Solving the vision problem 10

What’s the alternative to claiming special infallible visions from God? Although we’ve criticized Noble and Furtick in recent days for their grand vision pronouncements, how should they lead their churches when they feel so driven by God’s visions?

Simple. Instead of saying “God told me,” they should lead by prefacing their visions with “I think” or “I want.”

Here are some problems with the God-told-me approach.

  1. It claims infallibility. When a leader says “God says,” it really takes the leader out of the equation and suggests that if you think the vision is wrong or unwise, you have a problem with God. We’ve seen specific examples of this kind of thinking from Noble and Furtick. Because God is never wrong or unwise, we are forced to yield to these visions as being perfectly right and good.
  2. It demands unquestioning obedience. This follows from the first point. If God said it, every Christian must obey it. If you’re a leader, it’s a wonderful tool to be able to wield, where your very words are perceived as demands from God.
  3. It turns questions into fractious divisions. If, on the other hand, we wonder whether a leader’s vision really is straight from the throne of Heaven (PP, for example), we are castigated as not only being against the man, but being against the kingdom of God. As I pointed out yesterday, it gets to the point where Noble considers his critics as being in the family of the Devil more than in the family of God.

Here are some advantages of the I-think approach.

  • It depends on wisdom. Unless a leader can point to chapter and verse (God’s special revelation), anything else is a product of human wisdom. By God’s grace, he has given us wisdom, which should be informed by Scripture with the Holy Spirit’s help. We are expected to use it. To say that a decision is a product of human wisdom does not necessarily mean it’s wrong, but it doesn’t claim infallibility for itself. It is possible, however, that is is wrong.
  • It makes leaders take responsibility. When a leader claims God’s revelation for his decisions, he can also blame God for the results. If the leader is leading based on personal wisdom, it forces him to count the cost and take responsibility for consequences.
  • It demands responsibility and discernment by hearers. Even though Paul was speaking the very words of God to the Bereans, he consented to having them test his words to discern that they were true. Repeatedly, Scripture tells us to test the words of our leaders to see if they conform to God’s word. If the leader claims divine inspiration, there is no possibility or need to test the words. In the Biblical model, followers must take responsibility for the words of the leader, and need to correct or abandon false teachers.
  • It leaves room for disagreement. If it’s possible that a leader’s decisions may be unwise, there is space for criticism and correction. For example, when Perry Noble asked his tweets whether he should wear the grope-your-wife T-shirt, he was asking whether it was wise to do that, and we perceived an invitation to help him with his decision–something I complimented him on in the subsequent discussion. On the other hand, when he said that God told him to play Highway to Hell in church, no criticism is brooked, even though many of us PPers see that as a very unwise act.
  • It distinguishes between God’s revelation and a leader’s passion. Noble’s reference to a deeply felt vision a few days ago was a good clue to what these really are–his personal hopes and goals for the church. Every leader should have goals for where he wants to lead, and it is perfectly appropriate to communicate them as such. What is inappropriate is when the leader takes his goals and raises them to the level of special revelation. A Holy Spirit-led leader will often have his goals coincide with God’s purpose for the church, and we pray for our leaders that that is the case. A Holy Spirit-led leader will also know that there’s a difference between what comes out of God’s mouth and what comes out of his, and he’ll be careful to make sure that his followers understand that difference as well.

10 thoughts on “Solving the vision problem

  1. Albert Jul 17, 2009 2:13 pm

    Unfortunately, I think that Noble and Furtick have spread this thinking into their church’s vision and plan as well. Now, not only they, but their leadership teams (Duffey), their community service, and even members have adapted this dangerous way of thinking.

    Scary stuff.

  2. KeithO Jul 17, 2009 9:32 pm

    JDuncan,

    “A Holy Spirit-led leader will also know that there’s a difference between what comes out of God’s mouth and what comes out of his, and he’ll be careful to make sure that his followers understand that difference as well”. Well put.

    Even the Apostles were careful to characterize some of their decisions as “we thought it good” rather than “God told us to…”. A great example of this in scripture is when the first deacons in Jerusalem were appointed to serve widows, so the Apostles could devote their time to other matters, such as prayer.

