Thursday, August 16, 2007

Decision making paradigms and "A/G Leadership Interrupted"

I just stumbled onto an article by Rich Tatum of PneumaBlogger renown over at BlogRodent that touches on ways we leaders can improve the process we go through when we make and announce major ministry decisions. It deals with the recent, abrupt resignation of Thomas Trask from the senior spot in the American branch of the Assemblies of God denomination.

If you read Rich’s post all the way to the end, past his speculation regarding what political maneuvering or other considerations may or may not have prompted Trask’s recent step, which is not of interest to me personally since I am not A/G and have no plans to be, you will find he expresses some interesting thoughts about the way the Apostle Paul and his peers interacted regarding a critical ministry decision in the Book of Acts. Given the number of times in my life that I have seen Christian leaders announce very drastic ministry changes with a simple, "I feel this to be the leading of the Holy Spirit," I urge you to think about what Rich says.

Let me
hasten to add that, although I have never met the ex-General Superintendent, I have heard wonderful things about him over the years. He may well have extensively and confidentially processed his pending action among a closed circle of peers before announcing it officially, along the lines of the "Pauline model" Rich has sketched out. Be that as it may, for me the greatest personal "take-away" is that each of us who serve as a spiritual leader needs to continually keep in mind just how far-reaching the consequences of our personal decisions are in the lives and ministries of those we serve.

In another vein entirely, reading this and Rich’s other posts about the recent General Council of the Assemblies of God caused me to remember the fact that blog posts on the internet had also substantively impacted the agenda this year at the national convention of the Southern Baptists, another leading evangelical denomination in America. For instance, check out the FutureAG blog hosted by such leaders as Mark Batterson, Paul Stewart, Brad Leach, Jeff Leake, and Tony Farina, especially the bullet point notes of Bryan Jarrett's presentation at the 2005 General Council, and the archives of

In my view, the astonishing influence of the internet on very weighty deliberations in these two denominations this year highlights the drastically different ways younger people process organizational decisions as compared to their elders. For more of my thoughts on this sea-change in what is perceived to be acceptable process that we all must come to grip with as we lead church groups in conducting their affairs, including the growing desire for greater openness and public debate in all levels of organizational life, see my earlier post entitled, “Generation Gap.”

I would love to hear your thoughts...!


Rich Tatum said...

Thanks, Mark, for your kind words about my blog (again!) and especially thanks for really reading the whole, lengthy post. I did feel it was important to find a biblical model for the general criticism directed at Trask regarding his abrupt and untimely resignation. In general, some people are asking "Why?" and others respond with criticism, saying, "You're not supposed to criticize God's anointed!" or "He said God told him to do it, that should be enough for you!"

So, in thinking about the issue, I went to the Book of Acts and the most dramatic instance of divine leadership I could remember, especially one where the bulk of the hearers couldn't understand what was going on. Paul's direction to return to Jerusalem seemed to be the best example.

Unfortunately, it's only one example. There may be others, I haven't thouht that deeply about it yet, so I'd hesitate to turn this one example into a doctrine. But even if it's a single solitary example without confirmation elsewehre, it does provide some insight into how Paul and his peers processed this kind of thing. Even if this example isn't prescriptive and normative, it is instructive, nonetheless, and we would do well to emulate Paul in things like this.

I think leaders owe it to those who follow to provide a rationale. Even if the decision comes as a result of divine guidance, without a doubt, God has his reasons. There's no reason leaders following God's "how" can't also implore into his "why." And even if the answer is simply, "I don't know why God wants me to do this. I've struggled over it and asked God to clarify why I should make this move, but answers haven't come. I've processed this with my wife and with my friends, with my pastor, and my coworkers, and we all agree: this is God's will." Well, that would serve to satisfy most of us.

In the absence of such a process, what assures us that the leader has truly heard from God? I'm not sure, but I've been trained to question claims of divine leadership without confirmation, and the experience Paul had in Acts helps me understand that this is probably wise.

Again, thanks for interacting and linking to my article. I appreciate it.



Mark said...

And, thanks to you, Rich, for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. For me, the story of how Paul and his leaders processed his decision whether or not to go to Jerusalem is an outworking of his perception of what Holy Spirit inspiration looks like.

Cross-referencing the Acts account with Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 14, particularly, yields some interesting insights. When Paul effectively tells his readers that, if they are prophesying by the Spirit and someone sitting nearby becomes inspired to speak by the Spirit, that the first person should stop speaking and set down - even before they finish their train of thought - to make way for the second person to begin speaking, it is obvious that the Apostle believes prophetic revelation concerning matters that affect a body of believers is much more like a radio broadcast than a phone call. In the former, anyone who tunes into the frequency that is being broadcast on will pick up the message being transmitted. In the latter, only one individual's telephone will ring.

Paul assumes that if one prophetically gifted person in a corporate gathering of believers stops sharing what he or she is "receiving" from the Lord for that body in order to make way for another prophetically gifted person to share what they are "receiving," that the message the first was relaying will still get through since both persons will have tuned their "radios" into the same broadcast. In fact, Paul appears to me to believe this so strongly that he specifically requires that prophetic messages received by the Lord and given to others be "judged," i.e., carefully and prayerfully evaluated by others before they are accepted and acted upon.

While I do believe there are many instances when the Holy Spirit places "person-to-person" phone calls, particularly when dealing with an individual about something that concerns only that particular individual, I strongly believe that when the Holy Spirit is giving direction to a body of believers, it is not only possible but probable, and certainly desirable and helpful, for more than one person to have received the message being communicated. Furthermore, even when God is dealing with one particular person about their own individual life, sharing with others what was said during the "phone call" that took place can be a very good and helpful thing to do. In such instances, we can anticipate that those other people will agree that the message we received does in fact sound like something coming from the same person they have also conversed with themselves many times before concerning their own lives, and who has written a book we all read that reveals His thoughts on a very wide variety of issues. That is an extremely important step to take, in my view, in most situations where we receive "heavenly phone calls" because, unfortunately, none of our "spiritual telephones" have fail-safe "caller id" built-in to them. Only when we get to heaven will we get those "upgraded" models...! (Smile!)

Thanks, again, for sharing your thoughts and blessings to you, brother!