My husband, Mark, and I are 3 months into our staff internship with The People Resource Team at The Navigators. We are learning more deeply how they offer hope, healing, and help to Christian leaders. Their approach is best summed up by the phrase “Discipleship from the Inside Out.” We invite you to journey with us over the next few months as we share in more depth what this phrase means and looks like in growing leaders toward maturity.
So how do we help Christian leader’s grow? In Romans 8 Paul expresses God’s desire for Christians to be conformed (grow) into the image of Christ. How will that happen? I’ve been leading in one way one or another for over 20 years. I’ve been trained at some of the best Christian colleges and seminaries. I’ve been in the trenches with my family, with friends, and with ministry. I, like Paul, often know what I need to do and yet sometimes I just can’t or don’t do what I know to do? I’ve heard this often from faithful followers of Jesus who are leaders at home, the church, and the world.
Personally, I immediately think about my reaction whenever Mark is focused on a work project. Rationally, I know that he loves me. I also know that my ultimate source of belovedness and security comes from Jesus and not from Mark. I know that the Bible teaches me to be accepting of him and patient as he learns how to prioritize. So I start out praying and rehearsing all of these truths. Then I start to get angry and frustrated inside, rehearsing why this is just not right for him to do “this” to me. I start to pull away and shut down in my interactions with him. You know what I mean. I talk less. I don’t move towards him with questions, affection, or interest. I don’t like what’s happening inside or outside, but I don’t want to explode on him. Eventually, he asks me what’s going on and it all comes out. Shazaam! Or Shaflop! 🙂
I’m left to wonder, “How come this particular scenario leads me down this path of inner turmoil and distancing myself?” “How come that even though I know the Biblical truth and pray in this situation (as the Bible and Christian leaders have taught me to do) I am unable to break out of this self-protective pattern of relating?”
Can you relate? If you can’t relate to this exact scenario, pick another one. How is it that you consistently resist eating large amounts of sugar even though you’ve prayed about it, studied Scripture on the topic, and put all kinds of time and money into Weight Watchers? Or what is causing you to seemingly be unable to love your parents when they do or say certain things? We all have certain situations or people that trigger us to more quickly act and/or speak in a way we don’t want to act or speak. So how in the world do we become more Christ-like in these areas? Are they not the very place(s) where we need to grow? Do we memorize another verse on self-control to manage eating issues? Do we invest a lot more time into praying about our relationship with our parents? Do we simply work harder at loving and serving the people in our family or ministry context?
While these approaches are a piece of the growth process, they are incomplete. They focus on us coming up with outward actions or strategies of planning, praying, Bible study, and more to fix our situation. Yet, they often leave the inner heart issues that are leading to the behavior untouched. Our outer efforts can be seen, so we often work hard to manage our outward behavior. Yet, the person inside- our joys and pains, our heart’s motives and attitudes, the relational strategies we have developed over time that lack unconditional love- are left untouched. Usually, this means we have temporary victory, but over time we return to and stay stuck in a life-killing, love-hindering way of relating.
The Bible points us to another way of becoming like Christ. It tells us that if we’d like to see growth on the outside, we need to look deep into the core of who we are, deep into our heart. The term heart in the Bible refers to the essence of a person, how they see the world, their inner thoughts, motives, and attitudes. Joseph Allison calls the heart an internal guidance system. The Bible is full of references to the heart.
Proverbs 4:23 reveals how our heart is the source of all we do.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (NIV)
Psalms 139: 23-24 prayerfully expresses that the heart is where God convicts and redirects us toward his perspective.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Hebrews 8:10 quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 declaring that when Jesus comes he will give us a new covenant in which he write his laws on our hearts, so no one will need to be taught. We will rather, each know God in the deepest part of our being, our heart.
Finally, Jesus’ powerful words and illustrations in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-8) essentially says, “Don’t be proud because you haven’t murdered anyone, if you are angry with a person (something that happens in our hearts) it’s as bad as murder.” Or it’s not just the act of adultery that is disobedience, but if you lust (inner life) you have sinned. He goes on to talk about not doing spiritual things, like praying or giving to the poor, simply to be seen and praised by people. Do them secretly, sincerely from you heart, with a desire to honor God. During the whole message Jesus is saying our insides- our motives, our attitudes, our thoughts- our heart, matter a whole lot to Him.
After all, his great critique of the Pharisees is that they cleaned the outside (knew the Bible inside and out, prayed in public, cared for the poor, you name it) but inwardly they were as filthy as a graveyard. Their motives were for self-glory and attention. They sought after security in the fact that others respected them. Their attitude was one of pride that equated looking good outwardly with spiritual influence. They were dying on the inside, and yet all the while they appeared perfect on the outside.
This is a tremendous challenge to those in ministry leadership of any kind because let’s face it, people often expect them to have it together on the outside. I’ve felt the pressure and caved to it many times. It’s easy to become caught in a cycle of trying to fix it all from the outside, or make it look good on the outside. Then never take the time or have the humility to face the pain and allow the Spirit to work on the inside. Yet, if a person never looks inside to face the brokenness and filth in their heart, they shut off God’s love and healing from that part of themselves.
This is a tragedy for spiritual leaders and the people they serve. For when Jesus’ grace and truth penetrates the inner parts of a person’s heart their ministry becomes a powerful overflow of His work inside of us. It probably won’t mean anger and lust and greed are gone for good, but we will know our sin, experience Jesus’ forgiveness, and be more humble as we serve others. This kind of inside-out ministry ultimately points people to Jesus, rather than to the leader. If a breakthrough does happen in a behavior, the leader will be quick to acknowledge how the love and power of God made it possible. They are drawn ever closer to Him through the struggle. A focus on the heart leads to a journey with God in which what is presented outwardly and what is truly happening inwardly become more and more aligned. This in turn invites those who are being lead to open up and invite Jesus into more and more of their heart.
Mark and I are honored and humbled to work with a team at The Navigators called the People Resources Team. This team is deeply concerned with the health and vitality of a leader’s heart. Below are a couple of pictures of people with whom we work. We invite you to join us over the next weeks and months as we share more of this growth journey from the Inside Out.