Positioning Your Life & Church For A New Era
Jarrod Cooper talks about how to be best positioned for the new things emerging in the church world right now…
“Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.” ― Idowu Koyenikan
Isaiah 43:18-19 is being cited by many as an apt scripture for this time:
“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.”
This well-thumbed verse in many a Bible is, of course, preached at many turning points in the lifetime of a church, family or team. It reminds us clearly that God still is both capable of, and wants to do, brand new things, things “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived”. 1 Corinthians 2:9
Sometimes the greatest enemy of a new day, is our years of memory about how to do life and ministry. These can dull our hearts and minds to the point where we find ourselves repeating well-worn patterns from recollection, instead of striking out into new territories. Most of us who start out as pioneers, soon find ourselves settling, as the emotional and literal cost of new days and fresh ways takes its toll on our aging sense of adventure.
Even if we could muster up enough energy to crave new days, sometimes the strength of nostalgia, the sheer blinkering effect of powerful recollections and the capacity our minds have to live within our own narrative, means we can almost seem unable to even perceive what new things God might want. Most of us certainly look at change as less attractive as we age, and spend time gold-embossing nostalgic memories, that were never actually as idealistic as our minds tell us! It would seem that embracing new things requires an almost supernatural level of spiritual perspective.
This is difficult, because the verse in Isaiah makes it clear that to enter new times, requires the ability to perceive them. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
It seems paramount that we somehow forget the past, and instead perceive and recognise God’s new ideas when they arrive. It also informs us that it is far from automatic or intuitive to do so, otherwise it wouldn’t need proclaiming by a prophet in the way Isaiah does!
But look again at the Ancient of Days: Isaiah teaches us that God is still pioneering pathways into deserts and uncharted territories, making previously uninhabitable places, habitable, with flowing streams bursting forth in arid lands.
Dreams we have given up on, He still has plans for. Ideas that simply would not support us, are no longer inhospitable deserts, but have streams of provision flowing like never before. Places where you could not bring up a family, will teem with life, and wastelands where the Gospel has failed to thrive in millennia, can suddenly embrace the Saviour with unbridled acceptance. There is a world of God’s “new” beyond the limitations of our imaginations – if we could only see what He sees!
Entering the new is challenging. Entering a new season is hard enough, so how on earth do we enter a whole new era? Are there some mind-sets, postures and life-hacks that may help us step beyond our memories, into the world of God’s imagination? I believe so.
Here are 8 attitudes I think optimise our ability to find clear perception of God’s new things:
- Be Well Travelled
By this, I don’t even mean physical travel, but rather having a curious, wonder-filled soul. Experienced, culturally well-travelled leaders can spot the difference between what is eternal and temporal, cultural or divine, much quicker than those who are deeply entrenched in their own stream, denomination, national culture or history. Get out more, and you’ll see more clearly. Read lots, podcast lots, visit lots (especially outside your normal stream) and you will be wiser.
- Be BIG Hearted
“Guard your heart, for out of it flow all the issues of life” Proverbs 4:23
Leadership and ministry is hard. It’s easy to end up with a shrivelled, grumpy, cynical heart (Been there, done that!). Many leaders find themselves small-hearted as a result of protecting themselves from the “wars” of ministry life. But it also means you end up pessimistic, sarcastic, envious, distorted and jaundiced. Stay BIG hearted. You can tell if you are big-hearted by your innermost conversations about others, especially successful others. If you are envious, harsh, judgmental and protectionist, rather than kind, gracious and celebratory at the success of others – then you have some heart work to do, and your blinkered envious perspectives will hinder you perceiving what God is doing easily.
- Stay Organisationally Mobile
The best churches feel like movements, not clubs. This means changing scenery is part of the norm. “Dust settles” they say, and we are made of dust – our sinful flesh loves to settle and calcifies so easily. Make your church or team a place very used to the flexible world of fresh movement, by doing new things often (and even just for the sake of it!). Battle congregational brittleness, by making plasticity a cultural value. The result is that you will all embrace divine change more easily when it comes.
- Value Intimacy above Method
Moses was kept out of the Promised Land by God, because he chose method over intimacy (Number 20:6-12). God considered it mistrust and therefore idolatry to “strike the stone” in pursuit of water, as he had been instructed in the past, instead of “speak to the stone” (the clear instruction God had given him this time).
