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 the shape of leadership

Spirituality and Mission

These are bewildering times, but our God-given assignment remains clear

Doug Clay on January 4, 2021

The year 2020 did not turn out the way we expected. As a new decade dawned, preachers made hopeful puns about moving into a bright future with “20/20 vision.” What we encountered instead was a year of disorienting challenges. We faced a global pandemic, social and economic crises, political rancor, and crushing isolation. It was a year that altered the way we live, interact, and minister.

But what about 2021? Will our churches still have to pivot and change how we conduct services? Will our religious freedoms increasingly erode? Where should we focus our energy as we move into a new year? What kind of vision should we cast for our people?

These are bewildering times, but our God-given assignment remains clear. I believe we need a renewed emphasis on two foundational essentials: spirituality and mission.

Spirituality

The men and women who pioneered the Assemblies of God desired — more than anything else — to be fully dedicated to Christ and His mission. In April 1914, they said: “We commit ourselves and the movement to Him for the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.” This resolution was profoundly personal; their primary commitment was not to the task but to the Lord himself.

In December of the same year, founding chairman E.N. Bell declared that focusing on the spiritual life should be “our first aim and supreme prayer.” He added, “Let us keep to the front deep spirituality in our souls and the power and anointing of God on our ministry.”

The Bible makes it clear this “deep spirituality” involves every aspect of our lives. When a scribe asked Jesus which commandment was most important, Jesus responded by quoting from Deuteronomy 6: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

A few details stand out as I read this passage:

  • Jesus repeats the word all four times, conveying an encompassing love for God. God seeks our wholehearted devotion: “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth so that He may support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9, AMP). As Jesus taught in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (Matthew 13:44-46), His kingdom is worth everything — all we have!
  • Each phrase includes the Greek preposition ex, meaning “out of.” In other words, we love God not just with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, but from our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength — out of their abundance and overflow.
  • The original command from Deuteronomy 6:5 that Jesus quoted includes a threefold response — heart, soul, and strength. Jesus adds a fourth element: that we love God from our whole mind. This instruction is especially critical today, when our minds are continually distracted by the influences in our culture. As the apostle Paul said, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT).
  • We can only love God with all our strength through wholehearted devotion to God and the empowerment of the Spirit: “For this purpose I also labor, striving according to His power which works mightily within me” (Colossians 1:29, NASB).
Whatever the year ahead holds, one thing is certain: Jesus is already there.

Before 2020, we took a lot for granted, including the faith and enthusiasm that come from corporate worship. When those things disappeared for a time, we gained a greater appreciation for them. At the same time, the experience of solitary worship also worked for our spiritual good, allowing many of us to refocus on what matters most — our personal relationship with God and an intensified love for Him.

In Philippians 3:14, Paul said, “I press on toward the goal to the win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” For Paul, the ultimate prize was not “amens,” retweets, or even packed church seats. He reveals his heart’s desire in verses 10-11: “I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

The NASB refers to the “fellowship of his sufferings.” We all want to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection. But it’s often in the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings that we draw closer to Him and become more like Him. It’s in the difficult, desperate, lonely places that we reach the end of ourselves and discover more of Him. When Christ is all we have, we quickly realize Christ is more than enough.

Mission

Paul was well acquainted with suffering. In fact, he wrote Philippians while imprisoned for preaching the gospel. It was a difficult time for the apostles and the Church. Yet Paul rejoiced — enthusiastically reporting that what had happened to him had “actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).

Trouble will come, and circumstances will change (John 16:33). Yet our mission remains the same: making disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:19). The Great Commission is a mandate for the entire Church, but it starts with us as leaders.

Even in today’s individualistic culture, people tend to go where they’re led. Advertisers, fashion designers, politicians, and social media influencers understand this.

Paul said, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). By modeling the kind of deep spirituality and commitment to mission Jesus taught, Paul led people to become disciples who make disciples. That’s what we need to be about in 2021 — and in all the years ahead as we await the return of our Lord.

The most missions-minded churches I know have missions-minded leaders. And there’s never been a better time to lead your church toward greater Kingdom impact. People are looking for clarity and purpose. Many are desperate for the kind of joy that transcends circumstances. We need to remind them week after week that Christ is our foundation and the hope of the world.

We need to return to the cross and remember the depth of God’s love for spiritually lost people. We need to seek a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit for renewed passion, boldness, and power to reach our communities and the ends of the earth. In these last days, we need to share with urgency and compassion the invitation of the Spirit and the Bride, encouraging all who thirst to, “Come!” (Revelation 22:17).

Mission and spirituality don’t exist in isolation. They’re symbiotic. Spirituality gives us power to witness. Mission keeps us dependent on the Spirit.

Whatever the year ahead holds, one thing is certain: Jesus is already there. In moments of victory and in times of suffering, press on toward the goal to win the prize of a closer walk with Him. When attendance is up, and when the numbers are down, press on.

In storms and fair weather, on mountaintops and through valleys, keep the mission in view. Love Jesus with all your heart, proclaim Him with every breath, and lead others to do the same.

As we emerge from the pandemic in 2021, I pray that with deep spirituality and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we will effectively fulfill our unchanging mission. May God help us all to view our ministry assignment in these days as a privileged opportunity.

This article appears in the January-March 2021 edition of Influence magazine.

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