I know from experience that one of the most difficult transitions a Christian leader can make is to shift from an old model of ministry into a new one.
In matters of faith, those who have been gloriously converted and are lovingly devoted to the ministries or missions God Himself led them to, may have trouble releasing the old to take hold of the new!
In many ways, that is exactly what the Body of Christ is being asked to do in this season.
Like a Master chess player, God has the right to reposition or refocus His people at will - HIS will - for a maximum benefit to all. The best response we can give Him in times like these is an unqualified “Yes, Lord!”
Significant shifts into new types of ministry come with unique challenges:
~ They may not look like God at first.
~ They may not feel like God because they seem so “out of the box” or unusual.
~ They certainly aren’t comfortable!
~ They have the effect of shaking us down to the foundations and showing us pockets of darkness in our hearts where Christ’s light still needs to penetrate.
~ They don't always come with detailed instructions, requiring us to walk in a greater measure of faith.
~ They are often birthed through timely supernatural encounters.
Think of Joshua standing on the edge of the promised land, receiving a visit from an angel to bring courage. Or Jacob, Gideon, Moses, Joseph the Carpenter, and countless other heroes of the faith who needed specific instructions - supernatural “scrolls,” if you will - released to them before they stepped into a new frontier.
Did these encounters remove fear or make the transitions easier? No, but they provided a measure of confidence and motivation to keep going when the going got tough.
HEROES OF FAITH AREN'T COMFORTABLE!
For several weeks, the Lord has been highlighting Acts 10-11 to me, using the apostle Peter’s “shift” story as an analogy for what is happening for believers today.
In Acts 10, Peter is enjoying a successful healing ministry in Joppa and the regions around Jerusalem. But God begins to speak to the man who may represent His most seasoned leader after Christ’s resurrection. God speaks to Peter about spearheading a new ministry model.
For God to choose Peter seems logical: it was Peter who first understood and confessed Christ’s true identity; Peter who first stood in the Upper Room to offer leadership to the grieving disciples; Peter who first preached at Pentecost. Throughout the early days in Jerusalem, Peter was the established leader of the disciples, seeing healings and miracles on a regular basis.
Now, however, God wants to move Peter into a new wineskin for an expanded sphere of influence in Christ’s Kingdom. But the shift is uncomfortable. Without supernatural intervention, Peter might not have succeeded. Note: a comfortable leader can quickly become an ineffective one!
Peter’s ability to transition into a new ministry is hindered by one simple belief which seems Christlike; but is, in fact, severely limiting. We find this belief in Acts 10:28: “...it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with or befriend a Gentile, or to visit him.”
MOVING FROM JOPPA TO CAESAREA
As a sheet is lowered from heaven and a voice instructs Peter to do something “out of the box” for him, we find Peter defaulting to a familiar three-fold denial of the Lord’s will.
Like the prophet Jonah 800 years before, Peter balks at the idea of abandoning a kosher, religious framework to reach Gentile nations: people the Jews consider “common” and “unclean.”
Both Peter and his prophetic predecessor need to be supernaturally shaken out of a limiting religious mindset which prevents them from accepting God’s fresh invitation. They don’t realize the depth of God’s love for ALL nations; just for their own kind.
Jonah rebels, launches from Joppa (the modern-day port of Tel-Aviv), and lands in a fish. While Jonah’s anger doesn’t stop God’s plan from happening, we have no evidence that his heart ever changed, although the hearts of Nineveh’s people did.
By contrast, Peter obeys (helped by the Holy Spirit), leaves Joppa, and starts a revival in Caesarea. Peter’s willingness to shift into something new with God sets the precedent for a subsequent church plant in Antioch as well. It is in Antioch that disciples are first called Christians.
We know God loves cheerful givers. It’s also safe to say He is pleased with willing “first responders!”
