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Remember whose bus it is!


It's old hat now. But, there was a time when it was a newly minted hot topic in the leadership coaching world. The idea first flashed across my screen when I read Jim Collins classic Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't (Harper Business, 2001). It was a life image that clicked with me. In short, life is like riding on a bus. Conventional wisdom figures that since it's my life it's my bus. And, because it's my bus I must decide who gets on and who gets off. It's a strong egocentric management principle. I have to decide who has access to my mind and heart. In this context it's the decision of who I permit to whisper in my ear, the flip side of influence.

Sounds good, doesn't it. The guys over in the MBA school are cheering. But, it's not quite right in my personal worldview. You see, many years ago I surrendered control of my life to Jesus Christ. You know, as in "if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23, ESV). My understanding of that decision, then and now, is that my bus was transferred to him. It became his bus, a Christocentric view. Then, even later, at deeper level, control of my bus shifted to another gear when I answered what is known as his calling to full-time pastoral ministry. Unless my comprehension of this calling is flawed this bus became his in an even more pronounced way. My question as a spiritual leader became, who will I allow to be on his bus.

God is sovereign but has allowed me some autonomy in the decision about who's going to influence me. Years ago, I discovered two levels of reality here---

1. The listening level.

Few of us can ignore the listening responsibilities of spiritual leaders. Whether in intimate counseling sessions or more common church door conversations this rich interplay is essential to the health of those we're leading, congregations included. Their are compliments, criticisms, complaints, worries, rants, corrections, information, and volumes of verbal data to which we must and should listen. Listening helps build trust, establish doors of communication, and connects us to the people entrusted to our spiritual care. Here, to some degree, everyone can whisper in my ear and insert their contribution to the functioning of his bus. Information is the treasure here.

2. The pay attention level.

These are individuals who can whisper in my ear at a deeper level. They are trusted, mature, for the most part people of faith, hold a high view of Scripture, and serve in coaching, mentoring, and accountability relationships that grow me spiritually. Over the years these pay attention partners were ministry colleagues, deacons, church members, and precious friends who would encourage, support, often confront, and challenge me. Usually they would improve my spiritual vision by sharpening and fine-tuning sight, insight, foresight, and hindsight. The treasure of their influence has always been wisdom.

The most profound influence in my life has been Harriet, my wife for almost forty-six years. At a conference years ago the speaker challenged us to pay attention to the counsel, opinions, and thoughts of the Assistant Holy Spirit. It was one of those "ah-ha" moments of clarity that swept through the conference venue. He reminded us that our wives know us best, understand the rigors of ministry more than anyone else, are usually deeply prayerful, and are often well-versed in Scripture. Even more, he noted that when God called us to ministry he called our wives as well. Harriet is analytical and deliberative (Gallup Strengths) and they are the bottom two elements on my strength list. Her input is always trustworthy, thoughtful, and valuable. Spiritual leaders, give some prayer and thought to how that precious life partner is influencing you.

In thirty-five years of pastoral ministry God's bus moved us to four wonderful congregations. In each one there were loving, caring, and usually supportive that were my listening friends. There were also a few in each church that became "pay attention" partners whose counsel, advice, and input challenged and grew me. Together with a number of colleagues there has always been the blessing of having trusted and wise people whispering in my ears. Today I am thankful of them. They remind me of Solomon's words---

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

Proverbs 12: 15, ESV

Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.

Proverbs 19:20, ESV

God has given us freedom to choose the people who will influence us. He's also given us great biblical guidance in making those selections. We should give it heed because it is his bus. We need mature people of wisdom traveling on his bus with us, and whispering in our ears.

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