Navigating through the call to preach as a young man was incredibly difficult. Questions like “What makes an effective minister?” and “How do you lead and inspire others?” along with growing into your own leadership and preaching style, can be humbling. One question that I continued to return to was, “How do I influence the people that I’m called to minister to in an effective way?” In their book Spiritual Leadership, Henry and Richard Blackaby argue that leaders seek to influence people too often through three illegitimate ways: “Position, Power, and Personality.”
It can be easy for us to think these ways are not illegitimate because they’re the most common ways that we see people lead. Unfortunately, this is true in the church as well as in secular society. Too often, the church celebrates men with outgoing personalities and prominent positions in such a way that younger ministers seek to imitate them and believe that’s the best way to lead. As the Blackaby’s point out in their work, ministers need the presence of God more than anything else.
My prayer for my own soul is that I would get to, and remain at, a place like Moses in Exodus 33. In that passage, Moses determines that he and Israel could not move and go forth to inhabit the land God promised them without the Lord being present. In Exodus 33:15, Moses said to him,” If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Herein lies the one thing that we need as pastors: the presence of God. What we build by our own intellect, giftings, and personality can be taken down in a day. Here are three ways to cultivate and protect the presence of the Lord in our ministries:
First, spend undistracted alone time with God
Moses had an intimate relationship with God. So much so that God called Moses his friend and delighted in speaking to him personally. It is in the early moments of the morning or late at night when the kids are in bed that we can especially get away to hear from God. His presence will not manifest itself with us if we’re leading on spiritual emptiness and aren’t making time to spend with Him. In fact, throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see Him going into isolation so that He can rest and hear from God. We must pray as Solomon did in 2 Chronicles 1:10, “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people.” As we pray and go before the Lord, we want to fight against our time with Him becoming routine and mundane.
Second, remind yourself that living for the approval of others will lead you to despair
Sometimes, we forfeit God’s presence by being overly concerned with what other people think about us. As a result, this fear causes us to close our ears to God’s will. Suddenly we’re making decisions to be accepted by others. When things turn sour and don’t go the way we think they should, we often forget about or minimize the fact that we didn’t follow the Lord’s voice. Read and mediate on these verses:
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Luke 6:26
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
Finally, don’t move without confidence that God is with you
Moses got stubborn in Exodus 33 and refused to move into the promised land without the presence of the Lord. In reading the passage, the reader can sense that Moses was not going to be moved. As leaders, we must see having the Lord’s manifest presence with us as a non-negotiable. When we don’t hear from God, we’re to wait on Him until we do. Many times the presence of God is forfeited through presumption and impatience; both are evidence of pride. Just like King Saul forfeited his throne through impatience, we too will forfeit seeing God’s power at work through us if we’re not careful. David prayed in Psalm 19, “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” If we move before God calls us to or before we receive direction from him, we move without his presence. Instead of being presumptuous we must pray and wait knowing that God’s thoughts and plans are different than ours.