Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Lava Trail

My wife and I set out for a hike this morning on the Big Island of Hawaii. We read up on where we were going -- from Highway 19 down to the ocean along the Kohala coast to the Golden Pools of Ke-awa-Iki -- and how to get there (using our standard Hawaii guide book, this time Hawaii the Big Island Revealed). We took the description of the hike and a map with us. And still we managed to make the hike longer and harder than it should have been. Instead of following what the book laid out, I got us off track after rushing down to the black sand beach and starting to explore. Then we didn't stop and look back at the instructions or the map when we had a question about where to go next. (I won't be quitting my day job to become a guide anytime soon.) Never fear, we didn't really get lost. And no one was in any danger. We got to see everything we set out to see, including those golden pools. And all it cost us was a little more time and a little more exercise as we backtracked to find the lava trail we had passed as I was drawn in by the black sand beach.

But the timing of that little lesson on our hike this morning coupled with listening to Pastor James preach on the discipline of personal Bible study online tonight -- as we stay caught up on the current "Authentic: Developing the Disciplines of an Authentic Faith" sermon series while vacationing -- caught me. How often do I set out along the path of life and fail to go to God and His word for direction? Maybe I even started off the right way. I read God's word, prayed and got direction from God. But I forget -- wait, it's more like neglect -- to let His word continue to be that lamp unto my feet and that light on to my path (Psalm 119:105). While failing to look back at the readily available and understandable description and map of our hike didn't really cost us anything other than time, failing to trust and rely on God's word to guide me step by step can be far more painful and impacting. And it's sinful!

When we didn't refer to the map mid-hike this morning, I had us climbing up and down big, loose lava rocks for a while. It wasn't clear where we were going. And it was very hard hiking. The whole time there was the lava trail we had skipped right past a while before. And we found out later by watching a fisherman who knew the area well that there was another short lava trail right along the ocean that was much easier, shorter and safer than the way I improvised. The key was to go back to the guide book and to follow its instructions.

For us followers of Jesus to be faithful and fruitful in this earthly sojourn we need to move from leaning on our own understanding (e.g., "I have this figured out" or "This isn't too hard, God; I'll take this one") to trusting God and acknowledging Him and our dependence on Him in everything. When we do so, He makes straight paths for us (Proverbs 3:5-6). That means solid terrain to walk on instead of hiking on uneven terrain made up of loose rocks and not knowing where you are going.

This earthly walk isn't easy. It isn't always a straight sidewalk free of ice, snow or dirt. It might be a lava trail. (If you haven't hiked lava trails, they seem otherwordly.) But God's word lights the way for us. It shows us where to step next and lights the path He has us on. The key is we have to read the guide book. We have to refer to the Bible and follow its instruction again and again. And there will be times -- maybe today for some of us -- where we need to go back (e.g., confession, repentance, asking for direction) and get on the lava trail God has set out for us.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Get Out of the Way

"Get out of the way" is not something you normally associate with strong leaders. But stick with me here. There are certain things a leader has to give up as he or she moves up in leadership. I want to concentrate on one of those areas for flock leaders.

The typical path to the flock leader role is to promote a current small group leader or couple. That means there is a decision to be made about the future leadership of that small group. Let me make this easy for you. When promoted to flock leader, the soon-to-be former -- that should give away what is coming next -- small group leader(s) needs to give up leadership and ownership of that small group. I say this for a couple reasons.

First, as a flock leader, you are now a leader of leaders. Your responsibilities have changed. You are now expected to identify, shepherd, train, equip and release new leaders. That should start with what until yesterday was your small group. (By the way, it was never your small group. Rather the Lord and church leaders entrusted you with the leadership of that small group for a period.) You have been leading this group for a while. That means you should have a well-trained apprentice in place. Your first place of identifying and developing leaders is right there. Start at home. In what will hopefully soon be your former small group.

Second, if you cannot give up leadership of the small group, how will the other small group leaders in your flock have the freedom to really function as leaders? The move up to flock leader takes you perhaps for the first time into an Ephesians 4:12 role. Your job is now "to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ."

Remember what it was like to learn to drive or to teach your children to drive? As a parent, you don't teach your son to drive by having him sit in the back seat or maybe move up to the passenger seat while you continue to drive and perhaps talk to him about how to drive. Eventually you have to give up the driver's seat, move over to the passenger seat and let him have the keys. You do that at first in a safe environment, like the local community college parking lot on a weekend. (That worked well with my sons.) But eventually they get their license and you have to let them drive the car on their own -- without you in it. Otherwise you will never develop another driver.

Leadership is similar. Leaders develop leaders. When a higher level of leadership is entrusted to you, entrust your old position of leadership to the next leader and get out of the way.