By Allen Quist & Tim Robnett
Elijah found that total dedication and service to the Lord came at great physical and mental costs. Having displayed extraordinary courage and power in the face of the prophets of Baal, Elijah saw the Lord’s mighty power in consuming the sacrifices on Mount Carmel. Judgment came upon the false prophets, and vindication of the power of Yahweh was seen as never before.
Having been used of the Lord in such a mighty way, Elijah ran a marathon distance ahead of Ahab to Jezreel. You would think that such a mighty act would melt the heart of any person, yet Jezebel’s anger was expressed to Elijah in these words, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kings 19:2).
According to the Scripture, Elijah was overcome with fear and he ran for his life. Possibly this was the smart thing to do. He ran the full length of Israel to Beersheba. Leaving his servant there, he continued into the desert. There, all alone under a broom tree, his true feelings gushed from his lips in these words, “I have had enough, LORD … take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah was exhausted, deeply depressed, and in great need of rest and renewal. Do we have a need for renewal?
God allowed him to sleep, eat, and hear his voice afresh. What a profound experience this was for Elijah. And it is a pattern for us.
Strengthened by food, drink, and rest, Elijah travel forty days to mount Horeb where the Lord met him in a fresh, personal, and dramatic way. We all remember the story of the great and powerful wind, the earthquake, and then the fire, but no message from God. And then “After the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). Yes, with the whisper came a new dialogue with the Lord. Elijah expressed disappointment and doubt. God listened. God recommissioned him. Elijah obeyed.
We are all in need of rest and renewal—not just occasionally, but regularly. As individuals, families, churches, and Christian organizations, we need renewing. What we know and experience as individuals with God we need to experience as communities living and serving God. Presented to us here is the need for renewal as a strategic part of managing our organization. Managing the people of God means that we prepare for renewal, not wait for some crisis to force the issue.
A number of expressions of this planned renewal come to mind. God orchestrated the calendar for the nation of Israel by including special times each year for worship and renewal (Lev. 23). During the 1980s, I (Tim) had the privilege to pastor Palm Springs Baptist Church. One of the special ministries for me during those years was developing our ministry to families. With the suggestion of an older pastor in our denomination, I began preaching a series of messages each year from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day relating to family issues. In addition, we began an annual retreat for couples. After a few years, one of the younger couples came to me an asked to begin leading this ministry because of the growth in their own lives from what we had been doing. Renewal loves to renew others.
Renewal flows from careful times of evaluation. When the management cycle comes full circle, sufficient information has been gained to say that some refinements need to be made. This is normal, healthy, and desirable. Renewal is based upon the need for change—personal change and corporate change. Leadership needs to model the need for change based upon seasons of personal evaluation and renewal.
What does the Bible say about evaluation? God is an evaluator. The apostle Peter said, “They [the pagans] will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). Paul told the church in Corinth, “We [Christians] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). The Word of God is his instrument of evaluation, “For the word of God is living and active … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Father has delegated to the Son the responsibility of judgment, “And he [Father] has given him [the Son] authority to judge” (John 5:27).
As Christians, we are to evaluate ourselves. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5). Here personal evaluation should precede and take precedence over the evaluation of others. The Christian is called to evaluate others for leadership (Acts 6:1–3), concerning personal behavior (Col. 1:28; Matt. 18:15–18; Gal. 6:1), and the Christian is to evaluate the world (Rom. 12:2; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21).
Evaluation of oneself and the ministry of the church or Christian organization should lead to praise for the blessings and fruitfulness of ministry. Praise for God and his family should be a first priority in evaluation. A Lord’s Day Psalm includes this note of praise, “but you have made me as strong as a wild bull. How refreshed I am by your power . . . the godly will flourish like palm trees . . . even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green” (Ps. 92:10–14 NLT).
