Leaders Seeking God’s Will
Leadership implies movement and change. People who have no desire to go anywhere usually do not need a leader; they will be most happy with someone who functions as a guardian or custodian. Leaders, on the other hand, are heading for a destination and want to take others with them. They see things that could be and are drawn to put their energies into galvanizing others in order to make those visions realities.
The main task of a spiritual leader in the church is to lead others to seek and do God’s will. Sometimes people take up this role of leadership eagerly. Others become spiritual leaders only with reluctance. Moses is perhaps the most famous example of a reluctant spiritual leader. He was not looking for a new occupation when he met God at the burning bush. He argued with God about his credentials and his competence for the job. Like Moses, some officers may feel unworthy and unqualified for their call. When we feel this way, it is empowering to know that, as the old saying goes, God does not call the qualified; God qualifies the called.
Leading our congregations to seek and to do God’s will is our number one priority as ruling and teaching elders in the PC(USA.) This takes priority over keeping the roof on the building, recruiting Sunday school teachers, meeting the budget, or anything else. This statement raises the question of whether we can actually know God’s particular will in any given situation. What about all the evil that has been done through the centuries by people who thought they were doing God’s will? How can we be sure we are doing God’s will and not our own?
Finding God’s will is not a game of hide-and-seek with God hiding and us seeking. The truth is that, through Scripture, we already know more of God’s will than we are often willing to do. We know that it is God’s will that we love our enemies, turn the other cheek when attacked, forgive and pray for those who injure us, and reject opportunities for revenge. We know it is God’s will that we live a moderate, healthful, modest life, being good stewards of our health and treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. We know that we are called to give sacrificially, beginning with a tithe of our income, so that God’s work may go forward. We know we are to serve Christ by serving people who are poor, sick, imprisoned, naked, hungry, and friendless. We know that we are called to be peacemakers in a world full of conflict and violence. These clear precepts guide us in faithful decision-making. More than anything else, the daily struggle to make Christ-like choices and to order our lives and communities in line with God’s will shapes us into discerning people. Those who practice this discipline come into the process of communal decision-making, such as a session meeting, equipped to listen for God’s will for the church.
A Spiritual exercise
Think of a time in your life when you had to make a significant decision.
How did your faith provide resources for the process?
Did you seek guidance from scripture? From a spiritual leader in the church? From Christian friends? What part did prayer have in your coming to a decision? Did you experience more of God’s presence or God’s absence in the decision-making?
Did you have a sense of being led as you wrestled with what to do? How did this leading take place? When the decision was made, did you feel peace?
What resources can you take from this experience into your work as a spiritual leader seeking God’s will for the church?
Joan S. Gray has served as teaching elder in twelve congregations. She is the co-author of Presbyterian Polity for Church Leaders, and the author of Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers and Sailboat Church, all published by Westminster/John Knox Press. Joan concluded a two-year term as Moderator of the 217th General Assembly (2006) of the PC(USA) and lives in midtown Atlanta.