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24 Jun '08

Spiritualists and strategists

Posted by T.J. Addington in church boards, church leadership, ministry teams


Ministry teams and ministry boards often experience conflict between two kinds of people: spiritualists and strategists. When not understood this conflict can cause significant relational disconnect. When understood and appreciated, the difference between spiritualists and strategists can become a strength on the team or board rather than a source of conflict.

The spiritualist on your board or staff is the one who strongly identifies with the need to appropriate God's power through prayer - sometimes to the exclusion of planning and strategy.

Moses is a good example of a spiritualist. Moses loved nothing more than to be in the presence of his Lord, and God rewarded that desire by meeting with him face to face (Exodus 33:11). When faced with difficult issues, Moses' first instinct was to go to God.

Strategy was less of a gift for Moses. In fact, he nearly burned out from trying to personally deal with all of the issues faced by several million people! It took his father-in-law, Jethro, to help Moses develop a strategy for organizing the people and dealing with their problems.

On the other end of the spectrum, the strategists on your board or staff are the ones who love to plan, think ahead, set goals, evaluate results, question practices and insist on 'ministry results.' These individuals are sometimes impatient with the spiritualists who, in their opinion, are unwilling to use their God-given abilities to think strategically and naive to think that God's going to do everything without a lot of our own effort.

I believe that Paul qualifies as someone who tended toward the strategist end of the spectrum. On his missionary journeys, he thought carefully about where to plant churches and chose the population centers of the Roman Empire, where the gospel would have the greatest impact.

This does not mean that Paul was not also deeply spiritual or a man of great prayer. But he tended to look at his ministry from a strategic perspective. It may well have been this strategic bent that was at the core of the rift between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:36-41).

Barnabas, whose name and spiritual gift meant 'encourager,' was probably much less bent toward the strategic than toward the relational and spiritual. Paul, with his strategic bent, grew impatient with John Mark and was blinded to the benefits John Mark brought to the work. Barnabas had a more understanding approach.

If Paul and Barnabas could stumble on the relational shoals over their differing approaches to life and ministry, it should not surprise us that we face these challenges as we work with one another. Apart from Christ, who was a perfect balance between the spiritualist and the strategist, all of us fall somewhere on a continuum toward one side or the other. We do not see life perfectly, and we have been gifted differently.

This goes to the question of which is right, the spiritualist or the strategist? Biblically, both are right, and those who are at either pole fail to understand the genius of 'and.' It is our prayer and strategy. It is following Christ and the best of our thinking on behalf of His kingdom. It is passionate dependence and ferocious resolve.

We ought to thank God for both the spiritualists, who remind us to trust God and live in dependence, and the strategists, who prompt us to think strategically for the advancement of His kingdom. When we understand that both of these approaches are biblical, and that it is in the balance of deep dependence and ferocious resolve that the best ministry happens, then we will embrace both and denigrate neither. God has gifted us differently, and it is in the plurality of gifting that we are most complete.