    Another example is the apostles letter to Gentile christians. Again, they “thought it good” to write this letter rather than “God told us to”. If the apostles were that careful, it makes me wonder why some flippently attach his name to every urge, thought or decision. The turnstile (emergent) leaders today may be compelling and charismatic, but they are not even in the same league as the apostles. And the apostles were very careful to distinguish between what God said and what they thought was good based on their own reasoning, goals and vision.

    The apostles weren’t afraid to make the distinction, not fearing that what they said would somehow be diminished because God didn’t directly reveal it to them. This begs the question. Do emergent church leaders today feel they don’t have the authority otherwise without “special revelation” or telling people that God gave me this “vision”.

    • James Duncan Jul 17, 2009 9:43 pm

      Good observations, KeithO.

      Paul provides another great example in 1 Corinthians 7:12, where he gives his personal wisdom about marriage and divorce.

      To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.

      If Paul says this, like KeithO said, who are we to claim a higher level of credibility for our own pronouncements?

  3. Tommy F Jul 18, 2009 9:53 pm

    JDuncan, I like your 3-part “God-told-me” list. I think there’s a 4th that is closely related:

    It makes the leader the only one who can provide direction or cast a vision for the church. The ramifications of this are profound: If only the leader receives the vision, all others are “out of the loop” and left awaiting the leaders “divine” revelation from God, whenever it comes, and whatever it contains.

    So, oracles only go to the leader (Noble, Furtick, etc.), which makes the leader indispensable, and promotes the leader rather than the church, its ministry, etc. This circular argument and structure is further enhanced by twitter by the pastor (not the church), a blog about the pastor (not the church). These are all about the pastor, not the church.

    In government this type of leader is called a dictator. At NewSpring this type of leader is called a Pastor.

  4. KeithO Jul 19, 2009 7:54 am

    Tommy,

    I’m not ready to be as cynical as you, but Noble, Furtick, et all appears to give discerning folks every reason to think as you do.

    I guess I’ve heard this vision and revelation language so many times for so long from other leaders long before Noble, Furtick, et al ever hit the scene.

    Oral Roberts telling people that God said to send me money or God will take my life.

    Jim Bakker telling people about his vision from God to build Heritage near Fort Mill. This is before he went to jail over his criminal activities over this development.

    Any preacher on any Sunday who states “God put this on my heart” before he lays out his plan to the congregation.

    Again, the apostles were very careful to say where their thoughts were coming from. It concerns me that leaders today are not so careful. Even some of the ones I respect are not immune to this.

    And further (directed at all pastors in general), why must some pasters feel that every thing they say and do has to come from the basis of “God put it on my heart”? Why can’t they say, “I think this is the good and right way to go”? And if their walk with God and their discipleship backs it up, that should be enough authority in those cases.

  5. Tommy F Jul 19, 2009 3:01 pm

    KeithO,

    You continue to make good contributions to PP. Thanks.

    I am cynical (if not downright hostile) of any sentence that begins with “God-told-me …”

    You asked “why?” I think that it’s a bit of “raising the stakes.” As JDuncan points out, it’s a very convenient tool to use, especially if it works.

  6. KeithO Jul 19, 2009 4:41 pm

    Tommy,

    Yes it does raise the stakes, until it is said so much it becomes “preacher speak”.

  7. Tommy F Jul 20, 2009 9:47 am

    Two other problem with the “God-told-me” approach:

    1) It takes the focus off of the gospel, salvation, Jesus Christ, etc and keeps the focus on the individual who receives the “vision.”

    2) It emphasizes the need for a new vision, arrogantly supplementing the one the NT lays out for all churches.

    • James Duncan Jul 20, 2009 10:01 am

      Tommy, exactly.

      Your second point is perfectly illustrated by Perry’s On this rock post earlier this month.

      WHAT IF this past 2,000 years of the church was merely the foundation to set up what God REALLY wants to do? That thought pumps me up!

      That’s just a blank check to do whatever you want to.

  8. keitho Jul 20, 2009 3:15 pm

    Guys,

    Right On!

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