Proper evaluation also leads to admitting the need for change. By regular and intentional self-examination, the Christian can stay close to Christ. Paul exhorts the believers in Rome to offer their bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship … be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1–2). This transformation of mind comes in view of God’s mercy. The message to the Romans that precedes chapter 12 outlines the mercies of God. Here one finds the content for personal transformation.
Psalm 78:72 reflects God’s evaluation of David the shepherd of Israel, “He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands” (NLT). Renewal needs to touch our hearts and our hands, our inner lives and our leadership skills. Therefore, when thinking of renewing the church or Christian organization, we leaders need to begin with ourselves and then find pathways for every person in the organization to be touched regularly by the process of renewal. Rather than viewing renewal and retooling as an “emergency” measure, Spirit-led leaders intentionally make time for periods of evaluation and renewal.
The priority of heart over hand surprises no one. Leaders in the church understand that inner transformation and renewal pave the way in God’s agenda for growth in leadership skills. Therefore, like David, we need to say, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). Or as he said in Psalm 139:23–24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (NLT). Or as John the beloved apostle exhorted the churches of Turkey, “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 3:6 NLT).
In addition, as leaders of a church or Christian organization, we must develop our skills in ministry. These skills cover the breadth of what God has asked each of us to accomplish in our particular culture and ministry setting. We trust, for example, that this book will give you insights for integrating the working of the Holy Spirit in and through you in terms of leadership and management processes.
Leadership and management skills must be learned and refined. We each have our area of ministry that requires continued growth. With the abundance of information and resources available to grow in leadership skills, communication skills, interpersonal relationship skills, worship and music skills, fund-raising skills, etc., we have many choices on how we want to integrate the additional knowledge and skills. We do not want to assume we know it all. We often forget more than we want to admit. The Holy Spirit maximizes what he wants to accomplish through our skills. The discipline to learn and master new skills challenges each of us in our service for the Lord.
I (Tim) never imaged that obtaining a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary in 1994 would be used of the Lord to open a door of ministry for me at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in 1996. I had hoped that someday in the distant future I might teach at a Bible college or seminary. Because I had a doctorate degree, God used me at an unexpected time to teach at Multnomah seminary. For me, doctoral level studies not only prepared me for more effective ministry, but also opened a door for teaching at a graduate level.
So we have need for heart and hand renewal. As we gain skill in ministry, it should never be separated from our need for the renewal of our hearts. For personal renewal cannot be disconnected from the practice of corporate renewal. When the church participates in the Lord’s Supper, Paul says we are to examine ourselves and make things right with other believers before partaking of the bread and the cup (1 Cor. 11:23–24). The church needs renewal in its ministries just as urgently as the individual does.
First, the elders of the church can lead by practicing renewal in their personal lives and at leadership meetings. Through worship, reflection, and prayer, the leaders should come before the Lord to seek his guidance in personal and corporate change. This can be done at the weekly or monthly meetings, before the congregation in times of worship, and on special occasions for retreats.
Second, the staff of the church should practice renewal in their staff meetings, as they lead various ministries in the church, and in special retreat settings. Since the staff does evaluation on a more systematic basis, they need to lend their experience to empower others in this discipline. Unless we view evaluation as listening to the Lord and the needs of the community in order to refine and adjust how we are doing ministry, it becomes a meaningless exercise. The context of evaluation must be seeking to understand the working of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives. Renewal should be the goal of this process.
Third, the leaders and staff of the church should lead the congregation in seasons of renewal, emphasizing the working of God that leads us to praise and seeking his instruction on what we should stop doing, what we should start doing, and how we can do ministry better. In the process, people should be encouraged, exhorted, and appreciated. The goal of leadership in equipping the body of Christ is to build up the body of Christ, not tear it down. We are to seek the working of the body of Christ in unity and diversity. This takes clear leadership through the evaluation process, leading to times of renewal and refreshment (Eph. 4:12–32).
