Spiritual Decision Making
We all recognize that leadership involves decisions. At every board meeting we make decisions. Sometimes those decisions are superficial (Who is going to repair the leaking faucet in the kitchen?). At other times the decisions are difficult with ramifications that affect the whole congregation (Should we hire a new staff? Should we conduct church discipline?). However, if we are not careful the basis by which we make these decisions can be misguided. While our desire is to be godly leaders who lead the church spiritually, our natural tendency is to become pragmatic (i.e. what will get the best results?), or traditional (How have we done it in the past?), or even political (What will the congregation want? What will make the congregation happy?) in our decision-making process.
Making spiritual decisions involve prayer.
When it comes to decisions, we are to be spiritual leaders who focus upon spiritual decisions utilizing spiritual principles. This begins with prayer. When a question arise that will affect the congregation the first step should be to spend significant amount of time in prayer. Prayer is to under gird all decisions we make. When we pray we are seeking God’s direction. It aligns our will with his. We are not just to pray for the needs of people and the needs of the church; we are to pray for God’s will to be accomplished in us. In Nehemiah we read of the account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. After many years of warfare, defeat and ruin, the city of Jerusalem was a mound of rubble. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem with the goal of rebuilding the city, he not only faced discouragement on the part of the people, he faced opposition from those in the surrounding areas. The way Nehemiah led the people in the rebuilding of the city is a case study of effective leadership. What marked all of Nehemiah’s activities was his dependency upon prayer. Whenever he was faced with a task, decision or obstacle, his first response was prayer (1:4; 2:4; 4:9). In Joshua 9:14 we find the Israelites making a treaty without first seeking God. The result affected generations to come. If we are to be spiritual leaders, we are to use spiritual means and central to this is prayer. When we are faced with difficult decisions, we need to spend time in prayer. When the congregation is struggling over issues, we need to call the church to prayer, for it is through prayer that we discover the will of God. It is prayer that unites the church in a common submission to Christ so that division does not fracture the fellowship and harm the work of God and the testimony of the Church. Consequently, the first question we must ask when making decisions is, “Have we prayed about this issue as a board and as a church?”
Making spiritual decisions involve scripture.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16 that Scriptures are inspired by God so that the people of God may be completely equipped for life and ministry. Often those of us who serve on a rural church board we feel shortchanged, feeling that we are lacking the resources, experience and insight to make spiritual decisions. We have not received any formal training in the bible or in church leadership. When we are confronted with spiritual decisions, we feel ill equipped to take any decisive action. As a result, we regulate those decisions to the pastor, for he has had the training. What we fail to realize is that in the Bible we have all the resources we need to make right decisions. As we examine scripture, we discover that we have all the available information we need to make wise decisions when it comes to spiritual matters. While the education and input of the pastor is an important part in making sure that we handle the scriptures correctly (see 2 Timothy 2:15), we should not think that he has exclusive knowledge and insight. Often, we may have the insight into the how the scriptures would apply to the present circumstance. Education (while beneficial) is not a guarantee of inerrancy. The most critical element in scriptural discernment is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit who guides us in truth (John 14:26; 16:13) and in understanding God’s will and purpose. When faced with a decision or issue, the first questions we need to seek to answer are: What does the Bible say about this issue? What are the principles in scripture that pertain to what we need to address? As a board we are not to be governed by what is politically expedient in the church, rather we are to be governed by the pages of Scripture. This means that we may have to make unpopular decisions with the congregation. It means that we obey scripture no matter what the personal cost will be. When we have carefully applied the wisdom of scripture to the present context, it means that we can have confidence that we not only are making the right decision, but are in line with the will and purpose of God. As we examine the scriptures in discussing the issues of the church, we become a model for people to address the problems and difficulties they are facing in their own life. As Rowland Forman, Jeff Jones and Bruce Miller point out, “We want to train people to go to the Bible with every issue in their personal lives and church ministries.”
Making spiritual decisions seeks to glorify God.
The third aspect of spiritual decisions making is that the decision should result in the glorification of God. The church exists to glorify God in the community for we are the visible representation of God in the community. Paul writes, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:18). The term ambassador refers to one who is a representative of another. When we proclaim the gospel, we are being God’s representatives. It is important for us to realize that the manner in which the church conducts business, the way it interacts with others, the testimony it has in a community is a reflection of the person of God. Because of this all the actions of the church should be an expression of and governed by the nature of God. In the decisions we make and the actions we perform, we should always seek to reflect the character of God in such a way that his reputation in enhanced by what we do as a church.
