As Christ followers, we often say we want to be “led by the Spirit” in our lives, ministries, workplaces and relationships. But how do we actually practise being Spirit led? Last month, Nikki White provided insight into following the Spirit’s lead in our personal lives in “Is it God or gas?” But how do we follow the Spirit as a church or a denomination?
In Acts 16, we read the account of Paul and Silas’s Spirit-led ministry choices: “Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas” (Acts 16:6–8).
We aren’t told how the Holy Spirit prevents Paul and Silas from preaching in Asia or how the Spirit of Jesus bars them from the province of Bithynia. Paul and Silas obviously feel they understand what the Spirit is communicating to them, and they make decisions accordingly.
The Holy Spirit continues to direct the two disciples through more dramatic means: “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9–10).
The word that catches my attention in this passage is “concluding.” Concluding means to determine by reasoning; to deduce or infer. Paul and Silas assess the information at hand and conclude they are being led by God to preach the gospel to the Macedonians.
Prophetic revelation is the intersection between the timeless Word of God and the timely action of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and the building of the kingdom of God.
Bible commentary author William J. Larkin writes, “How does God guide his church to the right place for mission? There will be ‘closed’ as well as ‘open doors.’ There will be guidance addressed to individuals as well as to the entire team. There will be guidance via circumstances, sometimes extraordinary, as well as through the use of reason in evaluating circumstances in the light of God’s Word. And specific guidance will come only to those who are already on the road, living out their general obedience to the Great Commission. Being able to say, ‘God sent me; I come with the wind at my back,’ is a strong witness to one’s hearers that one’s message is from God and true.”
As leaders, we must use the gifts God has given us; intellect, experience and education all need to be applied to the situation at hand. But we cannot rely solely on these gifts. We need to use the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given each of us, gifts intended to bless the community in which we live and serve, gifts such as wisdom, faith, words of knowledge, discernment and prophecy.
Sharing all our gifts
Over the years, I’ve witnessed a variety of leadership styles throughout Mennonite Brethren churches. Some leaders make decisions on the spur of the moment, based on the “leading of the Spirit,” with little thought given to discernment, intellect, education or previous experience. I have also seen leaders who ignore the Spirit and lead simply from talent, education, personal experience and opinion.
A modest proposal: let’s bring all our gifts to the table. We need the strategists and specialists to ask for insight from the prophets and intercessors. We need the visionaries and faith walkers to test their leadings with the technicians and planners. We need the practical and the spiritual to work together. Why? Because we’re living in a time in the life of the church in Canada that requires us to use all our gifts. …And because it’s biblical!
God is opening doors for ministry in new and exciting ways. Many people are expressing their desire for a deep, intimate walk with Jesus. Young people are making sacrificial choices to follow Jesus in life and ministry. The builder and boomer generations are investing in ministry like never before. And the church – the people of God in each local setting – have an opportunity to bring their God-given best to see Canadians transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ, one life at a time.
In order to step into this opportunity, we need to give our gifts, our thoughts and our hearts to Christ and his bride. We need to lean into ministry in our faith communities, in partnerships across Canada and around the world.
The Holy Spirit is inviting us to a new day of collaboration across our country. In the first century, the gospel spread through the known world by Spirit-led Christ followers who lived courageously, as they focused on Christ and his mission in the world. Churches were planted, problems were resolved, the gifts of the Spirit were exercised, and lives were transformed.
My prayer is that we will see a Spirit-led move of God across Canada in our time. Let’s share what the Holy Spirit has given us for his glory and his mission.
—Willy Reimer is executive director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and lives in Calgary with his family
Thanks for reminding us as MB churches to continually remain open to what the Spirit wants to be doing in, through and with us. When my students visit and interview pastors in my present course on congregational mission and evangelism, I’m impressed by the stories about praying, discerning the Spirit’s invitations, and responding with ministry activities.
There are two scriptures about which I’d love conversation. In 2 Cor. 2:12-13, God opens a ministry door to Paul, but Paul decides not to walk through it (or, does not stay long) because he’s concerned about Titus. In Acts 21, Paul is warned “through the Spirit” not to go on to Jerusalem; but he carries on for the sake of Jesus’ name.
Could it be that these scriptures open the possibility that we can be in back-in-forth conversation with the Spirit about what actions we will take in our lives and ministries?