Genuine Dependence

When I started in ministry, I knew that I was unqualified, in over my head, and had no business doing what I was doing. I didn’t have many answers—only questions…The only thing I had to offer was Christ working through me. Daily I would submit to Him, acknowledging my inadequacy and confessing my need for God to work through my weakness.

Over time and with a little success, I subtly began to do ministry on autopilot… My prayers of dependence became fewer and fewer as I grew in wisdom and experience. Don’t get me wrong. I would still pray, worship, and do devotions… Yet deep in my heart I had become self-sufficient…

Even though God has opened my eyes to this sinful pattern of behavior and I have begun to trust in Him again in a new way, I find that it’s still a struggle. I still tend to trust more in myself than in Him. I don’t think my story is unique.

The Lord longs for His people, and His shepherds in particular, to abandon our pride, independence, and need for control. To surrender ourselves, trusting Him to work in and through us to do that which we cannot do ourselves. To humble ourselves, believing that even the things we can do, we can’t really do without Christ (John 15:5). To have a heartfelt reliance upon Him for strength, guidance, wisdom, provisions, courage, and growth…

This is not to say we should be passive.

David was assertive when he picked up the five stones and went out to face Goliath. Yet as he went, he boldly stated, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty… This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-46)…

The Lord told Zerubbabel he was responsible to complete the reconstruction of the temple, but also told him, “It’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6,8)…

Yes, we are to take initiative. We are to be active. It’s ok to plan and prepare. Yet we are ultimately to trust that Jesus is the one building His church and He is merely using us as conduits (Matthew 16:28).

Even as we look for opportunities to be reliant upon Christ, we must also be aware of the things that can distract us and pull us away…I see three subtle enemies that can undermine leaders and their dependency upon Jesus. None of them are actually harmful in and of themselves. Yet they have the potential to be abused, over-emphasized, and implemented in such a manner that they deteriorate our trust in God and subsequently place the results of the Kingdom directly in our own hands. I refer to them as the 3M’s:

Manufacturing -- First of all, we love to make things happen. As a common leadership mantra goes, “If it’s gonna be, it’s up to me.” This appeals to our flesh, especially type A personalities, and it drives us to make ministry happen with or without Jesus. Subtly, we go from being distributers of ministry to becoming manufacturers. Rather than seeing ourselves as conduits through whom God is working, we internally believe that we have to drive things. It falls on us to make it happen and to gain the expected outcomes we crave. So we lean on our giftedness, our passion, and our hard work to get results for God…

Managing -- Another problem is related to how we manage ministry. It is the need to plan, prepare, structure, organize, and control things. Obviously, some of this is needed, especially when a church is growing and moves beyond a single cell…Yet most of us have control issues—or at least we have board members who have control issues. As a result, we can easily estrange the Holy Spirit in favor of strategy, planning, preparation, marketing, and the like. Our competency begins to drive things more than the sovereign and mysterious power of God…This leads to the next step, which is to put people and programs under our thumbs in order to prevent problems and keep everything in order….

Measuring -- Finally, there is our need to measure things into tangible outcomes. Some of this is healthy and needed. There is a book in the Bible called Numbers, and we read about all kinds of specifics in the book of Acts. Jesus told us that we will know a tree by its fruit. So, on the positive side, we need to evaluate and not be afraid of facts, numbers, dashboards, and metrics. There is great value in these tools, and they help us “define reality,” which healthy organizations do… Yet too often we attempt to reduce the definition of success in ministry to only measurable outcomes. When that happens, we are entering into dangerous territory….

The 3M’s have value, and some churches need to lean into them. Yet I feel that, in general, we have placed an unhealthy emphasis upon them, and we have been seduced into controlling and driving ministry on our terms more than trusting in God…

Another way to say it is this: we are sinning….

By making genuine dependence an Activator that we cultivate into our lives and the lives of our congregations, we are fighting against our fleshly bent. We are honoring God, and we are walking in reliance and faith. As a result, the culture of the church is made healthier, and a context is created where God’s Word and the Spirit are able to more effectively bear fruit through us.

--from Chapter 5 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation 

Next week, I will offer some insights from Chapter 6: “Teachable Spirit.”