ill equipped and gifted for as those you feel are right. But that's fine and right, because we're part of a body and we make sacrifices and we do things because we want to see God glorified and his people mature, so we trust him to enable us and to work through us. Lawrence didn't argue against this, but I think the Bible argues more for this and speaks not very frequently about developing and implementing a personal life statement. What he says is right, but I worry about placing too high an emphasis on it.


Paul Lintott said...

I'm not really a fan of life statements, it sounds a bit pretentious to me. I like your comments about discerning God's will through the collective voice of the church, seems like a good NT principle.

Scott Thomson said...

Yeah, I agree really, it does sound a bit pretentious. I think underlying it is the stuff we looked at in Network - God gifts us in specific ways, gives us particular passions and a certain personality - we should recognise this and see how we can best serve God in the light of them. He goes a bit further too - we have got certain responsibilities already - some have a family to care for, some have a mortgage to pay, some have older relatives to look after - these should affect the decisions that we make on how to use time, and should help us in saying no.

I guess the problem is in his approach to thinking about these things - I would want a bigger focus on the church helping leading you and helping you to think them through, and I would want it (as I said) to be toned down a bit, recognising that we have to do lots that we're not necessarily gifted for. He did say both of these things, but I think my problem was emphasis, and like you said, cheese and pretension!