Is the Answer in the Room?
After you seek guidance from God, whom else do you ask?
by Bob Osborne
I’m sure many of you have heard this fable:
A mighty prayer warrior was in the path of an oncoming flood. The news media forecast the grave danger, so the prayer warrior began earnestly pleading for deliverance. A man in a pickup truck came by and offered him a ride to safety, but he decided to keep praying for God’s deliverance. As the flood waters rose, someone in a row boat came by and offered to take him to higher ground. He declined and continued to pray for deliverance. Finally, as the waters rose above the man’s attic, a helicopter came by and its crew offered to pluck him from his rooftop. Again, the man refused. Eventually, the flood waters swept him to his death.
In heaven, the man asked God why He had not answered his fervent prayers for deliverance. God paused and then answered, “I warned you through the forecast, then I sent a pickup truck, a rowboat and a helicopter. What were you expecting me to do?”
I did not include this fable to mock prayer. It’s a mighty gift from God, and our God is a prayer-answering God. I included it to cause us to think about how God answers prayer and, specifically, a certain kind of prayer.
If you have been a church leader for long, I’m sure you’ve encountered a problem you were not equipped to handle. I have been there many times. I have even prayed the prayer of James 1:5: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (New American Standard Version).
Sometimes, after praying that prayer, leadership teams return to discussing the problem, trusting that God will somehow infuse them with wisdom beyond their own—even if no one in the room has ever faced the problem before or had any experience with the situation. But what if the answer is not in the room? What if God will answer their prayer in a more ordinary way—rather than by supernaturally dumping unlearned wisdom into the brains gathered there? What if He has already prepared someone else to help them?
Proverbs 15:22 reminds us that many advisors are valuable in our decision-making, and the very word advisor is defined as “typically someone who is expert in a particular field.” In Acts 15, the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church listened to input from Paul and Barnabas before rendering their decision about Gentile believers and the Law. And in Acts 6, the Twelve sought input from the greater gathering of disciples in order to help care for the poor.
A common error of those of us who serve as church leaders, I believe, is to think it’s our function to know the answers. Yet there is an unlimited supply of questions. Perhaps we would better serve our churches by seeing our responsibility to be that of finding answers.
If all the members of the body of Christ are important to its proper functioning (1 Corinthians 12), should not some of those members having relevant gifts, skills or knowledge be invited into the process of discerning answers to the problems we face?
The most frequent, useful and important advice I give to church leaders facing significant problems is to slow down and invite others into the process. In times of crisis, quick decisions oftentimes yield undesired collateral damage—perhaps even greater than the initial crisis. By slowing down our decision-making processes, we give ourselves time to think, as well as time to seek guidance and assistance from others.
When you pray the prayer of James 1:5, where do you expect the wisdom you seek to come from? How might God answer this prayer in ways you are not expecting?
What types of significant decisions/crises might prompt you or your team to invite others into the room to assist in decision-making? Think of all the “bad” things that have happened to churches in recent years. Whom might you ask for guidance and assistance if the same were to happen to your church?
Who in your own congregation might be equipped with wisdom in a particular area that you might want to invite into the decision-making processes of your leadership team (counselors, attorneys, human resource directors, CPAs, etc.)?
Who outside your congregation might you consult on significant issues? Think about district and national EFCA leaders, about seminary professors, and about professions not represented within your church. Have you established relationships with these potential sources of wisdom and insight?
How can we adopt a leadership culture of “slow down—take a deep breath—talk with others” when a crisis or significant issue arises?
Church leadership teams oftentimes face situations for which they are unprepared. What strategy do you and your team have to deal with these challenges? Who is on your contact list to help you figure things out? Who should be on that list? Is the answer in the room?
Rather than passively assume we will be endowed with miraculous wisdom, we may need to look for others to help us find answers. We may discover the truly amazing miracle: that God has already endowed His body, the Church, with the answers we need even before we knew that we would need them, just in time.
This is adapted from a series of articles (“Something to Talk About”) intended to help facilitate conversations about significant issues that often are not discussed by pastors, boards and church leadership teams.
Bob Osborne is director of church health for EFCA West. “Helping EFCA churches is what district teams do,” he says. “EFCA churches and leaders are not alone.”