While a concern for effectiveness is often preoccupied with a person’s role in an organization, the Bible presents effectiveness in terms of the effect we have in the lives of others. We see this approach in Jesus investing Himself in the lives of the chosen disciples, through whom He expanded His influence in the building of His church.
Tolbert Fanning was a towering influence building the church in the South. While well-known as a preacher and a writer, Fanning’s greatest legacy was the investment he made of himself in the lives of the young men under his influence. Fanning’s work blessed generations of Christians through the ministry of the young men he equipped for service at Franklin College.
Fanning’s protégé, David Lipscomb, studied at Franklin College and served with Fanning as co-editor of the Gospel Advocate. When Lipscomb became sole editor, he used his role as editor to develop a circle of younger men who would serve the church far beyond his own life and work.
Biblical Guidance From Godly Leaders
An essential element of relational leadership is providing appropriate guidance. God’s leadership in our lives is often described by Scripture in terms of guidance. As Isaiah 42:16 tells us: “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them” (ESV).
When in worship we sing the hymn “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” we recognize God’s saving work engages our lives through His directive Word. Biblical leadership always takes its cue from this truth and seeks to apply God’s Word in the lives of God’s people.
Scripture uses the words “guidance” and “counsel” interchangeably. In Proverbs 11:14, for example, we read: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” A counselor is one who provides guidance. Unfortunately, the current practice of psychological counseling has obscured the importance of spiritual counseling.
While clinical psychology may be appropriate to help people with a wide range of mental health issues, it is a mistake to read into the Bible secular theories created almost 2,000 years after the time of Christ and His apostles. Psychoanalysis, as a way of treating neuroses, was shaped by a man named Sigmund Freud at the turn of the last century and has nothing to do with the application of Scripture in the lives of God’s people.
Counseling, as described in Scripture, guides individuals to apply the will of God in their lives and in every aspect of their service to God. Effectively encouraging human potential in achievement of the Lord’s work is a worthy goal. No resource exists to guide humans in making their potential greater than the revealed will of God. Our relationship with God unlocks our greatest potential and identifies the highest goals we should aspire to achieve. In short, the Bible tells us what we ought to do and how we ought to do it.
Christian counseling, properly understood, guides an individual into successfully following the will of God. From this standpoint, the Bible tells us a great deal about the sort of counseling needed to guide individuals in their walk with God.
God’s counsel is part of His providential care. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go,” God promised in Psalm 32:8, “I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” When people seek a relationship with God apart from God’s self-revelation in Scripture, they end up replacing the God of Scripture with a god of their own imagination.
God’s active involvement in leading His people cannot be severed from His guidance given in Scripture. As the hymn goes, “When we walk with the Lord / In the light of His Word, / What a glory He sheds on our way!”
Counsel severed from God’s revealed will leads to darkness rather than to light. As Job lamented, “‘Who is this that hides counsel with knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3).
We need to learn the lesson Job learned – but hopefully without going through what he went through to learn it. We need to rely on what God has said and not on human speculation. “With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13).
The Bible Is Sufficient
Harvey Floyd, a former Bible professor at Lipscomb University, told a story of a hostess who prepared a lavish meal at great expense. She provided her guests course after course of the finest foods. Multiple appetizers, soups and salads, fresh baked breads, and numerous side dishes accompanied the delicious main dish.
Finally, the guests were treated to dessert with a choice of freshly prepared cakes and pies. Floyd then asked what we would think of a guest who, finishing this meal, would look to his hostess and say, “I’d like something else.”
In exactly this way, we have received the fullness of God’s revelation through the inspired writers and, most important, in the example and teachings of our Savior (Hebrews 1:1-3). Yet we say to God, “I’d like something else.”
A lack of faith is the root cause for rejecting the inerrancy of Scripture. A lack of faith is also the root cause for rejecting the sufficiency of Scripture. It boils down to a simple question: Do you believe God knows what He is talking about?
Paul’s answer to this question resonates in the words of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The inspiration of Scripture, meaning that every word of Scripture is a direct word from God, is the source not only of its authority but also of its ability. Notice the way Scripture may be used to counsel Christians in a wide range of life situations through teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. The Word of God is sufficient to equip Christians in every good work.
Through teaching. Christianity is a revealed religion. Unlike piecemeal human attempts to construct truth, the Christian faith is delivered in its entirety from God. In His Word, God provides all the guidance we need.
Philosophies such as Buddhism or Taoism are monumental works of human effort. Christianity is, from beginning to end, a work of God’s grace. We do not manufacture truth; we receive it from God.
A thorough knowledge of Scripture is essential for every aspect of Christian leadership but especially as we venture to give guidance to others. When we guide people with our opinions rather than with the truths of Scripture, we stand in danger of usurping the place of God in directing His people.
