This is the final installment of the Tossing in the Tide Thursday reflection series. If you want to catch up on the series, check out the previous sections: Intro // Motivation // Power
At the beginning of this series, we talked about motivation when offering help or doing favors. Motivation and the purpose behind spiritual leadership tend to be quite closely related. The motivation to offer help is directly associated with the purpose of offering help. For example, as an English teacher, my purpose is to give my students an improved understanding over time to the point where I can hopefully see a gradual progress in their ability to speak English. My purpose is not to teach anything else outside of my given curriculum. Science and mathematics are beyond my qualifications and responsibilities and should thus demand none of my attention. In my classes, I am motivated to focus on only what will help achieve my purpose for my students.
When seeking spiritual guidance or leadership, one must keep in mind the purpose of the help. In positive spiritual guidance, two important ideas stand out: the purpose of the help is always clearly identified, and the purpose constantly shapes the instruction. As students enter a new classroom at the start of a semester, the first step for a teacher is to notify the students of the class that will be meeting in that classroom. Often, one or two students, who misunderstood the schedule or misunderstood the class times, will bashfully stand up and walk out of the class. The reason a teacher takes this first step with the class is that for a student to be there who does not belong would be a waste of time for both the teacher and the student. Staying where you know you do not belong is pointless. Once the correct students are in the correct place, the teacher passes out the class syllabus, which details the goals and objectives of the class: the “purpose” of the class. This procedure is tedious to all, but important nonetheless. The students need to be made aware of the end goal of the class and the upcoming lessons so that there are no surprises. Everything required of them is clearly explained from the beginning.
Full disclosure is a vital part of healthy spiritual leadership. There should be no secrets as to why the help is being given and what the end goal is. In positive spiritual guidance, the purpose should always be to strengthen understanding and faith in Jesus Christ. Anything short of that indicates, to revert back to our first day of class scenario, that you are in the wrong class altogether. If there is even the slightest indication that the purpose of spiritual “help” is to strengthen any relationship other than the one you seek with Jesus Christ, get out!
John the Baptist is famous for many things but one of his most famous sayings comes from the Gospel of John in Chapter 3. When questioned about the authority of Jesus, John responded in beautiful humility:
A spiritual leader is either serving to become great or is serving, like John, to make Jesus greater. The moment the attention transfers from Jesus to the leader, you can be sure that the path is not the one you once shared with Jesus and John.
The second sign of healthy spiritual instruction is that the instruction keeps pace with the needs of the student. Too many times, someone seeks advice or council in a spiritual leader but, over time, the assistance evolves into something entirely different. Just as in a class there should always be a constant, active effort by the teacher to tailor the lessons and methods of instruction to best assist the students in understanding the subject better, so spiritual guidance must be personal to the needs of the one learning, rather than the favorite personal style of the teacher. Students are different because people are different. Students have various learning styles and learn in different ways, similar to or unlike their classmates. The situation is no different in the case of a Christian trying to better understand Jesus and his or her relationship to him.
With the purpose always in sight, a spiritual leader should always be aware of how to best reach the goal of a stronger bond between the believer and God. For example, some people find that meditating in silence and in prayer is a very effective way to rest in the presence of the Lord and to grow in faith. While I also believe that silence is often overlooked by a modern Christian mind of ceaseless activity and distractions, this practice affects different people in different ways. For some, the idea of meditating in silence for prolonged periods of time sounds uncomfortable at best. It is difficult for someone to realize the value of meditating in God’s presence when the God in which to share the presence with feels like a stranger. If someone told me to spend one entire minute in the dark with a perfect stranger that I knew nothing about in complete silence, I would not be comfortable at all. In fact, I can think of about one hundred other things off the top of my head that I would rather do before doing that. To someone that does not know who God is, this is not far from what crosses the mind when someone says, “Just get quiet and pray.” Insisting that the person you are advising follow an unexplained, untried method just because it works or worked for you, might prove unfruitful. In fact, it might act as a stumbling block rather than a step up in their relationship with God. Help that helps with true purpose always adjusts the methods of worship and demonstrates the activities of fellowship so as not to place a burden on the Christian in need that may negatively affect the goal that both should be striving toward
There must always be one common goal when it comes to spiritual guidance and assistance. The motivation that inspires the help should never be self-centered. Rather, the motivation should always remain humbly submissive to a Christ-centered mission to serve. The purpose of positive spiritual guidance should always be to achieve a better understanding that the true healing cannot be credited to any person’s wisdom. The medicine gradually working its healing power through the spiritual veins of a new heart for God is only the word and Gospel of Jesus Christ. The doctor can recommend the treatment, but the medication is what truly heals. If we find ourselves more in awe of prophetic preaching from the mouth of a prophet or the healing power of a healer or the lights and sounds of a Sunday service, we must always ask ourselves if all of these things are strengthening or weakening our faith in and love for Jesus Christ alone. If we find that the new leadership or advice we are following is strengthening our relationship to something or someone other than Jesus, we are regrettably still being violently tossed in the tide. The only way to assure security amidst the shifting waters is to grab ahold of “The Rock” which is Jesus Christ. No prophet, pastor, teacher or friend should ever claim to be, “the way, the truth and the life.” Only Jesus can and only Jesus is.