Clinging to our methods, at the expense of listening to the still small voice of intimate instruction, is idolatry – and is far more common than we would like to admit. We all do it! Even the most informal Spirit-filled churches end up stuck in forms of their own liturgy! We need to spot it and get back to God’s voice where necessary, as fresh worlds await us there.
The prophet Dr. Sharon Stone, who featured in the introduction of this book and is a dear friend, felt throughout 2019 that God was leading her into a year of trialling “A New Normal” – and what followed was a year devoid of all the usual patterns and predictability of ministry. It was now up to God to decide when they sang, preached, prophesied or had a social time, and many other things besides. It was a year of putting her L-Plates back on, listening more intently for God’s voice and seeking to be more exact in obedience. The results were powerful!
At the start of 2020, when she was with us in Hull, God was saying to her “We’re going to do that again – The New Normal is here to stay!” – Well, if that is not a prophetically accurate word for 2020 and beyond, I don’t know what is! As we enter the “New Normal” of this new era, let’s make a return to the intimate voice of God, and let Him have His Church back!
- Develop a Palate for the New
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” Luke 5:37-39
When Jesus speaks of new wine needing new wineskins, He goes on to say that when we taste the new, we will say “the old is better” or as some versions put it “the old wine is easier, more comfortable” (Luke 5:39).
Wow… What an insightful analysis of human nature! Both new wine and new ways are sharp to the taste. New shoes pinch a little, unlike our old favourite pair. New-found healthy foods are less delicious, ask many a child! So we must train ourselves to develop a mature, adventurous palate, one that can cope with the harsher, uncomfortable taste of a new day, knowing that you will adjust, grow, and the payoff will be worth it!
There are certain things I love to do as I have done them for so long they feel second-nature; I am completely at home in their flow. They feel relaxing, easy, and I feel confident and at my best. I’ll be honest, I much prefer to feel competent, confident and in control. I genuinely feel like a better person there. But recently I have felt challenged to set sail on some new seas, get my learning hat on and step out onto unfamiliar waters. I feel underconfident, unsure, a starter, an amateur and a learner. How about you?
Immature me wants to back off from activities that scare me, and return to well-trodden, comfortable territory. I’d happily deceive myself that these feelings of amateurish incompetence were signs of God’s guidance to avoid the new! But adult me knows to tell my immature self that in order to embrace all God has for me, I need to remain a pioneering amateur. To remember the feelings I had when I first preached, led worship, stepped out. Trembling voices, deep uncertainty in my own skills and radical obedience are actually so attractive to God’s great grace – so I tell myself “C’mon Cooper, don’t give up easily. Keep going until you start to enjoy the new!”
And maybe you need to give yourself a good talking to as well. Join me on the new seas of obedient adventure, it could get very exciting!
- Develop New Alignments
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a friend of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20
Those you hang around affect you more deeply than you realise. We absorb attitudes, gifts, perspectives, and strengths (and weaknesses – be warned!). I have been blessed to be around some remarkable apostles and prophets of late, and I have felt myself physiologically and spiritually changed, just by being near them (Oh yes, your brain biologically changes when you experience new things).
Make some new friends, ones who are ahead of you spiritually, in influence or intellectually and you will be broad enough to enter a new season. This is a time of new alignments, and they are vital, not optional, in this new era.
- Rest is a Weapon
As soon as we entered lockdown, church leaders had to begin thinking about changing almost everything, as multiple departments closed, public settings shut down and most endured the huge discovery curve of taking many ministries, groups and services online. Adrenaline pumped and it was actually a tad exciting (apart from those touched by grief or real anxiety in the moment).
But months into the pandemic the adrenaline had subsided and, for some, fatigue or even exhaustion, has visited your life. That is normal and even to be expected. But it also has certain dangers that we must avoid.
You see, fatigued me just wants life to go back to normal! Fatigued me is so tired of making decisions with so few proven reference points. Everything is new! It’s draining. Fatigue will cause you to be irritated at your team, rush decisions, dictate decisions just to get things over with, or even freeze and procrastinate, unable to make a decision at all. Oh, I’ve been there, with or without a pandemic!
