What faith means in the context of doing a leadership task or achieving a leadership mission can be complex. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But the partnership between a leader and God must be well understood, because if we are not careful, this “assurance” and “conviction” can be lived out in fleshly ways. It is not enough to do God’s will. Leaders must do God’s will God’s way. God desires faith from us, but not just faith in receiving the call of God. He also desires faith as we enact it. Faith in the call of God answers what to do and why. Faith in enacting the call of God answers how to do it and when.
Since he desires our trust, God does not provide every resource and directive before we need it. Power to lead is experienced when we walk a step at a time with God in the present tense. Here lies the life and thrill of a living relationship with God in the context of leadership! We ask daily; he answers. We trust daily; he provides. We wait daily; God delivers in his time and in his way. This disposition of faith causes constant dependence upon him and allows us to walk in step with what he is doing, when he is doing it, and how he wants it done. This is the faith walk of leadership.
For example, Nehemiah sensed a calling to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. But the enactment of that calling involved a continual walk with God, trusting him for present-tense resources that included such things as how to respond to external challenges and internal conflict, how and when to communicate to his people, inner strength and determination to endure, ongoing wisdom in decisions for applying the plan, and staying focused on the achievement of the call.
We are to walk in step with God. However, leaders can get ahead of God by moving faster than the Lord and trying to perform the call of God in their own strength. They go out to do great things on God’s behalf, thereby leaving him behind. They view faith as courage, hard work, and the will to act for God’s glory. The motivation is noble and altruistic. They believe they are called to do great things for God. In reality, it is God who seeks to do great things through them.
Getting ahead of God like this can be deceiving in that it looks and feels like faith, but in fact it can be rooted in self-reliance and ambition. It can also be dangerous. This type of “faith” leads to presumption. It becomes “pushing God’s hand,” “making things happen,” and in essence testing God (Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12, James 1:13) by presuming upon when and how things should be done. Godly courage here is confused with the rush and exhilaration of risking and leveraging all “for God’s sake.” These leaders think that fast-forward is always the motion of God, that he never says no or wait, that bigger is better, that more is best, and that his answer is always yes! Scripturally this is unfounded (see Judges 7:1–18, Numbers 13:39–45, Numbers 22:10–14, Isaiah 40:31, Acts 16:6–10).
In John 7:1–6, Jesus’s brothers were pushing him to go to Judea, where his influence would increase and where he might reveal himself further: “For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:4). The obvious and logical move in his brothers’ minds was for Jesus to act to increase in popularity, grow his following, and unveil his power. But Jesus sensed in faith that obedience to God meant waiting; that revealing himself at this pace would be to act outside of God’s timing. His reply was, “My time has not yet come” (John 7:6). In truth, saying no or waiting can be a more courageous act of faith than the presumption of always moving forward.
Alternatively and just as tragically, leaders may get behind God due to debilitating fear and a lack of resolve. Here leaders do not take God-led risks for fear of failure or the disapproval of others. Some excuse this lack of faith with notions of spiritual prudence and wisdom. It looks and feels like faith to wait—when in reality it is disobedience. Delaying is passed off as “spiritual,” and to be pessimistic is deemed to be wise (Number 13:25–33).
Though sometimes difficult to discern, we should neither get ahead of God nor walk behind him. Power to lead is found in those moments when in the pilgrimage of following God he says go and we go; wait and we wait; or no and we halt, gladly, with trust in him. This way of expressing leadership breaths daily life and power into what could otherwise be a dormant, passive faith. It also provides for regular surrender by returning back to God and laying at his feet the achievement of the very thing he’s entrusted to us—our call to leadership.