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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.