The default Christian mixture of planning minimizes the role of people and lifts up our dependence on the leading of God. The problem is when those that are carnal find themselves in positions of leadership and espouse a spirituality that is a cover up for a laissez-faire attitude toward any type of preparation and planning. There are those who actually feel unspiritual if any kind of planning takes place in regards to worship or programs that would require planning. Too much planning is believed to cut God out of the picture and elevates man’s locus of control. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see those that plan all the activities of the church in a way that could easily ease God out of the life of the church.
God wants us to search for His will
In First Chronicles 15:1-14 there is a record of David’s preparation for the ark of God to be brought to Jerusalem according to God’s Word. David lived in a time where the past King (Saul) did what he wanted and had forsaken the counsel of God. Alfred Edersheim wrote, “It was surely time to restore the ancient worship which had been so sadly disturbed” (Vol. 4, p. 170). This was a massive undertaking for the new king and ended up being a failure on his first attempt. This was mainly due to a lack of consulting the written law of God and relying solely on human effort. David made a second and fruitful effort after seeking God’s will for handling the ark.
In the New Testament the same understanding of seeking God’s, will first before planning and doing. However, it would also seem that there is still a significant focus upon human involvement in the planning of the life of the church. As such, much of the New Testament shows that people from different cultures had different understandings of how to planning would take place in the early church. Such as who should take leadership in the church and who should be taken care of (Acts 6 for example). Ken Schenk shared, “It makes perfect sense that the concepts of order and peace would play themselves out differently in different cultures, as well as in various groups and denominations today” (p. 201). Those approaches considered decent in one culture may not have been the case in another. Culture seems to be an inevitable part of the human side in organizing the life of the church.
Led by the Spirit
Primarily concerning worship, John 4:23-24, transitions our understanding of the mixture of planning in the church by the Divine and human elements. This passage sets up a strong implication that worship has a high degree of freedom in the Spirit. Joseph Dongell pointed out that, “Only through divine assistance – through the Holy Spirit – may a person worship God appropriately” (p.80). If we understand that all of life is worship to God, then the Spirit must also lead any time spent in organizing the life of the church.
What would this mean for an individual such as Charles Grandison Finney, who has made such an impact on the revivalist movement (he popularized the use camp meetings, revivals, choirs, and the altar call)? Finney pointed out, “That a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means. The means which God has enjoined for the production of a revival, doubtless have a natural tendency to produce a revival” (part 1, paragraph 4). He was intent on the human side of the mixture, maybe so much that it betrays His understanding that God was the instigator of movements whether they are a revival or other projects the church concerns itself with.
It would be interesting to have seen such an individual of Finney and his method of bringing revival and Anne Hutchinson, a puritan, that led a movement engrossed with the idea of simply being led by the Spirit alone. Hutchinson wrote, “a believer possessing the Holy Spirit was not bound by laws of conduct but was moved by inner spiritual compulsions” (Noll). Finney promoted a certain way of doing things and actions that had to complete to prepare the way for the Spirit to take control. Hutchinson taught that actions flowed from being led by the Spirit.
Balance is the key
It would seem that a balanced understanding of the leading of the Spirit and the importance of human involvement is the necessary approach. John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “It was cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all and then left it” (paragraph 1). To leave God entirely out of the equation would be dangerous and foolish. Therefore the organization of the life of the church has to be founded upon Him. James 4:13-17 shares God’s frustration with those who plan and leave Him out of the process. As it is written, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15).
Yet, it would seem fair to surmise from scripture that the human element of planning is entirely done away. Our plans and preparations should be made but also allow for the spontaneous change of plans by the Spirit. Such is the case of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:6-10. Paul had a desire to go one direction, but the leading of the Spirit pointed him toward another direction. It would be essential for any Church leader is that planning is part of the calling but that it is subject to change by the leading of the Spirit. The leading of the Spirit takes precedence over all organizing.
Saint Augustine wrote that we are to “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” The balance that should be sought in having the right mixture of divine and human elements is one hundred percent on both ends. God is the author and finisher of everything that we do. We ought to seek His will on all matters of life, especially as it concerns organizing and making decisions regarding the church. We also understand that it is impossible to remove the human element of decision-making and even such things as the cultural context on the person. It is also the will of God to use people to accomplish His divine plan for their life and the local congregational context.
Decisions making, planning and organizing rest upon the leading of the Spirit. It is up to us as leaders to seek God’s will. In times where He allows us to have a greater say in the matter, we still pray, “God this is how we see you leading us in the matter. But, if you desire to change this, we pray that you change it up and lead us by your Spirit.” There needs to be a confidence that God’s will is being accomplished, even when it seems that human minds and hearts have seemingly done a majority of the planning. There must also be a surety that God’s ability to bless or change the agreed upon plans by people may come.
Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.xvii.html
Edersheim, A. Bible History: Old Testament (Vol. 4, p. 170). Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software. 1997
Finney, Charles, Lectures on Revival. Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.iii.i.html
Noll, M. A. Hutchinson, Anne. In (J. D. Douglas & P. W. Comfort, Eds.) Who’s Who in Christian History? Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House. (1992).
Schenck, Kenneth. 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Commentary for Bible Students. Indianapolis, IN, Wesleyan Publishing House. 2006