He who gets the burden gets the job

Ps Peter Prothero
(Pastor and Teacher, Equippers London)

Leadership. It’s a tricky word. That’s because it evokes all kinds of responses – depending on your own journey and experience of it. At it’s most unrefined it’s simply about command and control, “Do what I say, when I say it”. It’s the way Rome operated as evidenced by the Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. His faith, that Jesus commended, was in his confidence that Jesus only had to speak a word and something would happen. He didn’t need to have Jesus come to his house. A word from Jesus was enough. But don’t think this was an endorsement of Rome’s leadership style. That was fear based. Soldiers obeyed their military leaders because the penalties for disobedience were severe – including death in some instances. 

In the Kingdom we don’t operate the same way, at least we’re not meant to. There is a higher way; a more refined way of leading. We obey out of love. We do what He says because we value who He is. This kind of leadership is based on trust, and establishing trust takes time. People are basically asking two questions about you if you’re a leader. Will you do what you say? That speaks to your character, your honesty, your integrity. In other words. “Can you be trusted? Bear in mind we live in a cultural milieu where most political leaders do not do what they say. They lie, they obfuscate, they avoid, they misdirect and more recently they have been found to cheat and defraud. It’s not a great track record. It doesn’t make it easy for the public to trust their elected leaders. If it spills over into the church then members can become very hurt disillusioned.

Does your ability match your mouth?

The second question is just as crucial. “Can you do what you say you want to do?” In other words, “Does your ability match your mouth?” This speaks to your competence as a leader, your skill set. Wanting to do something and being able to do it are two completely different things. I want to run a marathon. It’s not going to happen! I haven’t trained. I haven’t prepared. I haven’t paid the price necessary to be a successful runner. My desire and my ability are out of sync. Good leadership is able to function in both these vital dimensions. Leaders have to prove themselves trustworthy. They have to follow through and do what they say. But equally they shouldn’t promise what is beyond their ability to deliver. Paul advises us to have a sober appreciation of our gifting and to operate within the measure of faith that we have received, Romans 12.3-6.

This is the curse of many organisations; they over-promise and under-deliver. It’s easy to do. We want to please. We want to do our best. We think of the best possible scenario of how things could go. But often we don’t take into account all the factors that are actually outside of our control and so more often than not we disappoint people. And you don’t have to drop the ball too many times before folk lose confidence in your words – in you. Trust has been eroded. What would customers feel like if this situation is flipped on its head? How would they speak about an organisation that under-promised and over-delivered? What kind of reputation would be built over time? The best way to achieve this is by creating margins – space to act if something goes wrong that we didn’t anticipate. Margins give you room to manoeuvre. They give you time to implement a contingency. And it’s always worthwhile thinking through what contingencies you could have ready in the background. This is thinking ahead. It’s foresight. It’s wisdom. It’s anticipating the problem before it arrives.

Not to do this is to sentence you to the prison of reactive leadership. It’s a stressful place to be. Your only visitors are those who commiserate with your plight, (comforting but they don’t help you change), and those who will tell you they could see that coming – yea right! Imagine an organisation where people were trustworthy. They were basically true to their word. Now imagine those same people were highly competent at what they did. They understood what skill set they brought to the table. They knew their strengths and their weaknesses. To that group of people the idea of being part of a team is seen as an opportunity, not a threat. Collaboration in such a team is no longer about competing but about creating synergies – achieving more together than we ever could on our own. 

The key thing that holds such a group together is a leader with a compelling vision. But how do leaders connect with vision? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Let me begin with an illustration. Pearls are beautiful and valuable. They are found in oysters. A natural pearl begins its life inside an oyster's shell when an intruder, such as a grain of sand slips in between one of the two shells of the oyster. In order to protect itself from irritation, the oyster will quickly begin covering the uninvited visitor with layers of nacre — the mineral substance that fashions the mollusk's shells. Layer upon layer of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed. Cultured pearls are made in the same way. The only difference is that instead of accidental circumstances, a "pearl farmer" embeds a grain of sand into the mollusk.

Think about that. Something valuable and beautiful is created through an irritation! An uninvited guest! If you want a vision that comes from God, ask yourself a few simple questions. When you look at what is going on in the world what gets to you? What irritates you? What keeps you up at night? What makes you angry? What makes you think, “That’s not right and somebody should do something about it”. At this stage you are beginning to feel passionate about an issue. People often come to me when they are going through this process. It’s an interesting exchange. They want to hand off their burden to me. I’ve learned no to play that game. As the old saying goes, “He who gets the burden gets the job!” God wants you to turn your burden into prayer. When you do that you start to get a picture of a new future. A new reality begins to emerge. That new reality that you are starting to see is vision!

Moved with compassion.

It says of Jesus He was moved with compassion. He was deeply touched by the pain and distress of others. He felt it. And it moved Him to action. He allowed the burden for others to be translated into vision. Through the Spirit He imagined a new future.

Look at Matthew 9.35-38:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Here were a leaderless group of people, weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. Yet Jesus, the good shepherd, is present among them! How come? He’s right there yet He calls them weary. Scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Well ask yourself this question, “How many people can one man shepherd?” In His humanity He cannot meet the bigness of the need. Jesus needed more shepherds like Him – labourers if you will. The problem is not with the harvest – that is abundant. The problem is with the labourers. They are too few. Prayer not only helps us clarity the vision it becomes the means of fulfilling it. In the next chapter Jesus answers His own prayer – He sends out the twelve to do what He has been doing! He is multiplying leadership.

Once we come alive to this sense of need and develop a vision for how things could be different three things tend to happen.

Vision connects us to purpose.

Firstly, vision has a way of connecting us to purpose. It’s the raison d'être of anything. Scripture makes it clear that everyone is made for a purpose. Take a look at Ephesians 2.10:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. 

We were created ‘for good works’. There is a purpose. There is a reason. A loving creator thought it all out beforehand. Not only that, we are called his ‘workmanship’. He crafted us for the task He appointed for us. The Greek word here is poiema, where we derive the English word ‘poem’. What Paul had in mind was a work of exquisite and masterful creativity. Think of great classics like The Divine Comedy by Dante or Milton’s Paradise Lost, or The Odyssey by Homer. No less impressive are the complete works of Shakespeare. History has acknowledged that these authors have produced great works of epic poetry. Paul selected this word carefully. Our purpose is not haphazard. God has crafted each of us like a beautiful poem. We are His work of art and He does all things well. The only other time Paul used this word is in Romans 1.20:

For his (God’s) invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Here it takes five English words to unpack poiema. All that we experience in the universe is a display of God’s creative masterpiece, his epic poem. His poems – you and me, are living and active and designed for purpose. Your life is a poem that contains all the comedic and tragic drama of an existence more real and more meaningful than you have yet to comprehend. If you think you are a boring, you don’t yet see things as they really are. Vision helps us to see this Biblical reality. Furthermore vision is not something I can conjure up. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 2.9-12:

But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

God’s purposes are hidden in Himself. Our natural senses cannot perceive them. It takes revelation through the Spirit. And the beauty of this text is that the hidden things of God have now been freely given to us. He gives vision, insight and understanding to us because we are now His children. 

Vision gives direction.

Secondly vision helps to give us direction. We understand the goal. We know where we are headed. In Habakkuk 2.2 we read: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.”

Until you can write your vision down plainly, it is still a burden. Unclear, undefined. But once you get it and can articulate it simply it allows others to run with it. And people only run when they know which direction to set off in! This helps in making decisions. Imagine you live in London and you want to go to Rome. You won’t buy a ticket to Prague – not matter how cheap it is. The issue is not cost, its direction. You know where you want to go. Everything that takes us toward our vision we need to say yes to. Everything else should at best be approached with caution or else be ignored. 

I see this all the time. Leaders spinning their wheels because they lack direction. Leaders afraid to spend money because they lack direction. Vision should determine where we spend our money not our budget. Two years ago, our church outgrew our facility. We looked everywhere for a bigger venue. The only place we found was fifteen minutes away, but it added an extra £50K to our annual budget. Money, we didn’t have at the time. Now when your child needs new shoes because their feet have grown you don’t cut off their toes, so they stay in the old shoes. You buy new shoes even when you can’t really afford it. Right? 

We tried to trim our budget, but it would have meant cutting things back that were also key to our vision! So as a leadership we had a difficult conversation about what to do. We all decided that we should take the risk and follow our vision – which was not letting facilities dictate the size of our church. Five of us agreed we would underwrite this decision (that meant each of us picking up a £10K bill if it didn’t work). You really find out who has skin in the game when you put that kind of option on the table. 

We made the move and in the first month we had a deficit of £4K. By the end of the second month we were £8K down. By month three we were £12k down – but our church started to grow again in the new facility. As we approached the end of the forth month we were £16K down and then it happened. Over and above our regular giving a cheque came in for £20K. It inspired our faith. We kept growing. By the end of the year not only did we not have a deficit we were £50K in the plus. Our giving that year increased by £100K! That was a 25% increase on the previous year’s giving. God picks up the bill for every vision that is birthed in Him. Again, to quote a cliché: “Where He guides, He provides”. But it’s true.

Vision provides motivation.

Finally, vision provides you with motivation. People who lack motivation always lack vision. They may have ideas, wishes or dreams but not vision. Motivation and vision are axiomatic. You can’t have one without the other. I endured studying for two years because I saw what I could achieve doing a Master’s Degree in “Leadership & Organisational Development”. I went into the program with three very clear goals in my mind: to increase: my competence, (I wanted a better understanding of how to develop leaders as organisations grew), my confidence, (I was wrestling with uncertainty about a number of development processes) and finally my credibility, (with organisations in the market place). I did all this as a father of six young children!

It meant cutting out many things I enjoyed but I was motivated. I had to rethink my schedule, my priorities, my focus but I had a clear goal in mind. If you keep looking at the cost of doing things in terms of the personal sacrifices you’ll have to make, then the chances are you are not sufficiently motivated. That points to a lack of vision. Fulfilling a compelling vision should excite us – frankly it should even scare us. That’s because every vision that is from God is often way bigger than us, our resources and our current ability. It pushes us to depend on God to empower us to fulfill it. Because vision has the power to tap into your purpose – what you were made for, it will always bring a sense of adventure. 

Questions to ask yourself.

Let me close with a few more questions that might point you towards a compelling vision for your life. What are you drawn to? What could you see yourself giving your time, your talent and your money to? What could you do that would leave a lasting legacy that people will talk about in years to come? One final thought. Every person I’ve met who has achieved a successful vision began by serving someone else’s vision. It helps to shape our character, our humility our servant heart. Be patient. Vision is a Spirit. It’s not available on tap. You have to wait for it – but it will come. And when it does – pull the trigger!

Hannah Marchant