Leaders: is your perception getting in the way of your vision?

Or – the five excuses of a highly reluctant leader.

I spent some time over the weekend in SW Ireland taking a group through the leadership journey of Moses, one of the great leaders in Scripture.

Yet in one sense, he nearly wasn’t. If he had had his own way, he would have ended his years in the obscurity of exile, looking after sheep in a Midianite wilderness. For he did his best to avoid God’s call on his life.

Five times he tried to object to what God was asking him to do. God won in the end!

  1. First objection: who am I? Let’s not be too hard on him to begin with. It’s a reasonable question, an appropriate question to ask when God reveals great plans for you. Is this not how David responded when God promised to build his house? God’s answer is interesting: ‘I will be with you.’ Who God is will be more important than who Moses is.
  2. Second objection: who are you? Who should Moses say sent him, if the Hebrews should ask? God will be who he will be. The self-existent God has sent Moses and he will be whatever the Hebrews need him to be.
  3. Third objection: they won’t listen. Could Moses still recall the sting of rejection from forty years before? He’d already tried this leadership business, but the people hadn’t caught on. What if the same thing happened?
  4. Fourth objection: I can’t talk. This one seems odd to us for two reasons. For one thing, Moses proves pretty adept at arguing with God. The words don’t exactly dry up! And for another, Stephen somewhat lets the cat out of the bag in Acts 7 when he reminds us that Moses was well-educated, ‘mighty in his words and deeds.’ But to be fair, he’d now spent forty years in exile. In the desert. Looking after sheep. Of course there were people (his own family), but if you’re spending a lot of time with sheep, the level of conversation is not always terribly high. And the Egyptians didn’t think much of shepherds. So how could Moses, an 80 year old sheep-herd from the Midianite desert, hold his own in the court of Pharaoh? God’s answer? ‘Who gives people the ability to speak?’
  5. Fifth objection: please send someone else! So now we realise. He never wanted to do this all along. God’s answer is to give him Aaron to be his spokesman.

From all of that, notice this.

  • Leaders need a healthy perception of themselves before God. Humility is an appropriate response to God. An awareness of our limitations is not always a bad thing (think about Paul and his thorn in the flesh). However – and perhaps this is especially relevant if we are faced with a call to something new – our feelings of inadequacy cannot trump the call and promises of God. Like Moses, Jeremiah fretted about his ability (‘I do not know how to speak for I am only a youth’); God reassured him by promising to be with him.
  • Leaders need a proper perception of the task. And of course there are tasks to which God calls some of us that are daunting (he needs to call us to tasks that go beyond our natural capacities so that we learn to trust him). Evangelism in a restricted access country. Work with the poorest and most excluded. A quest for justice in the face of injustice. But what if the perception of the task is such that it blinds the leader to the power of God? Someone told me once that Northern Irish people are very good at what doesn’t work! If you are a leader, you’ve probably heard it. ‘We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.’ Or, ‘we’ve never tried that before, we don’t think it would work.’ Is there room for God in that?
  • Leaders need a sound perception of God. The unchanging, self-existent, self-sufficient, all-powerful, merciful, loving Lord. A small idea of who he is will limit effectiveness and shrink courage. A distorted idea of who he is will also distort the leader’s work (think about the one talent servant).

Question: is your perception getting in the way of the vision God wants to give you?

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