4 Distinctions of Telling Time for Church Leaders

If influencing others is a key component of leadership, then Christian leadership will be about influencing people spiritually, leading them in a direction that helps them become more like Christ.

I’ve always liked Henry and Richard Blackaby’s definition of spiritual leadership:

“The spiritual leader’s task is to move people from where they are to where God wants them to be.”

Most leadership books focus more on principles than people, and this is one reason so many of these books seem out-of-date so quickly.

To think of leadership in terms of timeless principles is easy, but we do well to remember that the tasks of exercising leadership and exerting influence do not take place in a vacuum. They are by nature contextual; that is, they require the use of wisdom in applying principles to various and often-changing contexts.

In this sense, then, Christian leadership is never timeless. Instead, it is a timely application of God-given wisdom regarding specific decisions that must be made in particular moments in time.

Over the next few weeks, I want to return to this topic of Christian leadership. My particular focus is on an essential but sometimes neglected component of Christian leadership: the ability to know “what time it is,” in order to have a clear understanding of the times. There are four spheres in which Christian leaders should know “the time,” and I look forward to fleshing these out in subsequent posts.

1. Biblically

The Christian leader will stand apart from conceptions of leadership that are worldly. How? By the way he or she inhabits the world of the Bible.

Since Christians are called to live within the framework of a biblical worldview that takes one from creation to new creation, Christian leaders must influence others from within this grand narrative.

The Old Testament offers us several examples of leaders who “understood the times” in which they lived and knew “what time it was” biblically. The New Testament adds the element of living in the “time between the times,” in the already / not yet of God’s kingdom. Knowing where we are in the grand sweep of history, according to Scripture, impacts our ethical decisions.

2. Personally

While it is of the utmost importance for a leader to understand biblical teaching on history and the future, one must not lose sight of how important it is to understand one’s own personal story within that overarching narrative.

The Christian leader must be a student not only of world history from a biblical perspective, but also of his or her personal journey. In this way, the leader is best equipped to make good decisions about how to serve God in a particular time, utilizing specific gifts.

Knowing “what time it is” personally is essential for making wise decisions, and these decisions require a deep understanding of one’s personal life circumstances, personal gifting, and personal calling.

3. Organizationally

Once we know ”what time it is” from a biblical and personal standpoint, we must consider the organization and the people we are leading.

Understanding the life and times of an organization is essential for wise decisions; it involves understanding the current state of the organization, how best to communicate the present challenges to others, and envisioning and promoting the future.

Until we understand the particular moment one’s organization is in, whether it be a church or other ministry, we will not know what to do.

4. Culturally

A fourth element of Christian leadership concerns understanding the current context in which one lives. It means one knows “what time it is” culturally and how one’s culture has arrived at its current moment.

The impetus for understanding one’s cultural moment arises from the Great Commission itself, which has an eschatological dimension that must not be ignored. After all, the Great Commission involves making the announcement of King Jesus and leading disciples to obey everything he has commanded. Only within the grand narrative of Scripture does this command make sense, and only in a current cultural context can this command be obeyed.

Not only does the Great Commission challenge cultural views of world history that do not align with a biblical worldview, the Gospel itself is historical to the core, a record of historical events that impinge upon one’s current cultural setting. A biblically formed view of the world, often described as a “biblical worldview,” is vital to fulfilling the Great Commission.

>> Conclusion

  • Knowing the time biblically places believers within the overarching story of their world as described by Scripture.
  • Knowing the time personally helps individuals to view their strengths and weaknesses and, in answer to God’s call, maximize their potential by matching their gifts to the needs of God’s people.
  • Knowing the time organizationally involves a realistic diagnosis of where an organization is and how it got there, as well as healthy communication of the leader’s vision for the future.
  • Knowing the time culturally is essential for effective contextualization and the ability to discern the positives and negatives of a particular cultural moment in time.

The Christian leader who knows what time it is in all four of these spheres will be better positioned to make a major impact for God’s kingdom.

>> Read more from Trevin.

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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