The Rev Dr John McElroy wrote as senior pastor of Churchlands Christian Fellowship in Perth, Australia.
We must be cautious in the selection of leaders.
Our unity, especially in leadership, sparks revival.
The church must stay true to Jesus and obey him.
When I first heard some colleagues talk about the 1990’s as a ‘decade of revival’ I wondered if it was just more wishful thinking aimed at getting Australian churches to take evangelism seriously.
It is increasingly apparent, now, that we live in a ‘kairos’ moment – God’s time for us. Good and evil grow side by side at what appears to be an accelerating rate.
In these times of economic and social upheaval we have the potential of an almost unprecedented audience for God’s action. Our fellow Australians are seeking spiritual answers to life’s questions. Many do so for the first time. Others are seeking a place to belong and want healing from the wounds of life.
At a time of such obvious need and searching we agonize to observe some congregations experiencing decline and, in a few cases, apparent death. Yet, regardless of outward appearances, wherever God’s people gather in worship there is always potential for renewal.
God has a plan for the church. In the past God kept his promise. Even though it would appear whole generations lost a true knowledge of God, he sovereignly renewed his kingdom again when he found willing hearts. Today, God is looking for pure and willing hearts among those who would aspire to leadership in the church.
In preparation for revival and harvest, God is raising up leaders whose visionary zeal is matched by their integrity. Our Master is concerned not only about whether we reach the goal, but how we achieve it. Leaders today are wise to remember that the end does not justify any and every means of getting there. On earth, Christian leaders are servants of a God whose nature is integrity, justice, love and mercy. Our Lord wants his ambassadors to reflect his nature and character in the midst of providing leadership.
For some time I have noted that methods and standards vary greatly in the selection and guidance of church leaders. Within my denomination, I have often been called upon to give advice or rectify situations which are attributable to poor leadership decisions.
My intent is not to reiterate what others have written on issues facing renewal leadership. I would like, however, to underline three issues which I feel must be considered by those who desire to be leaders in renewal. These issues have come out of my experience as pastor and as convenor of the Christian Ministries Network of Western Australia.
Caution in leadership selection
Leadership is a key issue in renewal and revival. The apostle Paul warned against being hasty in the laying on of hands for leadership (1 Timothy 5:22). While this Scripture is often quoted, the importance of its implementation is often underestimated, much to the detriment of the church. Once a person has been placed in a position of leadership that person carries an authority and influence within the Body of Christ which either promotes or hinders its mission.
I have not yet discovered one elder, staff person or leader who, at the time of being selected, was fully mature in the Lord. That is normal. Jesus picked the disciples on the basis of their potential, not their perfection. Chapter three of 1 Timothy provides an essential list of considerations for spiritual leadership. In addition to this list, I often ask the following six questions concerning potential leaders:
1. Have they undergone a period of settling in and observation?
When new people decide to make our Fellowship their spiritual home, we invite them to undertake a minimum three to six months settling in and getting to know us. During this time we ask that they join a weekly home group but refrain from signing up for, or becoming involved in, any of the ministries of the church. During this period our leaders observe their character, gifts, and apparent maturity in the Lord. This brief time of waiting clarifies not only their suitability for ministry but whether the needs and vision of the individual fit our capabilities.
2. Have they dealt with sin or strongholds operative in their lives?
In other words, are they free of habitual sin or do they require ministry, healing, or counselling which will set them free from ungodly thoughts or behaviour? Do they give evidence of anger, unforgiveness, rejection, lust, pride, hurt, gossip, or any of the acts of the flesh noted in Galatians 5:1921? The presence of sin or strongholds does not indicate a person’s ultimate unsuitability for leadership, but it does indicate: not yet!
3. Do they show evidence of having gone to the cross?
Does the nature of Jesus, particularly humility, seem to be evident and growing? Going to the cross speaks of dying to the flesh and human cleverness in our attitudes and lifestyles. Such people will show traits of circumspectness, submissiveness, wisdom, compassion, transparency, patience and prayerfulness. They are humble, teachable, willing to be accountable, and allow others to speak into their lives.
4. Do they have a growing intimacy with God?
In John 15:5 Jesus said, ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.’ To abide in Jesus speaks of an intimate relationship of prayer and communion; of two best friends who anticipate one another’s moods, mannerisms and responses. Abiding is the process of becoming like the company we keep. The result of intimacy is to bear certain recognizable fruit: the fruit of the Spirit, an ability to discern the Lord’s voice, and a growth in our understanding of God’s nature and the way he brings his will to pass.
