There’s always a moment in our leadership journey where we come across that one person. You know the one. The one that has all the answers. Or never shows up on time. Or that one who always commits straight away and bails at the last minute. Or just keeps making the same mistake, repeatedly. Maybe just try to keep the list to one person!
What do we do when we are faced with these people? It’s a challenge to us, not only in how we best lead them, but how we let God grow us as disciples and leaders in the moment, and in our ongoing journey into Christlikeness. What we specifically do will depend on the person and the situation, but what God is wanting to do in us is similar, no matter the context.
I believe that these people, as they appear in our teams, our communities, and in our congregations, give us the opportunity to grow deeper in our understanding of and intimacy with God. And that, really, is the true purpose of the Christian life – to grow in our relationship with Him. We mature in our understanding and experience of God, we lead others into their own relationship with Him, so that He might have a massive, multi-ethnic people that He takes as His own. We are offered the chance, in these situations, to step towards God, turn our perspective toward that person, and see them from His point of view.
That’s what I call prophetic leadership: the ability and discipline to stop in the moment, put aside our own preference, or judgement, or frustration or discomfort, and see that person the way God sees them. We may never fully see them as God does, how could we? But I believe that the heart of a leader is powerfully formed as it experiences even a glimpse of God’s heart for their people. But why would we do that? Because Jesus did, and He’s worth following!
In Matthew, we see the journey of Peter. He starts as a businessman, a fisherman, and is called by Jesus to leave that behind, and become a disciple, eventually a fisherman of people on God’s behalf. Peter gets a bit of a bad wrap through the Gospel accounts, and not always wrongly. He makes some pretty big blunders: if the Son of God suggests your motivation makes you more a little like satan, that’s not exactly your best day. Denying Jesus three times wasn’t his finest hour. And of course, cutting off a servant’s ear in front of the Prince of Peace isn’t really honouring the mission. And yet, in the midst of this, in Matthew 16, Jesus leads Peter prophetically.
The disciples have just seen the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish, the Pharisees have just asked for a better sign, and then Jesus asks the disciples who they think He really is. When Peter says that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, “… Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:17-18)
Jesus could have just thought, “Oh Peter, finally you are paying attention! Why can’t you connect all the dots?” But instead, He recognises God’s plans for Peter, that God has a purpose and a call on Peter’s life, even despite the circumstances and mistakes surrounding Peter’s journey. Jesus recognises the gift and power of Peter’s life in God and declares it over him. What a powerful moment. So, surely from this moment, Peter changes, right? If God says that to your face, everything changes, right? Not really. We don’t really see Peter step into his gifts and calling until the day of Pentecost, well and truly later in the story.
What can we learn from this? A few things, I think.
Firstly, we should follow Jesus’ example and lead people according to how God sees them, not how we see them. We can only see the here and now, and we only have what they’ve done so far as any kind of record of ability and quality. But God sees the end form the beginning, He sees how He’s made that person, the unique qualities He’s placed in them. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t think I can prophesy like Jesus did!” That’s ok. You don’t need to. What you know is that person is made in God’s image; they are His beloved child; they have been given unique gifts and a specific calling by God, according to the grace given to them; and He loves them before they do anything else. Start there, and give God the opportunity to let you see them like He does.
Secondly, call out the God-given value of that person. Like Jesus did with Peter, he didn’t just keep it to Himself, but told Peter about it. Again, don’t go off trying to predict their future; that’s not what this kind of prophetic leadership is about. Instead, take what you know to be true of them (as I mentioned above), and tell them. Like Jesus did, spend time with them, get to know them, observe them. Find the valuable and godly things they do, the important things that those who have rejected them in the past missed. Pay attention, so that you don’t have to try and figure out God’s specific plan for their life, but you can speak out what you see God already doing in their life. Who knows – you may be the person God uses to draw them into the journey of maturity and growth, the very step they need to take to begin or continue their journey toward all God has for them. I almost guarantee that someone did that for you at some point in your past. I know people did it for me.
Lastly, recognise that as you prophetically lead people, God is showing you who He is, and His heart for those you lead. Peter was never a means-to-an-end for Jesus. He wasn’t another brick in God’s big plan, something impersonal and utilitarian. He was a person, unique, created by God. Paul, in Acts 17, tells us that God appointed the time and place for us all to be born. Every person you lead, from the delightful to the painful ones, is appointed by God to be here with you now. Spend time not only praying for each person He’s given you to lead, but take the time to let Him mature your responses and attitudes to those you lead. The aim is to know Him and be loved by Him, and let others experience the same. As we get to know His heart better, we lead well and reflect Jesus to those in our care.
By Jo Leutton