But refreshed you will be able to flex with the new season. Your mind will be willing to percolate new information, your emotions will be energised enough to care for your team, your body will get you out of bed, ready to face another day of new opportunities. For most of us, when we are rested we are optimists, when we’re exhausted, we’re pessimists. You need to give your church and team a rested you.
This year I have discovered a weekly sabbath like never before. For me it’s day to switch off the phone, do no work or DIY, and cease from even the thought of work or ministry. A day purely for gratefulness, family, resting in God, making room for joyful pleasures and having fun together.
It’s not meant to be a day of cranky religious observance, but instead a day gifted to you since creation as a holy time of replenishment, restoration, reflection and refreshing. The very first thing God made holy in the Bible was a 24-hour period every seven days, as a gift of respite to you, and even science has shown, you are wired in sinew and soul to function best when you embrace it.
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:2-3
Resting for a weekly Sabbath is one of the 10 commandments, and while some would say we are no longer under Law, I would reply “Which of the other 9 are you happy to break then? Murder, adultery, stealing, lying perhaps?” You wouldn’t dream of breaking the other 9 commandments, so why this one? We might consider rest as optional, but God considers it a “Top 10 Priority”! It is of course lazy theology to simply discard the Sabbath as a mere throw-back from the Old Testament, as if it were some obscure Pharisaical detail.
While I don’t think it has to be a Saturday, or even Sunday, you do need to rest weekly, or else it may be a sign that something idolatrous is at work in your life. A striving to achieve, a consumerist hankering for more, a longing for approval, or even a fear of missing out. Some dread the very sound of their own souls and use busyness to mask the unhappiness within. But the godly know how to embrace silence, solitude and the joy of Sabbath.
Jesus put it this way:
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath” Mark 2:27
John Mark Comer pens it beautifully in his outstanding book “Garden City: Work, Rest and the Art of Being Human”:
“That’s why Sabbath is an expression of faith. Faith that there is a Creator and he’s good. We are his creation. This is his world. We live under his roof, drink his water, eat his food, breathe his oxygen. So on the Sabbath, we don’t just take a day off from work; we take a day off from toil. We give him all our fear and anxiety and stress and worry. We let go. We stop ruling and subduing, and we just be. We “remember” our place in the universe. So that we never forget . . . There is a God, and I’m not him.”
God is offering you the incredible gift of trusting Him so completely that you can cease from work completely for a whole day a week. It is a weapon. It is a sign of inner health. It is not a second class use of your time. And it also seems to be one of the major prophetic words to Church leaders globally in this season. So don’t ignore it. Make sure you’re rested. A rested leader is a better leader whose mind will be refreshed enough to perceive a new day.
- Seek His Face
As leaders we must never lose the ability to “clear the decks” and strike out a morning, day, week, month or a long sabbatical to seek God and hear Him afresh. We cannot live on fast spiritual food, snatched between busy work – we must eat at Fathers banqueting table. To give time to pray, listen, study, worship, read, visit or simply sit in His presence. We cannot grow fresh ways of thinking from tiny margins of input. Deep change takes time.
As entire churches we must also be able to slow our work down and give time to seek God again. To allow some fields to lay fallow. To be able to cease, stop and even end projects entirely is a sign of church wellbeing. It teaches our churches not to run headlong at life, but to pause, to Sabbath, ‘Selah’, reflect, and listen to what the Father is saying. Church is not a mere human endeavour, but a divine idea – so we must let the Architect speak!
I have given days, weeks and even months to periodically seek God throughout my ministry, and each time I have come away with a fresh energy, plan and blueprint from heaven. How can we bring heaven to earth, if we will not take the time to be in the Strategy Rooms of the King? Plan the time, or else God might simply exile you to Patmos, to enforce you to rest in His presence! Ha! (Revelation 1:9-10)
“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, unto the Day of Christ.” Philippians 1:6
As you attempt to posture your life, family, team or entire church to be ready to embrace something radically new from heaven, remember the power of grace to lift you, change you and help you turn a corner. God is willing you to succeed more than you want to! He is committed to carry your destiny to completion.
Remember the power of the Spirit to make something more of you than you are. Remember His kindness will never let you down – so while you may not feel the most agile leader around, if you are genuinely crying out to God for wisdom, and are willing to humbly go where He says, I know you will find Him leading you.
AN EXTRACT FROM THE DIVINE RESET available as paperback/kindle: