Fourteen years ago, I was in the Netherlands ministering with a small group of church planters, when my host, Arie van Oudheusden, taught us something that challenged my perspective on leadership.
Between the guy next to me providing the occasional whispered “thought-for-thought” translation, and Arie illustrating his points on a chalkboard, I understood the gist of what was being taught in Dutch. Even with the language barrier, what I heard changed the way I thought about pastoral ministry.
Arie explained from the story of the Exodus that a pastoral leader is like Moses—commissioned to lead a community out of bondage, through baptism and warfare; to build them up in worship and the Word; and to prepare them to fully enter God’s promise for their lives. At 33 years old, I’d never fully perceived that truth. Since then, I’ve never forgotten it.
The other day, with that in mind, I read in my devotions: “Go on before the people, and … take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river … strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (Exod. 17:5-6, NKJV). In Egypt, God had told Moses to strike the Nile with his staff, and the water turned to blood. In the land of Rephidim, the people needed fresh drinking water, and as Moses struck the rock, water poured out for everyone.
Years later, at Kadesh (Num. 20), the community needed water again. And again, God told Moses to take the staff and approach a rock. However, this time he was instructed to speak to the rock, not to strike it. But Moses didn’t listen; instead he clobbered the rock—twice.
We don’t know why Moses disobeyed God so vigorously. Maybe he wasn’t thinking straight because he was so frustrated with these rebellious people. Maybe, as in Exodus 32 when he broke the stone tablets, he was angry. Maybe it was simply because he thought, from his own experiences, that this method ought to work.
It did work—kind of. God was still faithful to take care of His people, but Moses’ act didn’t honor God. In fact, it was the single event that kept Moses from finishing the job of liberating God’s people into their promised destiny (Num. 20:12).
I want to suggest that, like Moses, God calls us to use different methods in different seasons of life. While one ministry moment may call for an unapologetically strong demonstration of leadership, another situation may require simply a trusting, winsome, faith-filled word. God knows that what is necessary in one generation may be the opposite of what a current generation needs to understand His power. We can’t just put our ministry “on repeat” and expect to honor God’s unique work today—Kadesh was a different place and a different time, where a different generation was served, than Rephidim.
Whenever we look at a challenge in our ministry and think, “Been there, done that! I can do this with my eyes closed,” we succumb to “the law of the instrument” (i.e., when all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail). As spiritual liberators, we are used to lead God’s people, His way, into His promise, and that effort requires a pliable and obedient spirit.
While something may have worked beautifully in the past, if our leadership doesn’t spring from a place of hearing and trusting God’s Word for today, we’ll likely miss the unique way God wants to work to liberate this generation. Furthermore, when we lead from our own sufficiency rather than dependence on God’s voice, we’ll personally miss the place of promise to which He planned to bring us alongside those we’ve been called to lead.
- Ask the Lord how He is calling you to engage His liberating ministry in unique ways today.
- Search your heart and examine your patterns. Repent if you’ve gotten stuck in a rut, and ask God’s help to see what may be needed in this season to fully trust Him in ministry.
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