5. Are they free of selfish ambition or worldly cleverness?
Selfish ambition is essentially the desire for recognition, power, and control. Worldly cleverness is the means of fulfilling ambition: intellectualism, deceit, power games, manipulation, partiality, and control. Some seek church leadership with hopes of lordship rather than service. Others have a mistaken notion that what made them successful in the business world translates identically to the church.
Our own enthusiasm can never substitute for godly wisdom in decision making, as stated in Psalm 127:1,
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
Those suited to spiritual leadership acknowledge sooner rather than later that prayer, waiting on the Lord’s timing, and following his plan are the only ways to build God’s house.
6. Do they have the same spirit and vision as your team?
Are potential leaders on the right train? Are they willing to work in submission to the pastor and leaders of the local church? Do they hold views which mesh with ours, or are they at odds with our established vision, ethos, and mission?
For some reason, growing churches attract ambitious people aspiring to leadership who lack the discernment to choose the church God has actually selected for them. You must therefore look out for ‘cruisomatics’ flying from church to church looking for the perfect roost. Beware of those practising a ‘gift of correction’ or ministries which they proclaim will ‘get your church on the right track.’ These are the lone rangers, free spirits, and ultimately the self-inflicted wounded whose unrepentant hearts cause untold grief.
When selecting potential leaders it is always wise to narrow the front door, so to speak, by being cautious and getting as many facts as possible on the table. Good things come to those who wait and ask God’s discernment in the selection of leaders. I, and many others, have learned the hard way. It is much easier to refrain from placing a person in leadership than to admit a mistake and have to remove them later.
Unity results in synergy
Unity, especially among leaders, gives impetus to revival. It results in a Holy Spirit induced synergy. The Macquarie Dictionary defines synergism as ‘the joint action of two substances… which increase each other’s effectiveness when taken together.’ While synergism is most commonly thought of in the context of chemistry or metallurgy, it also applies to the church. When two churches and their leaders pray together, relationships bond, cooperation results and the net impact is greater than their previous effect as two separate entities.
The chances of revival taking place within a church, area, or city increase when there is unity within the leadership. John Wimber has noted that one of the signs of impending revival would be a call to unity. This call to unity is not an exercise of theological compromise or ecclesiastical carpentry but comes as the Body of Christ is touched by repentance, healing, and holiness.
Pat Robertson, in his book The Secret Kingdom, writes of eight principles arising from the teachings of Jesus which govern all of life. He calls these eight principles ‘the laws of the kingdom’. One of these principles, which Robertson calls ‘the law of unity’, presents both a challenge and promise to Christian leaders in Australia.
Essentially, the law of unity states that within the Trinity there has always been agreement and harmony. Consequently, unity and harmony in Christ’s Body are crucial to the unleashing of God’s incredible power among us. Great creativity and power for accomplishing God’s purposes are released where there is harmony.
A practical outworking of the law of unity is seen in Matthew 18:1920 where Jesus said, ‘Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Here our Lord calls for agreement based on unity. Since Jesus was among them when they gathered to consider an issue, Jesus’ disciples would be expected to agree with him. As the central focus and inspiration of their fellowship, Jesus would bring his disciples to harmony if they genuinely laid aside their own preconceptions and centred on him.
The biblical accounts of life in the New Testament church further illustrate the power of unity. As the believers continued to seek the Lord together in prayer (Acts 1:14) the Holy Spirit added to their number and confirmed the gospel with signs and wonders (Acts 5:1216).
Early in 1990 I became aware of the existence of Christian networks of encouragement in Australia, England, the United States, and South Africa. These networks focus on unity through prayer and building relationships among leaders. I had the privilege of visiting networks in South Africa and in the U.S.A.
While the setting and composition of each network varied greatly, they had five traits in common:
1. They were built on relationships between church leaders.
2. Those involved had been renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit and believed the Spirit was raising up a strong church to take the land.
3. Those involved came from a wide variety of church backgrounds.
4. All shared a Bodywide vision, putting aside competition and empire building in favour of building up and encouraging the wider Body of Christ.
