the shape of leadership

Fan into Flame the Gift of God

And four artificial fires to guard against

Donna Barrett on January 3, 2024

Families celebrate birthdays in different ways. In my family, decade-turning birthdays were always a big deal. When I approached my 40th birthday, I asked if we could celebrate it at The Mays Farm.

My great uncle, Guy Mays, after moving into town, retained a farm two miles off the nearest paved road in a valley between two hills. Our extended family affectionately called it The Mays Farm and used it as a vacation home.

Over the years, The Mays Farm had become the location of multi-generational croquet tournaments, holiday meals, deer hunting, group hiking, babies wading in swimming pools, and — most importantly — no television!

You might see why I wanted to celebrate my special birthday at The Mays Farm among family. So we did. My dad picked a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers and placed them in a large vase. His presentation outdid anything a florist could have produced.

(Little did I know he would pass away unexpectedly later that year before we could vacation together again. Losing a parent I adored tilted my world, never again returning to its original position.)

One of our pastimes at The Mays Farm was lighting a fire in the fireplace — a real one that burned wood, not gas. Four generations gathered around that fireplace. It wasn’t just a source of heat, however. It was also a source of relational warmth, stories, live music, laughter, and cuddling babies and toddlers.

A pastime enjoyed by all was tending the fire. We took turns, some better at it than others. To burn, a fire needs oxygen, heat and fuel. So whoever was tending the fire stoked the flame by turning a log over, adding more wood, clearing away ashes, and blowing on the charcoals to get them glowing again.

I returned to this homey scene in my mind recently when asked to reflect briefly on 2 Timothy 1:6: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”

Commentators disagree about what this gift refers to. Some say it is Timothy’s spiritual gift. Others point to the verse immediately following 2 Timothy 1:6, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (verse 7). On this view, the conjunction for connects verses 6 and 7. In other words, the Spirit is the gift.

I agree with this latter interpretation. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is the gift we need to fan into flame. He is God’s gift to us, enabling our entire life (and ministry) in Christ. The Spirit is who got us to where we are today.

What we need most at present is what we have always needed — to keep our relationship with the Holy Spirit a roaring fire around which others may gather and find warmth and illumination in the light of Christ.

Understanding the Spirit as the gift has implications for our spiritual gifts, of course. Paul wanted both Timothy’s life and ministry to be spiritually aflame. He spoke of “power, love and self-discipline” (verse 7) and “a holy life” (verse 9). And Paul rounded out his advice to Timothy by urging him to “keep … the pattern of sound teaching” and “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you,” both of which required “the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (verses 13–14).

I write these words to my fellow credentialed Assemblies of God ministers. As a group, we are talented leaders with positions, titles, and opportunities to match. My prayer is that we not become so distracted by our spiritual gifts that we neglect the Spirit who is God’s gift to us! That gift is the flame that needs constant tending.

Here we are today, more than two decades since my memorable 40th birthday at The Mays Farm. My house has a fireplace, but it’s not real. I flip a switch on the wall and gas ignites around artificial logs behind a clear panel. The fire provides a little warmth, but no crackle, no life, no involvement or interaction needed from me. There are no logs to turn or ashes to clear away. When I’m done, I simply flip the switch and move on. It’s not real.

In this present season as leaders, let me highlight four areas to guard against artificial fires and to keep the flame burning.


1. Celebrity Status

Be mindful of the difference between celebrity status and servant leadership.

We are not entertainers but shepherds. The goal is not to see how many follow us on social media, but to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4). It is so tempting as ministers to draw attention to ourselves. Our lives and ministries should point to the person of Jesus Christ in all we do and say!


2. Powering Up

Beware of powering up in your position.

When I first moved to Springfield,  I went to a nail salon near the Assemblies of God national office for a manicure. The nail technician asked me, “Where do you work? What do you do?” I told him. His next question: “What color polish do you want?” Where I worked and what I did meant nothing to him. All he cared about was whether I was kind and tipped generously for a job well done.

There is a culture of honor in the Church that, taken to an extreme, can cause ministers to live with a sense of entitlement that does not at all reflect the heart of Christ. The higher you go in position, the more attention you must give to humility and how it gets expressed by you while holding that title.

Each of us hold a title that may mean something inside our ecclesiastical circle. However, that title means absolutely nothing to a lost and dying world. What captures the attention outside the Church is whether you act like the Savior who “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).


3. Power Differential

Steward the power differential and help others do the same.

There is a difference in the power of a position whether it is a district officer to a credential applicant, of a senior pastor to staff members or parishioners, of a youth pastor to students, of a counselor to people in trouble, and so on.

In every case, the person with greater power holds the responsibility to steward the relationship with integrity and kindness.

Jesus was tuned in to the power differential He carried. For example, when interacting with children, Jesus invited them to become part of what He was doing, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Jesus also showed us how to steward the power differential in His interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Ancient culture normalized a Jewish male ignoring a Samaritan woman. Yet Jesus took responsibility for the power differential in that one-on-one encounter. Jesus knew everything about this woman’s scandalous past. Even so, His words of living water, expressed with kindness and respect, filled her heart with so much joy that she declared the good news to everyone she encountered.

Lord help us use our power to lift burdens off people, rather than placing burdens on them! May we model and teach that all power comes from Christ for the benefit of others and is to be used for His glory!


4. Authority

Understand authority. We only have authority to the extent that we are under authority. People learn from our example. Our followers watch how we ourselves follow.

The way we support, follow and respect the authority God has placed over us is being watched by those whom we hope will support, follow and respect our authority. Administrative staff in a church or district or national office get a front row seat to leaders who, at times, seem to give no attention to this reality. Is there ever a person who, because of their role, deserves to be treated with disrespect or lack of kindness? I think not. Not if we are people of the Word.

The message they learn is what Jesus warned his followers against in Mark 10:42–45:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Leading in a dictatorial, self-serving way is the opposite of how Jesus led. We cannot expect others to respect our spiritual authority unless we take up a towel and wash the feet of both those who lead before us and those who follow behind us.

And so, I come back to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 1:6: “fan into flame the gift of God.” As religious leaders, our ever-present temptation is to flip a switch on an artificial spirituality instead of fanning into flame our relationship with the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us.

A white-hot experience of the Spirit in the past can tempt us to coast spiritually in the present. Nostalgia can become a plastic idol that distracts us from a living relationship with the gift of God.

What we need most at present is what we have always needed — to keep our relationship with the Holy Spirit a roaring fire around which others may gather and find warmth and illumination in the light of Christ.

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