By Michael C. Mack
God often leads us as his leaders, and thus those we lead, on roads we never planned on traveling.
Several months ago, I was leading a training event at a church in Central Illinois. As I left my home near Louisville, Kentucky, I set the route in the maps app on my phone and headed out. About two hours in, the app told me to exit the highway at least 30 miles before my next designated turn. I took the exit and then looked at my phone to see where it was taking me. It looked good: a straighter shot than the highway, although on smaller roads.
As I drove, the roads became increasingly narrower and rougher. At one point, my phone app told me to turn onto a newly graveled road. The car in front of me had taken the same turn, and at several points the dust from the gravel became so thick I had zero visibility. All I could do was stop and let the dust settle. Along the way I saw a sign that said “Louisville, 7 miles.” It turned out to be Louisville, Illinois, but I felt confused and off-course for a while.
Eventually, the back roads took me back to an expressway, and I got to the church safe and on time. I saved a few minutes, witnessed many parts of God’s creation I wouldn’t have seen from the highway, and learned several leadership lessons along the way.
Often, the people we lead also get detoured off the road they planned on taking in their lives. Sometimes these roads look narrow, dusty, and even dangerous. Those we lead may feel lost, confused, or off-course as they travel the roads where God leads them. They lose sight of the road before them. They may feel like they’re in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). As leaders, we must remember that God is still guiding them along the right paths for his name’s sake (v. 3). Our job as leaders is not to steer them back to the road they wished they were on or planned to be on. Our job as a shepherd is not to fix them or the circumstances. Our job is simply to walk with them through it. Our job is to help them trust God in the midst of uncertain circumstances. We shepherd them as the Good Shepherd guides us.
Often, people refuse to go where the Chief Shepherd wants them to go. They prefer to stay on the nice, wide roads they know well. But God leads those he loves out of our comfort zones so we will rely on him, not ourselves, for our comfort and peace. Guiding people to go places they do not want to go is not easy or comfortable . . . for you or them—but those roads are often exactly where God leads us.
God wants the people you lead to go and make disciples, but they want to stay on the smooth, easy, and wide road of comfort, stability, and safety.
God wants your church to serve the poor, hungry, homeless, and imprisoned, but they prefer to be served with good church gatherings and safe relationships.
God wants your church to mature so that they will take on leadership and feed others, but they want to stay put and be fed.
If you as God’s shepherd-leader decide to follow the Chief Shepherd, you will face conflict from sheep who don’t want to go there. One of the clearest biblical examples of this comes from the Exodus. The people were off course from where they expected to be. They were looking for the promised land but found themselves in the desert. Moses was their shepherd, but he found himself in constant conflict with stubborn sheep. Moses heard God’s voice telling him to lead the people, but he also heard the loud bleats of sheep who didn’t want to go God’s way. When this happens as you lead, what do you do?
1. Always hold high the values and principles found in God’s Word. Don’t give in to lesser values.
2. Listen to God’s voice first (abide in him), and then to people’s voices. When there is conflict between those voices, refer to number 1.
3. Don’t kowtow to people who prefer their comfort over God’s mission.
4. Don’t let the sheep lead the flock!
In a culture that’s increasingly difficult for Christian leaders, I encourage you to lead courageously, which may mean leading people where they have never gone before, don’t want to go, and are afraid to go. They may fight you. They may decide not to go with you. They may disembark and find a vehicle going in the direction they prefer. I encourage you to stay faithful to the Chief Shepherd who guides you. Hear his voice and follow him. His sheep will hear his voice and follow as well.
Michael C. Mack is editor of Christian Standard.