A godly statesman by the name of Nehemiah highlights the strategic role of renewal. Nehemiah captures the essence of leading and managing a group of people who were completely outside the plan of God. God first touched the heart of the leader, Nehemiah. Visiting the destroyed capital of Israel, Nehemiah saw firsthand the terrible and tragic condition of the city of his people. God put Nehemiah on his knees and planted a dream within his heart. Rising from the dust of Jerusalem in 445 BC, Nehemiah was a changed man. The burden for rebuilding Jerusalem grew within his heart as a fire kindled with dry timber and a strong wind.
The power of this story is magnified as we realize Ezra had rebuilt the temple some years before. Yet God was not satisfied with a shrine for the purposes of bringing sacrifices only. He wanted to see a fully functioning city with all the dynamics of family life, commerce, and government running at full speed. Why else rebuild the city walls? The city walls were the residence for many city dwellers and the city gates were the places of commerce and government. I believe God wanted his glory seen in every aspect of life, and so did Nehemiah.
Prayer had ignited in Nehemiah a new boldness and resolve to restore what had been destroyed (Neh. 1:4). With a plan planted in his heart, he found God opening the heart of the king to finance the vision. With papers of empowerment, a blueprint in his mind, and a team to work with him, Nehemiah began the building. He delegated responsibilities to each clan according to their ancestral heritage. The people were highly invested before they moved the first rock. When opposition came, Nehemiah exercised wisdom and resolve. He renewed the oppressed workers with the challenge to have a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. Renewal of spirit came with a challenge to face the schemes of the enemy with creativity and determination.
It took only fifty-two days to move thousands of rocks and construct hundreds of feet of the city wall (a casemate wall), all in the midst of verbal abuse and threats of all kinds. Amazing! Unbelievable! When people are renewed in heart and mind, mighty things can happen. But the project was not over until all shared in the celebration. Nehemiah understood that finishing the wall was not the ultimate goal—it was worshipping God in a renewed city! God wanted his people to enjoy the safety of the city and experience his presence in their midst. Nehemiah realized that renewal of their hearts would lead to worshipping God. And the worship of God would be not only a blessing to the few Jews then living in Jerusalem, but “the sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away” (Neh. 12:43). When God’s people are renewed, the whole city will hear praises to God.
Renewal means that the church will be a healthy community where God is worshipped, believers are being transformed, and the community at large feels the presence of God.
Renewal means that the church is a happy and holy place. The worship of God will find center stage in the priorities of the church. Personal and corporate worship will dominate people’s discussions and mediations. The awareness of a holy and loving God will fascinate the worshippers. Praise will characterize the times of worship. Somber people will take off their coats of depression and put on robes of joy. Renewal by the Holy Spirit will lift hearts above the burdens of the day.
The church will grow in holiness. When God is center stage, the focus is upon him, not us. When we look at him, his truth shines on us. We begin to see the darkness of our souls. The hidden sins become more public. Our hunger for purity and righteousness calls out to our own hearts to be more like him. When renewal comes, God’s people turn toward the Lord with a new desire to be conformed to his image.
This means that as we lead and manage the church, we need to be asking questions like “Is God renewing our hearts and minds?” “Is there a hunger for God?” “Why?” “Why not?” Leadership and management for the purposes of efficiency without hunger for God is an exercise in carnality. We are called to consider the ways of God that lead us closer to him, not just a better organization. Therefore, the goal of the organization is to draw people closer to him.
Organizational management and leadership, like the skeletal structure of our bodies, are to “be there, but not be seen.” As was said earlier, a starving or obese body is not healthy or efficient. But a body that is healthy needs a strong skeletal structure. Organizational leadership and management is that skeleton. When the Holy Spirit empowers those gifted to lead and manage the affairs of the church, they in turn submit to his leadership as servant-leaders, and with the church regularly seek the Lord through a skillful process of organizational leadership and management.
We long for renewal in our own lives. When we find that in his presence, his people find fullness of joy. Join us in renewing our passion for him and our commitment to be servants for Jesus’ sake to the church he died for and now lives for.