When you are deeply invested in something, you begin to own it. For persons in church leadership, the well-being of congregations and the effectiveness of ministries can become personal. We want them to flourish!
Of course, the desire for flourishing congregations is rooted in our desire for gospel proclamation and for God’s mission. But something else creeps in as well—our investments in ministry and leadership can easily give way to the subtle and dangerous position of thinking that we are in control.
This shift reveals itself in the language we use. Do we talk about “my church” or “our congregation”? Is it “my ministry”? The move from God’s ministry to my ministry, from God’s mission to our mission, comes quickly. When this shift occurs, it derails even the best leaders into a space that fails to reckon with a simple yet powerful theological claim that is foundational to biblical leadership.
What is that theological claim? Simply this: God is on a mission to transform the world and calls the church for that purpose. In other words, God is the primary leader. Our work as leaders is always secondary, always a response to his initial vision and action.
I offer two ideas to help keep in mind the theological implications of this claim.
First, in the closing days of World War II, a film titled, God is My Co-Pilot debuted. The film’s title became a popular way of thinking about God’s presence in life. I even recall seeing “God is my co-pilot” on bumper stickers on the freeway years ago! However, as popular as the statement is, claiming that “God is my co-pilot” reinforces the idea that we are the pilots and God is sitting in the co-pilot’s seat ready to assist now and then. Perhaps more appropriate and consistent with the theological claim, leaders should declare that “God is the pilot” and we are the co-pilots who give the assist through our leadership.
Second, it can be wonderfully revealing and humbling to think through the implications of whether it is my doing and acting that really brings about the theological claim. Andrew Purves articulates quite well the logical extension of faulty thinking:
As the risen and ascended Lord, Jesus does not now sit in heaven with his arms folded waiting for us to do something religious that he can affirm (an image from Karl Barth). Jesus is not our cheerleader from the heavens hoping we will get faith and ministry right. Neither does Jesus want to get more involved in our ministries. Why would he? Our ministries are not redemptive. We don’t raise the dead, forgive the sinful, heal the sick or bring in the reign of God. Rather, Jesus has his own resurrected ministry to do—raising the dead, forgiving the sinful, healing the sick, bringing in God’s reign (note the present tense!)—and he wants us in on it.1
May God bless us as we continually return leadership back into God’s hands and surrender ourselves to the work of paying attention to God’s word and to God’s actions.
 Andrew Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry (IVP Books, 2010), 44.
Dr. Carson Reed is Vice President for Church Relations at Abilene Christian University and Executive Director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as the Director for the Doctor of Ministry Program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work with congregations and church leaders across the country. His teaching and research centers on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married for over 30 years and have four grown children.