A number of years ago I received a weird prophetic word. (Yes, there are other kinds; and, no, it wasn’t about who I would one day marry—saving an awkward discussion with my wife!) Frankly, I would have ignored it, except a dream, a Scripture, and three other people confirmed it in the space of a month. It went to the heart of who I’m created to be, and the style of leadership I was to exercise. Ready for it? God said, “David, you are a stirrup.”
Yep, weird alright. Thus began my journey into discovering what a stirrup is, and how it relates to me.
The first two meanings were strange enough, though fairly accessible. First, from horse-riding, the stirrup keeps the rider on the horse, historically revolutionising modern warfare as one’s lunging lance was added to the momentum of the horse. I’m to be small and solid, well-formed in character and theology to press up hard under the church, preventing us falling off the left or right as we follow Jesus; the stirrup helps us stick to the Spirit as we gallop into the heart of the battle.
Second, and disturbingly explained to me by a midwife, stirrups fix your legs in a desired position for surgery, taking off the pressure so the core business like birthing a baby can be attended to. God seems to be birthing something new in his church in this season, but our restless legs carry us away into fruitless endeavours, repeating well-trodden but dead-end steps. We need to be still long enough for life to emerge; stirrups keep us from wandering.
Just when I thought I’d exhausted this layered prophetic word, a Professor of Medicine said, “Ha, yes, I see; you’re the stapes!” Pardon? “Stapes, aka the stirrup. It’s the smallest and lightest bone in the body. It’s in your middle ear. Sound waves from the outside world move the Ossicles: first the hammer, then the anvil, and finally the stirrup. The stirrup vibrates the tympanic membrane, propagating a clear signal through to your brain which converts waves into recognisable sound, mobilising the whole body for action.”
Being sensitive about my height, the short references stung. But the picture made sense. Evangelical churches, in our rapidly changing post-Christendom context, have been guilty of ignoring the outside world. Far too often we are preoccupied with our own activities, echoing what popular leaders and best-selling American authors have proposed as a silver bullet to reclaim the secular culture and bring heaven to earth in one quick fix. And yet, God—who is painfully sensitive to the cries of the oppressed and foreigners in our midst—hears.
YHWH speaks to his prophets on the margins who hammer home the message calling us to engage. Prophets, being a strange bunch, are easy to ignore, so the word then passes through them to strike the anvil, reshaped through scholarship that is solid to fashion a warranted message worth sharing. Finally, as the amplification comes to a crescendo, my role as one among many stirrups in the body of Christ is to send this strong and tested word through sensitive leaders to the operation-centre of church-world. If they have ears to hear, then this acoustic shock can mobilise faith-full Pastors to train and equip the whole body to get out of our buildings and actually be the hands and feet of Jesus to love and serve a culture tired of religious spin.
Being the tiniest, lightest bone, there’s no place for aggrandising my call. My sphere of leadership is relatively confined, speaking out of Malyon College as a wonderful but smallish theological centre in Brisvegas, trying without many runs on the board to traverse the divide between church and culture. But here’s my point, and why I share it with you …
Whether through “Church in the Wild” seminars, Pastor’s Conferences, or our recent neoNights “equipping young leaders to influence culture”, I’ve heard the same signal reverberating in every place, starting from the margins, but first sent by the resurrected Christ who makes himself known in those easiest to ignore. Just as Jesus wandered around the lampstand of the first century ecclesia, encouraging some, rebuking others, we desperately need “ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (see Revelation 2-3).
And in a word, what does the Spirit say? Simply this: “LISTEN!!”
Our excessive activism, program addiction, incessant talk, and stage fixation have made us quick to speak but slow to listen—precisely the reverse of James’ admonition (Jas 1:19; also Prv 10:19, 16:32, 17:27, 29:20). As the faithandbelief.org.au data attests, if we can get over our COAS tendencies, our Centre Of Attention Syndrome lingering from now defunct Christendom, we have an incredible opportunity to better understand our irreligious neighbours and meet them where they’re at.
Each neoNight, I’ve used padlet to capture how you perceive the relationship between your churches and the surrounding culture, seeing what the risen Christ might be saying through the Spirit to his churches. Pastors and teachers have a tendency to think we understand the culture better than anyone else. Truth be told, young adults in universities and diverse workplaces are more embedded in the culture than any of us senior leaders upholding the status quo. So, as the humble stapes, it’s my vocation to listen well to the world, amplified through each of you.
It’s worth taking the time to read your reflections compiled from the North, South and West side of Brisbane and Toowoomba. As Paul advised, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good” (1 Thess 5:19-20). Here’s how you put it, under “Revelation”, straining your ears to hear our Lord speak:
Do you really know me? Wake up and listen
Do not fear. May your love of me and others overwhelm your fears and insecurity.
Trade in your old wine-skins. #newwineskins
Be humble—wash the feet of those in our community
Stop chasing your tail; do you genuinely desire my kingdom first?
No more hiding inside the church walls. Get out and truly love your neighbour.
Be a grapevine, linking with the secular community and bearing good fruit.
Forget the Australian dream; it isn’t my dream. Don’t be blinded by the superficial.
Rebuke comes before renewal.
Trade hype for humility, being quick to love.
Less busy, to truly feed my sheep.
Humble yourselves and take up your cross; serve those outside the church.
Stop looking only inward and go outward. Break the chains of tradition and move away from segregated ministry so that we can model an open community. Support and listen to each other.
Put others in our community before yourselves.
Unity will bring reform.
Be open to dialogue; listen. PRAY!!
Refocus on Jesus: Don’t be Martha, be Mary.
Be real; be authentic in your witness.
Stop being so comfortable; get out of your comfort zone. You are my ambassadors.
Faithfully follow the Spirit to the margins where I have called you all along.
Create space, for silence and reflection—step away from noise and distractions.
Share and receive—do real life things; it doesn’t have to always be a big production.
Don’t just hear what the culture is saying; LISTEN to what their heart is crying out for.
We need to get out of these “walls”
Let go of fear of man and make loving others our main priority.
Heaven will flood the earth but we are the rain drops and if we never leave the church we will only create a pool. Open the doors and let the love flood out.
We need to be humble and authentic in how we love, serve and interact. We need to stop for a moment, and just listen.
Selah. May we pause and hear God speaking.
You see, none of this would have been voiced without first taking the time to listen. To shut up. Be quiet. Stop the talk, and open our ears. As YHWH reminds his people through Isaiah 30:15, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
So, here’s my plea. Forget those 80’s images of the charismatic leader rocking the microphone from the front. New leaders, God’s neoLeaders for this generation, must be quick to listen and slow to speak. Humble to hear God’s voice emerging from the margins and places of pain and lament. Collaborative in their approach, trusting that new paths forward bubble up from real dialogue among the priesthood of all believers, not just the edicts disseminated down from the modern Pastor-CEO. NeoLeaders must be wise in their deliberations and actions, discerning a praxis of how Christ would have his body work together as one for the holistic flourishing of the world for which he bled and died. May we be those leaders.
By David Benson