With this week marking nine months of being in Austin, I thought it made sense to highlight a few of the big things God has been teaching me in this season. There are so many things I could share here but these are a few things that have really made an impact on me!
Clarity of Scripture
More than anything else I’ve learned in residency, this has made the biggest impact on me. I share this first because I think the other two takeaways flow directly from it.
Early on in MWDP we spent a few weeks studying and discussing the four characteristics of scripture — authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency. I learned a lot across the board but the idea that the Bible was written to be read and understood by “normal people” like me really struck me.
While I’ve spent a lot of time reading the Bible, there’s always been a part of me that believed "serious reading" of scripture was reserved for those with a seminary degree, those who can read in the original languages and who somehow manage to get things out of it that I never seem to catch. Without discounting our need for learning in community and under the leadership of teachers that God has gifted for exactly that purpose, an early realization for me here was that it’s possible to swing too far — to believe that apart from others you could never rightly understand the word of God for yourself and as a result never feel confident enough to press in and apply it. Wayne Grudem defines the clarity of scripture like this:
“The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”
I found a ton of freedom and encouragement in this as I was reminded that from the beginning neither the Spirit of God or the human authors who penned the pages of scripture ever intended it to be for the elite few — it was written for the many with the assumption that it was clear enough to be understood. Jesus himself continues to say to the religious leaders of his day throughout the gospels “Have you not read…” (Matthew 12:3) and “Have you never read in the scriptures…” (Matthew 21:42) implying that their lack of understanding wasn’t due to a lack of clarity in the scriptures but to their lazy reading and hardness of heart. This definition also reminded me that to read the Bible is a spiritual activity before it’s an intellectual one and that the posture of our hearts and motives are absolutely key — my ability to rightly understand scripture doesn’t come from my own intuition, intellect or discovery but from the Holy Spirit who teaches and reveals the truths of scripture to me as I come in humility, seeking to be open to whatever he might teach and being willing to obey.
Practically, this has been nothing short of life changing for me as I read the Bible using the “REAP" method we were taught — growing both the muscles of looking closely to examine what the words in front of me are actually saying and then confidently applying them to my own life, trusting that the Holy Spirit is working in that and that God delights in my desire to understand and obey.
Sure there are times when I come across things I don’t get — Peter, who himself contributed to scripture, apparently had this problem too in trying to read some of Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:15-16) — if that’s not encouraging, I don’t know what is. Still, the lesson for me has been to lean in and have confidence as I read knowing that it’s God, through his word who “makes wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7) and “imparts understanding” (Psalm 119:130)
As I’ve led worship over the past couple of years, God has used a long string of Sundays to bring the goal of corporate worship into sharp focus for me. He’s taught me that the goal is not and has never been to lead people in singing songs but instead to leverage the power of song, scripture, and exhortation to lead the hearts of men and women in the direction of the cross — to see Jesus and to respond to him in worship. In short, what people need most as they come through the doors of the church isn’t the power of music — it’s the power of the gospel.
While I came into residency believing that, I’ve seen and experienced how the reorienting of the goal of worship should change things from a practical perspective too. If the goal is to take people on a journey from weariness and exhaustion to remembrance and celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus then my role is not primarily to be a singer or guitar player but a shepherd. Out of that realization, I'm learning to lean into the confidence that comes from knowing that God has sovereignly placed me in in front of a particular group of people, at a particular point in time to lead them and has equipped me with all that I need to do that.
Like just about everyone else in the world, I don’t exactly love public speaking and yet find myself speaking with greater urgency — no longer getting so caught up in the fear of speaking but earnestly desiring to communicate the message of the gospel to people desperately needing to hear it and be reminded of it. As I think through giving the call to worship each week I labor both more and less over my own words, fighting for clarity and precision and at the same time resting in knowing that only the word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). I can speak pastorally with greater boldness, knowing God’s word is going to do all the heavy-lifting.
Last but certainly not least has been an unexpected lesson in leadership. Frankly, the word “leadership" and the millions of books, podcasts and seminars related to it have always made me cringe a little — it’s felt like a roundabout way of using other people to affirm your own goodness and boost your image of self. I realize now how cynical that perspective is and am beginning to understand that true leadership isn't about a life turned inward but actually the opposite; it’s about expending yourself for the good of others.
As I have reflected on why it is that I’m so quick to question someone who self-identifies as a leader, I’ve realized that it’s not actually their motive that I don’t trust, it’s their ability to rightly discern what is best. To put it differently, knowing I would disagree with many of the ideas and opinions I held even a decade ago; why would I trust that anyone else’s radar is any better?
The answer to that question goes back to where this post started. It turns out that the only leader worth following is the one who first sees themselves as a follower; one who recognizes their fickleness and "leans not on their own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) but runs whole-heartedly after what God has said is true, believing that it leads toward life. No one exemplified this better than Jesus, who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) — he trusted and obeyed the Father perfectly, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) and as a result is now highly exalted by God and has been given "the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
This new definition of leadership has provoked me to take inventory of my relationships and ask myself not if I’m leading but where I’m leading myself and others to. I’m all of a sudden aware that as I make decisions throughout the day in my own life and then in marriage, parenting, friendship and worship leading I’m operating out of a trust in either my own wisdom and understanding or God’s and that out in the real world, one of those yields significantly better outcomes than the other.
The Apostle Paul says “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) — this is the heartbeat of true leadership.