We make plans and decisions every day as leaders. Three great dangers, however, often torpedo our best intentions and efforts:
- We Define Success Too Narrowly
In churches, we tend to define success by such things as attendance, finances (giving, meeting or exceeding budget, etc.), decisions for Christ, baptisms, numbers participating in small groups or other ministry programs, etc. If we work for a non-profit or in the marketplace, we might measure increased market share, program expansion, or numbers of people served. When the numbers are up, we’re successful; when the numbers are down, we’re not.
Numbers can be valid as a measure of fruitfulness for God, but using numbers to define success is not without its dangers.
The problem is when the portion of our time and energy devoted to thinking about external issues far exceeds the amount of time and energy we devote to internal measures of transformation such as the depth of people’s personal relationship with God, the quality of marriages and singleness, their level of emotional maturity, or the integrity of our relationships as a community.
- We Make Plans and Take Action without God
It would seem that God’s leaders have been making plans without him since the beginning of recorded history. Consider Abraham and Sarah, Moses, the ancient Israelites, Solomon. The list goes on—from King Saul’s decision to remain on his throne and kill David, to the prophet Jonah running away from God’s command to go to Nineveh. Making plans for God without relying on him has been standard practice for quite literally thousands of years.
It is biblical and wonderful to make plans to expand God’s kingdom. The question we must continually ask, however, is this: Where does this opportunity or plan fit within the larger plan of what God is doing in the world? Our perspective is limited. His thoughts and ways are far higher and different than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).
- We Go Beyond God’s Limits
Going beyond our limits is one of the most significant challenges and temptations we face as leaders. It takes maturity to decline a great opportunity for growth or to embrace a modest plan. If we are one hundred people, why not become two hundred? If we are three hundred, why not become five hundred? It is easy to have fantasies for ourselves that our real lives cannot support.
Limits touch the core of our relationship with God. Without explanation, God set a clear limit for Adam and Eve—they were “not [to] eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16-17). They were to trust the goodness of God and his hard-to-understand ways. Theologian Robert Barron describes their rebellion as the refusal to stop and accept God’s limits. It’s not all that different from my refusal to surrender to the limits God has for me and for those I lead.
As you reflect on the three characteristics—defining success too narrowly, making plans without God, and going beyond God’s limits—which represents the greatest temptation for you? And why do you think that might be true?
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