5. They showed evidence of the spirit of Joshua and Caleb, having the courage to dream and plan great exploits for God.
Inspired by what I saw, I returned to Perth and began to pray about God’s plan for networks of encouragement in Australia. Aware of similar moves under way in the eastern states initiated by the Rev Dan Armstrong and Kairos Ministries, I felt a need to bring leaders together across Western Australia. After inviting some colleagues (many of whom had worked together in organizing Vineyard Conferences) to join in prayer, the Christian Ministries Network WA was formed in 1990.
Recently I have observed a marked increase in the number of interdenominational prayer meetings and in fellowship activities aimed at building relationships between evangelical and charismatic leaders in Western Australia. Politicians, judges and heads of some Bible Colleges are among those beginning to come together for prayer and fellowship. There appears to be a warming of the spiritual atmosphere over the state, similar to the Greenhouse effect.
As the impetus towards unity increases and relationships are built, I am noticing a decrease in competitiveness. Leaders desire increasing cooperation. Pastors talk about such subjects as discovering God’s plan for taking our cities, networking with the wider Body of Christ, establishing the church of the city, and discovering and sharing each congregation’s redemptive gift. I have concluded that unity is bringing a synergy to the Body of Christ in Western Australia.
For further reading on developing strategies for bringing revival to our communities I recommend two excellent books, Taking our Cities for God by John Dawson (Creation House, 1989) and The House of the Lord (Creation House, 1991).
Revival foundations: Jesus and obedience
I believe that one of the reasons why God withholds revival is that he knows our nets are insufficiently strong or mature to contain the catch. Historically, revivals have lasted for about a generation for this reason. Eventually the nets broke down. In the coming revival I believe God wants us to pay attention to the foundation on which we build our nets.
In 1 Corinthians 3:11, the Apostle Paul reminds us that ‘no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.’
We do well to remember this. Many Christians and congregations are unsure of the implications of Jesus as the foundation. We have inadvertently confused Jesus with our doctrines, liturgies, denominational trappings, and social activism. These are forms or expressions of faith and may be valid, but they are not the one and only foundation: Jesus Christ himself.
Many Christians have built their identities and loyalties on the other building materials Paul alludes to in subsequent verses, not on a personal relationship with and loyalty to Jesus. These alternative building materials may look and feel substantial. In the final analysis, however, they do not stand the test.
What does it mean to build on the foundation of Jesus? It means being cemented into him. It involves being more Christlike as his disciples and obeying all he commands (Matthew 28:1820). To build on the foundation of Jesus is to build a church which is nourished in the love of Jesus and gives love in response (1 John 4:19). This kind of church will take the land.
John Dawson emphasizes that, ‘It is not primarily out of compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is, first of all, love for God’ (Taking our Cities for God, page 209). Love is the greatest power the world has ever known. As more of God’s love and light flood the world, darkness will be overcome.
This leads us to the vital question: What brings revival to a land? Revival is essentially a ‘soft spot’ in the heart of God, an act of God’s grace and mercy. God sovereignly determines when and where revival will happen. Yet within the scope of God’s sovereignty we can make a response. We see it in God’s word to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14,
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Perhaps the first act of humility required of us is to ask ourselves: What is our goal in evangelism? Are we seeking to make people ‘churched’ as members of a particular denomination with a loyalty to our ethos and traditions? Or are we making disciples of Jesus? Will the fish we catch be appropriately ‘cleaned,’ that is discipled to become like Jesus and serve him? How do we help new disciples go back into the harvest field to bring others into his glorious light?
In Ezekiel 34:4 we find the tasks of God’s shepherds. They strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, and search for the lost. When I consider each of these five traits I find there the sum total of what God appears to be training his church to engage in. Here is the culmination of what I understand to be power evangelism, personal evangelism, and making disciples who carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Only Jesus Christ has the authority to draw everyone to himself. Only at his name will every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Only as the sheep hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and sense his touch as ministered through his obedient servants will they be drawn to him in revival.
There are, no doubt, many issues crucial to effective leadership in renewal. These three, however, are foundational to fostering revival. We must be more cautious in the selection of leaders. Our unity, especially in leadership, will result in a Holy Spirit induced synergism which sparks revival in the land. The church must stay true to the right foundation of Jesus and obey him.
Now available in updated book form (republished 2011)
Renewal Journal 2: Church Growth