Tragically, many times churches become embroiled in controversy, conflicts and division over non-theological issues. More often than not, when a church suffers a split it is over organization decisions (what program we use) or struggles of power and authority (who makes the decisions) or issues of personality differences (I like the other color of carpet). The result is that the nature of God is maligned. We must recognize that how we do business in the church is not only a reflection of our church, but a reflection upon Christ. Paul writes in 1 Peter 2:12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
As spiritual leaders we are to lead the church through the pitfalls of division. We must call the church back to the recognition that we exist to serve and glorify God not our own agendas. We must point people to the fact that the church does not exist to advance our reputation or influence in the community or in the church. We exist to glorify God and advance his reputation and influence in the community and the lives of people. When faced with issues that might damage the reputation of God we must remain firm and lead the church in this objective. Before we make a decision, we should always ask, “How will God be glorified, and how will our actions and decisions reflect the nature of God?”
Making spiritual decisions involve the counsel of others.
When making decisions it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have all the insight needed to make a decision and that we do not need the input of others. However, Proverbs makes it clear that the wise seek the advice of many counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). When we seek the counsel of others, we gain greater insight and understanding for people often will have a different perspective that we have not seen or are even blind to because of our own preconceptions. While there are a number of sources from which we can gain advice and counsel there are several that are readily available. We should seek their advice when we are faced with difficult issues. First, we can seek assistance from the denomination's or association's regional or national office. Often those who are available, either as directors, assistant directors, district representatives or supervisors, have served in the past as pastors and have experienced similar situations. They have also worked with a number of churches and have been in close contact with churches facing comparable issues. They can help us avoid the mistakes others have made by helping us see the implications of a decision. Second, the faculty of Bible Colleges and Seminaries can be a source of advice especially if we are dealing with issues that are related to our understanding of Scripture. They can give insight into the biblical text to make sure that we are correct in our understanding. Third, other pastors and church leaders in our denomination or community can provide counsel. This can be especially helpful if it is someone who has knowledge of our church (such as a pastor of a church in a neighboring community) and understanding our particular setting. Fourth, we gain advice through research in books, magazine articles or the internet. Fifth, we should seek the advice and counsel of our church leaders. As the board we are ultimately the ones responsible for making the decision. However, we can and should seek input from other leaders in the church, especially if we are making decisions that will affect them and their ministry. Last, we should seek the input of the whole congregation. There are times when the person we least expect will be the one who gives the greatest insight into the issue under discussion. Thus, the question we should ask before making a major decision is, “Are their others that can give us insight into this issue?”
Making spiritual decisions result in the transformation of people.
The ultimate purpose of the church is not to run an efficient organization. In our modern church today we often mistake organizational efficiency with a spiritual church. Just because things are running smoothly, that is the work is being done with little or no conflict and people are happy, does not necessarily mean that the church is effective. The measure of effectiveness is spiritual transformation. Paul reminds us of the goal of his ministry when he states, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28, 29). The call of the church is to lead people in spiritual, moral and personal transformation. As leaders, we have been given the responsibility to lead people in this renewal (see Ephesians 4:11-16). A transformational ministry is one where people are being trained in biblical theology in such a way that this it impacts how they live. The church is not a place for only mature Christians who have it all together spiritually and emotionally. It is a place where the spiritual weak come in order to be changed. This means that ministry can be messy for we are working with broken lives in desperate need of mending. A healthy church is not one where everyone is perfect and living godly. A healthy church is where people who are struggling find encouragement, support, training and guidance. As we make decisions in the church this is what is to guide our priorities. When confronted with issues we must ask, “How will this help people us accomplish our mission of transforming people?” While every decision we make may not have a direct effect upon the lives of people, the overall goal remains the same. This means that we are governed by what is best for people, not necessarily what is best for the organization. This is especially critical in the rural church where relationships govern activities and decisions. In the rural church, the focus is upon each individual within the church. The rural church operates under the assumption that the individual is more important than the whole. While a decision may best serve the overall church, if it has a negative impact upon one individual, we do not sacrifice the good of the one for the good of the many. Rather we strive to keep both in view. God did not just come to redeem the church, he came to redeem individuals. Our goal is to lead the church in such a way that it has a positive effect upon everyone.