by Martijn van Tilborgh
You have probably heard it said that if you keep doing what you have always done, you will get what you always got. That should be depressing enough for anyone who believes that God wants more for us, but it’s actually worse than that.
Because if you just keep doing what you have always done, you will find after time that it takes more doing to get what you always got. Doing “the right thing” in the wrong season is counterproductive. Many times, keeping on with the things that provided us with past successes will actually push us into a downward spiral of declining results. It’s the law of diminishing returns:
You have to pedal harder to maintain your speed.
So, not only will simply doing what we have always done keep us from the bigger future God has in mind, over time it will even prevent us from even maintaining what we have in the present.
For us to become everything God intends, we’re going to have to embrace something called “change.” Not the kind that doesn’t really matter in the big picture. Like switching up the color of paint on the walls in your living room or moving the furniture around in your office to create a new look.
Sure, sometimes a freshen-up like that can contribute to a more enjoyable experience and even create a renewed sense of productivity, for a time, but it isn’t going to make a lasting difference. The kind of change I’m talking about, the kind I believe that is needed to realize what is on God’s heart, will be disruptive to every way we’ve always done things.
It will demand a completely new way of thinking. It will force us to abandon past leadership styles, reject past “best practices” and cause us to change our understanding of what it means to be an effective leader.
We will only get to our best future through innovation, not repetition.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
Now, I am not saying that we reject everything that has gone before. As (church) leaders, it’s our responsibility to honor the past and look back in history to identify defining moments that got us to where we are today.
At the same time, the thing about past victories is that … well … they are in the past.
We are called to introduce something new in our generation—something that has never been done. The old tends to precondition our minds to keep us from the new that God wants to do now. The old ways were often good. They produced results. So why leave them behind in pursuit of something else, something uncertain and unproven?
Because the old is our biggest obstacle. Consider what God said through His prophet in Isaiah 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
To get a glimpse of the new God is speaking about, we’re going to need to look at things from a different perspective.
As leaders, we tend to believe that we as a generation are the center of the universe, that both the past and future center on what we are doing. The world revolves around us. However, this is far from the truth! When God declared “the end from the beginning” and “what is still to come,” He wasn’t just thinking about us.
God doesn’t limit Himself to an isolated segment in time, a generation. Rather, He looks at human history as a whole. In His view, our generation is merely a link in a chain of events that pushes creation to the end.
You see, there are things that are “still to come” for each generation to do. It’s each generation’s purpose to manifest new things that will bring us closer to the ultimate end. And it’s our responsibility as leaders to recognize what those things are and to lead our people into them.
A COMING CONFLICT
We are not the first to find ourselves at such a moment. Think of when David returned home from leading Saul’s army to victory over the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 18:7 (NKJV), we read that the women came out with their tambourines, singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
It was at this moment that something happened. Something that couldn’t be reversed. Angered by the attention given to David, Saul “eyed David from that day forward” (v. 9). The women’s song became the catalyst of a conflict. A war that would linger on for a long time, but that would evidently be won by David.
He was destined not to perpetuate the kingdom that had been built under Saul, but to establish something that had never been done. In fact, the vision that burned inside the heart of David would ultimately erase all that Saul had built over the 40 years that he ruled as king.
I believe that the church finds herself in a similar situation today. We are in a place that we have never questioned before because it was something that had always been there. We grew up in it. It defined us. It was part of us. We were part of it.
Yet, maybe you have become uncomfortable with it. Unsatisfied with where we are. You can’t quite put a finger on it, but it is there. A sense of unease, that there must be something more. Something better. Something greater that God has in store for His people. Something bigger and better for you and me.
If this is you, know that you are not alone. God has awakened a generation destined for greatness beyond what you’ve ever seen or experienced. A people who will not settle for second best. A people who, despite unlikely circumstances, will choose to believe God and push forward into something that may go down in the history books as one of the biggest church schisms we’ve ever experienced.
It’s Saul and David in the 21st century. They are prophetic pictures of the church. They represent mindsets, leadership styles and models that provide revelatory insight into the state of the church. The church of today as well as the church as she could be—and as she needs to be—tomorrow.
A COURAGEOUS CHOICE
Even though he was anointed king by Samuel, Saul never became one “after God’s own heart,” as David did when he came to the throne years later. In fact, Saul’s kingship was the result of the Israelites’ carnal desire to have a king “like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:4).
In other words, God’s people demanded a leadership structure that was modeled after the ways of the world around them, rather than something unique. It’s a mindset that continues to this day, with churches looking to the world for models of how to do things. So, we have “Christian” versions of what works there, from movies and music to organizations and management.
After he was made king, Saul ruled for 40 years, but he wasn’t God’s first choice. He was the result of a man-made decision that God tolerated rather than initiated. Saul was the choice of the people—and he is an example of how this thing called “freedom of choice” can get us into trouble.
Now, think about the impact of growing up in such a leadership climate. You will simply start embracing the culture and environment because you don’t know any better. If Saul is the only leader you have ever known, what point of reference do you have to long for something better?
When I look at the church today, I believe we’ve done well under the circumstances. However, I have also come to the realization that a lot of what we see today, and a lot of what we’ve accomplished, has been “under Saul.” A lot of our victories and achievements are the results of initiatives modeled after “other nations.”
As you decide what side you’re on in this looming conflict between Saul and David, it’s important to remember one thing. Neither of them is the actual people we encounter in our lives and ministry. We’re not fighting against flesh and blood, as Ephesians 6 reminds us.
Having grown up “under Saul,” we’re actually all Jonathans. Born as Saul’s natural son and raised in the palace, Jonathan was conditioned to think and act like an heir and to follow in his father’s footsteps as his eventual successor.
However, as Jonathan was exposed to David, he soon came to the realization that perpetuating Saul’s government wasn’t in God’s interest, nor in the interest of the people. He even recognized that the future of Israel was with David as king, not his father.
Like Jonathan, we are caught between two options, each of which asks for our allegiance. Do we stay loyal to the establishment we grew up in, or are we going to make a covenant with what God has declared will be in the future? It is a dilemma.
Even though he declared his loyalty to David, the tragedy of Jonathan’s life is that he eventually died in battle with the Philistines, while serving his father Saul, as 1 Samuel 31 records.
The struggle is real: the religious draw to stay part of the old is strong. As Jonathan’s story demonstrates, even those who have recognized God’s prophetic destiny can be pulled back into the past. The old has the ability to put a spell on us.
We must find the courage to break free from the spell of the old and pledge allegiance to the “side” that is destined to win.