A BIG QUESTION:  How far outside your comfort zone are you willing to go to advance the kingdom of God?

The answer to this question is critical.  It is so critical, that at the end of this article I would ask you to enter into a season of prayer related to your answer.  I would ask you to pray that the Spirit bring conviction, clarity and courage as you wrestle with this question.

This is really a question about change, and our willingness and ability to embrace change.  In my view, our answer to this big question will have direct correlation to our effectiveness in church leadership.   I believe that leaders who possess flexibility and adaptability are more likely to experience positive outcomes in their ministry.

Webster defines flexibility as being “pliant . . . yielding to influence . . . capable of responding to change or new situations”.  Do you possess flexibility?  BusinessDictionary.com defines adaptability as the “ability to alter oneself to the changed circumstances or environment . . . ability to learn from experience.”  Do you possess adaptability?

The opposite of flexibility and adaptability is rigidity.  Some leaders are quick to identify the rigidity found in others, but one of the greatest obstacles to effective ministry is the rigidity of the leader’s own heart.  Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of the potter and the clay (Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6), and whenever I read that I cannot help but ask the introspective question:  “What is the condition of my heart?”  Am I clay that is pliant, open to the influence of the Spirit and godly people around me, able to adapt to a changing environment and able to learn from experience?

I can’t change anyone else’s heart, nor is it my responsibility.  But, I can take ownership for the condition of my heart and set out on an intentional journey to become the flexible/adaptable leader God can use for His eternal purposes.  If I fail to be intentional in this way, and human nature takes its natural course, I will not only be an ineffective leader but I will be an obstacle to the advancement of the kingdom.  As I said, this is really a question about change.  I’m not talking about changing one’s theological statement of faith.  I’m talking about changing attitudes or methodologies in order to advance the cause of Christ in this world.

The big question forces me to come face-to-face with my fears and my resistance to change.  It helps me to take my eyes off of the resistance and stubbornness of others, and to examine my own rigidity.  It compels me to admit that I have not yet gone far enough outside myself.  It fills me with hope as I realize the potential of what God can do with a soft and tender heart.

How far outside your comfort zone are you willing to go to advance the kingdom of God?  Theoretically, and even theologically, we might find it easy to say, “I would go all the way”.  Rarely do I meet a church leader that does not want to live in full surrender to God, and yet this big question often reveals a different reality.  Instead of enjoying the freedom that comes in full surrender, we live in the bondage that comes from fear.  Fear of failure, fear of being misunderstood, fear of losing the affection of our people, and so it goes.

Facing our fears and embracing change, is the need of the hour.  The challenges facing churches today will never be resolved without the courage to change.  This has implications far and wide.  It deals with questions like these:

How do we reach the 80.5% of our population that is disconnected from the church?
How do we attract and integrate younger people into our church?
How do our churches become more culturally diverse?

Confronting the big question will help us to deal with all these other questions facing the church today, and there are hundreds of them.  When I determine that I will go as far outside my comfort zone as God wants me to go, then I will begin to see the answers to these questions.  I am the limiting factor here, not God.  I am the limiting factor, not my people or my community.  When the leader has the courage and willingness to embrace change, big things happen.

Joshua was faced with the challenge of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land and defeating a formidable enemy.  Before setting out the Lord instructed him:  “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous” (1:6-7a).  Great leadership requires great courage.  But it also requires a willingness to flex and adapt to one’s environment.  When Joshua approached Jericho, I can only imagine that he had some rather clever military type strategies up his sleeve, but God had other plans.  Joshua flexed and adapted, and the walls of Jericho fell.  Joshua could have been rigid in his heart, sticking to the old tried and true military techniques, but instead embraced a new methodology involving priests and trumpets.  A rather wild idea indeed.

Again, I ask you:  How far outside your comfort zone are you willing to go to advance the kingdom of God?

(Determining “What needs to change?” and “How to bring about positive change?” may be topics for a future blog.)