For any of you who have been involved in church ministry of some sort – either as a leader or as a participant involved in planning an event or service, let me describe a typical scenario and see if you resonate with it:
The people planning the event/ministry get together, and begin the meeting with a quick prayer asking Jesus to guide them and bless their meeting. Then, an hour is spent discussing ideas, issues, logistics, and maybe even desired results or purpose. Then, at the very end of the meeting another quick prayer, maybe 30 seconds long, thanking God for being there.
Does that sound about right? Have you had different experiences?
Unfortunately, this is all too common, even among pastors and elders. But, is saying a quick prayer at the beginning and end of a meeting really honouring to God? Does it say that we really want to hear or know His ideas and plans? No, it sounds more like we’re asking Him to rubber-stamp our plans instead. And I, for one, am tired of it. I believe it’s one of the great sins in the North American Church today. Sure, we might have good ideas, and even excellent ones, but what if they’re not what God wants for us? What about the scriptures that say “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Cor. 3:19), and “The foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans” (1 Cor. 1:25)?
My desire is that when we gather to plan, God will take a central role in those meetings, which means taking time to actually listen to Him, setting aside our ideas and ways. And I believe that this account in John’s Gospel is a model for what we should do – and what will happen – as we do allow Him to be Lord of our meetings and events.
The account of Jesus multiplying the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish is an unlikely source for leadership lessons, at first glance, but from the disciples’ point of view I believe we can learn a lot about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a leadership position (especially a position in the Church).
If you don’t remember the details that much, give the passage a read here.
There are five principles we can take from this passage that teach us what doing God-honouring work looks like.
1. Jesus initiates the work.
Jesus, seeing the crowds following Him, turns to His disciple Philip and asks where bread can be bought to feed them all. Philip heard the work Jesus wanted to do and was incredulous that Jesus wanted to do it – it seemed humanly impossible (and for them, it was). The disciples didn’t tell Jesus that they wanted to feed the people, rather Jesus initiated the work.
For many of us, we tell Jesus what we want to do (and sometimes how we want Him to do it), but instead we should be listening for what Jesus wants us to do. Often, we’ll find that our own ideas and plans were too small anyway! That means that we need to take time and make space to listen to what He is saying to us, and discern together in the Spirit the work He has for us – which in our busyness and self-competence can be difficult to do, but oh so worth it.
2. He tests our faith in order to increase it.
Philip, as I mentioned, was incredulous at the enormity of what Jesus was asking – the amount of money it would require to buy that much bread was unrealistic (assuming a nearby town even had that much on hand to sell, which is doubtful). But Jesus already knew what He was going to do and was testing Philip, John’s Gospel tells us. Jesus wasn’t being mean or cruel, but rather testing Philip to grow His faith – Philip saw the (human) impossibility of what Jesus wanted to do, but Jesus did it! As we see Jesus do the work through us that He wants us to do, He will expand our faith in greater and greater ways.
3. He includes us in the work.
Jesus didn’t do it all alone, however. He took the bread and fish offered by the boy Andrew brought forward and multiplied those after He blessed God for them. Jesus takes the abilities, talents, skills, and resources that we have (and which are all gifts from Him anyway), and as we offer them to Him uses them to accomplish the work that He wants to do. He includes us in the work. After everyone has eaten their fill, Jesus tells the disciples to gather the leftovers, which they do. The great grace of God is that – while He could work on His own, He instead chooses to work through and with us humans, if we will obey Him.
4. We need to obey, even when we don’t have all the details.
Pay attention to the order of events in the passage: Jesus asks Philip where to get bread to feed the crowd. Andrew brings forward a boy offering his lunch (but scoffs at it’s adequacy too), Jesus tells the disciples to get the crowd to sit down, and everyone sits down.
This is important to notice, that while the disciples have no idea what Jesus is going to do in order to feed the crowd, they still obey Him when He tells them to have everyone sit down. Often God will not give us the full picture of the work that He wants to accomplish, but will give us just the next step. Our job is to be obedient to that next step, trusting that He is working everything out according to how He wants it. Again, in our self-competent pride we want to know how everything will work before we take the first step in obedience. But the Bible is full of examples of men and women who obeyed God without knowing the full picture (Abraham leaving Ur, and Mary and Martha at their brother’s tomb come immediately to mind).
5. He will blow our minds.
The Scriptures say “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, emphasis added).
A reminder: It’s not our work, but we join Jesus in the work He is already doing. If it’s our work that we’re asking Him to approve, then while we may be doing good, were ultimately being disobedient to and limiting the better work He has for us.
God is not looking for people who will do their own work in His name, but who will instead do the work He gives them. I am determined to be one of those people – are you?