“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Jesus
So often those who are innocent, aren’t very effective, and those who learn the wisdom to be effective, tend to not act very innocently. But we are called to be both wise and completely innocent, especially in church leadership.
Last week, we covered how we are to walk in wisdom. That post covered prioritization, the cost of time, getting the most bang for our buck, having a long term focus, and remembering the call to continuing growing in this area. This week, we are following that up with remembering that we are to also walk in innocence.
To live innocently means to not be guilty of a crime or offense. Some of the top words the thesaurus compares it to are: “guiltless, blameless, above suspicion, faultless, honorable, honest, upright.”
This list reminds me of the qualification of a Pastor in 1 Timothy 3 where we are told to be “above reproach”. I think living innocently is a standard assumption, however, how does it show itself in the mist of living wisely? As I mentioned above, we are likely to act unwisely when we focus on being innocent, and we’re likely to not live in innocence when we focus on being wise. There are many ways to apply innocent inside of wisdom, but here are 3 that I think are some of the biggest ways that can easily be missed in the daily hustle and in the push to live wisely.
1. People Above Programs
I can be most guilty of this one. Not so much “programs” which reflect groups and activities, but I can easily put systems above people, which is pretty much the same problem.
Jesus came to earth so that He could build Himself the redeemed people called the Church. It wasn’t so we could crush people under the weight of programs. It’s easy to hide behind a collection of things to do and to use people to merely keep the “machine” going, but this was not God’s intent. When we veer from God’s ideal for the church, we are not living innocently because we are putting our desires above God’s. Yes, programs are more efficient and “wise” for time and resources, but they are not the end goal of God’s redeeming work for the world, and so when we try to make them the salvation of people rather than Jesus, we have taken the wisdom of efficiency and placed it above innocence rather than beside it.
2. God’s Kingdom Above Your Church
You should be praying that God would use you and your church to further the kingdom. However, God does not guarantee individual church growth, or even encourage that we should pray for it. Following wisdom, we should be promoting our individual churches as we are told to encourage faithful gathering together and participation in the local church. However, this can easily be taken too far and can loose it’s innocence when we seek our personal church growth over the overall growth of the global church.
It’s easy to desire growth for churches in distant locations, they’re no “threat” to you. But what about the church down the street? Do you celebrate when they begin to explode with new believers and God is obviously doing a great work there – or do you sulk that it’s not happening at your church?
This is something I’ve had to struggle with a lot since moving to Delray Beach to help start a church. We started with knowing no one. We moved here one year after the lead pastor, and there was one other family with them at that time. Starting from the ground is extremely hard, but what has been even more difficult has been “loosing” people to bigger churches after they get saved because those churches have more programs and resources to offer (most of the people have left because of reasons that are best for them, but it’s difficult nonetheless). Some of these churches have even joked that our church is their best evangelist.
It’s easy, when focusing on acting wisely, to put our own church above the fact that God’s Kingdom is going forward through what God is doing through us – but this is not an innocent attitude. Yes, we need to be pastors and leaders of the people God puts in our care, but we cannot loose the focus of God’s overall church while doing so.
3. ROI Through the Eyes of Jesus
ROI is short for “Return On Investment.” It’s used often in marketing when referring to customer acquisition. For example, if you calculate that it costs you $2 to acquire a customer, and the average customer spends $40, then you received $40 for your investment of $2, an ending profit of $38. In the name of wisdom, we can easily trade what God views as a good ROI for how the world views it.
As we covered last week, we are called to live in wisdom and get the most “bang for our buck”. However, what we consider a “bang” does not always match God’s view.
One example is that many pastors and ministry leaders determine whether to continue a specific outreach or marketing plan by how much giving was increased afterwards. This not only has a very short term view of outreach and marketing (which goes against another part of wisdom we covered) but it also misses God’s view of success.
We should NEVER determine the success of an outreach or ministry primarily by it’s financial growth or income.
God views the human soul as so valuable that He chose to sacrifice His only Son in order to redeem it. So how is it that we could measure an outreach’s success by whether or not we got more money in the offering that Sunday and not by if someone was saved? In wisdom, we can desire to make parts of the church self-sustaining by having them completely pay for themselves, but this is not the mentality found in living as innocent people.
Peter had no money before he healed the beggar by the temple in Acts 3, and it appears that he had none afterwards as well – but I can promise you that it was worth it. Paul lived his entire ministry without great support, yet I can guarantee you that every ministry opportunity he took was worth the effort even though it wouldn’t show its worth in dollar signs.
Having an improper view of ROI does not only involve money, but it can show itself in many areas. A great book on this subject is “The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors” by Shawn Lovejoy (Amazon Link). It covers this idea in depth and is a great reminder of what we should truly value as our primary ROI and measures of success.
To close, just as we need to constantly grow in wisdom, we need to grow in innocence as well. Let us never forget that as pastors and leaders, our attitude, and hearts will be reflected in the hearts and lives the people we lead. Innocence cannot be stressed enough in our individual lives, as well as in our leadership roll inside the church.
Do you have thoughts to add on this? More ideas of ways to live innocently in the mist of pursuing wisdom?