How does Peter’s “shift” actually happen? During a time of prayer, Peter sees the sky open up. He:
~ Has a trance (Acts 11:5)
~ Sees a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven with clean & unclean animals (11:5)
~ Hears a voice saying “Rise, Kill, and Eat!” (11:7)
~ Hears a second voice with the same message (11:9)
~ Hears a third identical voice (11:10)
~ Receives three confirming visitors from Cornelius (11:11)
~ Receives a call of God by the Spirit to “GO” to Caesarea (11:12)
Yet even at the end of this recurring vision, Peter still does not know what it’s all about! He mistakenly interprets the vision as representing kosher and non-kosher food, not people.
Despite an incredible encounter, Peter must ask his three visitors: “Why have you come?” Later, he asks Cornelius: “Why have you sent for me?”
HOPE FOR THE HELPLESS
Peter’s story gives hope for those of us who feel we are missing it somehow. It reminds us that faith is still a necessary component to supernatural encounters. It shows us that we don’t always receive all the information up front. God will intervene just enough to move leaders into the right positions. After that, He trusts us to respond by faith, watch what unfolds, and do what is at hand.
As a result of his obedience and faith, Peter sees the Holy Spirit fall in fresh Pentecostal power on the Gentiles (Acts 10:44). Yet commentator John Stott says: “The principle subject of this chapter is not so much the conversion of Cornelius as it is the conversion of Peter.”
Peter’s heart shift is the precursor to a ministry shift into a new location and a new wineskin. A local and regional ministry now has international authority, as Gentiles from Caesarea to Antioch are converted and baptized.
Notice what happens next:
~ Grace for ministry increases (Acts 11:23)
~ New partnerships with other leaders are formed (11:22 & 25-26)
~ Mass evangelism and salvations occur (11:21 & 24)
~ The teaching anointing increases (11:26)
~ Large numbers of disciples become known for the first time as “Christians” (11:26)
~ The prophetic anointing increases (11:28)
~ Holy Spirit prepares the Church at large for a severe famine (11:28)
~ The Church responds with a spirit of generosity, functioning for the first time in Antioch as a unified, fivefold apostolic Body (11:29-30).
While it takes significant supernatural intervention to bring about the shift in these chapters, Peter is not alone in his need for God’s confirming presence and reassurance. Many other heroes of the faith required similar encounters to accomplish their missions, and many of us today do, too. The encounters are meant to change our hearts and help us to see our situations from a new perspective: God’s perspective!
If you feel you are being led by God to do unusual things in this new era, do not despair! The same man who denied Christ and was restored three times still needed a course correction in the middle of an established ministry in order to grow.
Two things Peter did right, which leaders can emulate: he maintained a regular prayer life even while on the go, which kept the lines of supernatural communication open. He also responded humbly to God’s course corrections, walking by faith where details were not yet known.
Peter’s shift wasn’t comfortable. Ours won’t be, either. As needed, God will give us the confirmations we must have to stay on track and to remove any wrong beliefs. Holy Spirit knows how to guide us through each and every transition, no matter how difficult, until we are rightly positioned within God’s overarching plan.
The apostle Paul summarizes the process best:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should embrace this point of view. And if you think differently about some issue, God will reveal this to you as well. Nevertheless, we must live up to what we have already attained. ~ Philippians 3:12-15; emphasis mine.
I pray that like Peter, you will respond with faith to the corporate shifting that is taking place across the Body right now. Alignment is important, and reveals, in the end, the kind of Joel 2 army God desires most. May your first response to God’s invitations always be a cheerful “Yes!”
THINK ON THESE THINGS:
God’s heart is to make His house a house of prayer for ALL nations; not just one.
~ Are there “pockets” of resistance in your heart towards those who are different in race, color, religion, or status than you?
~ Are you married to ministry models that are now limited or outdated?
~ Do you sense that God is challenging you to shift your role, relationships, location, or method of ministry?
~ Are your "lines of communication" with God open for supernatural assistance? Can he trust you to listen and obey, even when His instructions are unexpected?
Ask God to supernaturally reveal any wrong beliefs, habits, or religious mindsets that could prevent you from shifting into your new sphere of influence today. Mature leaders are humble leaders, willing to let go of old things and to be shaken free of erroneous thinking as necessary.
The end result will be a beautiful outpouring of expanded grace, power, authority, and blessing for you and those around you!
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.