As with so many aspects of our lives, godly counsel is a matter of stewardship: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Whenever possible, we should apply biblical truth when giving guidance. Better yet, we should teach others how to study and apply the truths of Scripture for themselves. We give glory to God when we point people to His truth rather than to our own cleverness.
When we are compelled to offer our own opinions, we must have humility in keeping our opinions separate from the Word of God. But before ever venturing into the realm of opinion, we should be diligent in looking to the Word of God. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,” Proverbs 18:2 warns, “but only in expressing his opinion.”
Through reproof. “Reproof” is not a common English word. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the New International Version substitutes the word “rebuking.” This substitution embraces ease of understanding at the expense of accuracy. Better is the longer paraphrase of the New Living Translation: “to make us realize what is wrong.”
I am convinced a major reason for the lack of successful evangelism in the church today is our avoidance of reproof. We are not doing anyone a favor by pretending what is wrong is right.
In college, I studied piano under Francis Crutcher. Classically trained, she could play beautifully. I could not. Often, I could hear there was a problem with my music, but I needed her guidance to bring harmony to the discord of my playing. In much the same way, people feel the discord of their lives but cannot find harmony by themselves.
Serious thinkers have addressed this feeling of discord. Beginning with Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) in The Concept of Anxiety, a major theme of philosophy has been “angst,” a vague yet intense and pervasive awareness of insecurity and fear. Philosophers have known something is wrong, but they have not provided resolution to the problem.
What philosophers discuss in their ivory towers, artists express in their varied craft. From The Scream, painted by Edvard Munch, to playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and even to the staccato lyrics of rap singers, a dark thread runs through the fabric of Western culture. Artists skillfully depict the abyss of despair but show no path of escape.
And what philosophers talk about and artists express, people are experiencing in lives of despair. This feeling of personal discord drives men and women to look for resolution. Unable to bear the gnawing feeling of brokenness, they numb themselves with drugs and alcohol. Unable to find meaning in life, they satiate themselves with materialism and permissiveness.
The tragedy of social and moral decay is a testimony of people trying to overcome the discord of their lives. But their brokenness prevents them finding resolution on their own.
It is human nature to want to go along and get along. The spirit of our age calls for tolerance and acceptance. In our hearts, however, we all know something is wrong. We need the honesty of God’s reproof if we are ever to make things right.
Through correction. Scripture does more than diagnose problems; it also prescribes remedies. Medical analogies are used throughout the Bible to describe the brokenness of our lives as something addressed by God’s healing. It is often hard to hear the truth concerning the gravity of our condition, but hearing the truth and receiving God’s correction is our only hope.
We must counsel people to look into the Word of God and then to make application to their lives. As James directed: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:21-25).
It is never an imposition to guide someone into greater conformity to the pattern of faith laid out in Scripture – “the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The Word of God, however, only has power as it is implanted. James used a term calling to mind Jesus’ parable of the sower. The good seed of Scripture will only bear fruit in a properly prepared heart.
Christian leadership must guide individuals to correct their lives according to the Word of God. It is only through the Lord’s revelation of grace that healing and wholeness will come to our lives. “He sent out his word and healed them,” Psalm 107:20 reminds us, “and delivered them from their destruction.”
Through training in righteousness. The correction provided through the application of Scripture in our lives is not just the laying aside of what is wrong but also the embracing of what is right. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin,” Paul wrote in Romans 6:11, “and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Leaders in the church must guide people in the way of righteous living.
Walking in the light and being right with God in Jesus Christ can only come as we receive the guidance of God’s Word directing our lives. This attention to Scripture is described as the hope of dawn following a night of despair. As Peter wrote: “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
Follow the Pattern
When we lack faith in God, we doubt the sufficiency of His Word. We ask marketers and sociologists for counsel when we want the church to grow. We ask experts in entertainment for guidance when we want to enhance our worship. We ask professionals trained in secular psychology for healing when we want to mend our broken lives. We ask management theorists for plans when we want to effectively do the Lord’s work.
We consistently rely on the best and brightest ideas human wisdom can construct. Perhaps before taking counsel of all these experts, we should have taken counsel from God.
Lacking faith in God leads to doubts in the inspiration, authority and sufficiency of the Bible. This disregard for God’s Word leads to a disregard for God’s people. The same lack of faith that doubts God’s competence to speak accurately in His Scripture also doubts God’s competence to work effectively through His people.
Yet there is no pattern of righteousness apart from what we read in Scripture. Paying attention to the prophetic Word brings the hope of a new day. Applying the pattern of Scripture to our lives is essential if we want to follow the Savior. “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me,” Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:13, “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Rejecting the Word of God leaves one in darkness. As God warned in Isaiah 8:20, “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” Christian effectiveness requires knowing the Word of God, applying it in our own lives, and guiding others to apply it in theirs. This approach is guaranteed to provide blessings in the Lord as He leads us in righteousness. o
Gregory Alan Tidwell serves as the editor of the Gospel Advocate as well as a minister for the Fishinger and Kenny Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.