NOTE: I’ve read MacDonald’s book at least twice. But, presently, I am reading the other two books referenced in this blog. And the collective wisdom – and warning – dictated I share it with you, my friends. If Satan wants to take out the sheep, he’ll begin with us – the shepherds, Love to you, all. nw
Pastor/author, Gordon MacDonald, had finally reached what he describes as “the bottomless pit of my soul.”
In his best-selling book, Ordering Your Private World, he recounts the steps he consciously took to reach that pit.
By nature I was an idea man, a visionary of sorts, and I possessed an ability to persuade people to follow me. You call of these things, at least I do, natural gifts or talents. And they lead to what I call fast starts.
By fast start, I am referring to those things that might (but shouldn’t) dazzle people. Fast start fits with the vocabulary of perceived success: large numbers, big bucks, sudden victories, quick recognition, and meeting ‘important’ people.
Natural gifts such as personal charisma, mental brightness, emotional strength, and organized ability can impress and motivate people for a long time. Sometimes, though, they can be mistaken for spiritual vitality and depth. [This type of leader] often projects a bravado of confidence as they forge ahead with their achievement-oriented life plan. And, sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily recognizes a person of spiritual depth vs. a person of natural talent.
The result is that more than a few people can be fooled into thinking they are being influenced by a spiritual giant when, in fact, they are being manipulated by a dwarf.
We must always be aware that there are leaders who can build great organizations (including churches) on natural gifts. Say the right words, be smart enough to do the right things, be insightful enough to connect with the right people, and one can go a long time before anyone discovers their inner life is close to empty.
Later in life, and broken, MacDonald continues,
This ultimately led me to the bottomless pit of my soul. I had a choice to make. I knew I had to forget the gadgets and start with the interior, my private world. The order in my life I was now seeking had to begin with a thorough scouring of the inside of my life.
I once was told about a pastor who commonly used the phrase “constructive manipulation” to describe his strategy to further his agendas. This phrase is an oxymoron and should send chills down the spine of every pastor as there is nothing ‘constructive’ about manipulation. Rather, manipulation is nothing but ‘destructive’ since it has nothing to do with reliance on Sovereign God, but on one’s deceptive human efforts.
Further, manipulation usually contains a half-truth. And a half-truth is still a whole lie. Even a cursory reading of the scriptures reveals God’s certain judgment on these types of leaders. Moses warned, “Your sins will find you out.” The Hebrew imagery behind this statement is that of prey being hunted by the inevitable consequences of their sin (God’s judgment).
Some aspiring leaders constantly seek ‘the big break.’ They distribute resumes, applying for important, prestigious positions. They use political tactics to gain friends and forge alliances. People scheme and plan to improve their positions.
They may achieve prominent positions, but these come through their own efforts.
Contrary to this pattern, humble faithfulness was fundamental to Joshua’s success. He never set out to climb the ladder of success, nor did he pursue a career path in leadership. He served Moses humbly and faithfully because that was God’s assignment on him. The plan for Joshua to be Moses’ successor was due to God’s initiative, not Joshua’s.
A leadership position without corresponding character based on a humble devotion to Christ inevitably leads to failure.
For the rest of his life, Joshua pursued not becoming a religious leader, but rather an intimate relationship with God. And this is why God could use him mightily.
Pastors, we could well manage to be half as intellectual (of the modern pseudo kind) if we were twice as spiritually mature. Preaching is a spiritual task. A sermon born in the head reaches the head; a sermon born in the heart reaches the heart.
‘Busy-ness’ is the ‘religion’ of our time. Where are our pulpit crusaders driven by fervent prayer? Preachers who should be ‘fishing for men’ are too often fishing for compliments from men.
Preaching is not won in the pulpit by status, or firing off intellectual bullets or humorous anecdotes, but in intimate times of prayer. The messages we preach are won or lost before the preacher’s foot enters the pulpit.
Away with the palsied, powerless preaching which is unmoving because it was born in human effort rather than in the heart of God, and nourished in a fireless, prayerless soul.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick