Everything flows from the presence of the Lord. Everything.
If you have Him, you have everything you need. Without Him—His life, presence, provision, and power—you have nothing of importance. Our greatest concern as pastors should be simply this: Are we personally encountering God daily?
Our work as shepherds should be to bring people into environments where they too can encounter God, because only He changes lives. We must work hard to ensure that every part of our church creates an environment where God can freely dwell and do what only He can do.
What does it take to create space for Him? I am by no means an expert, but I would humbly offer the following suggestions:
If you aim at nothing, you’re bound to hit it. It’s important to continually define for yourself, your leaders, and your people the church’s ultimate goal: “We are gathering to encounter God.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we said this so often that people actually believed it and came expecting Him? We need a faith that believes “that [God] is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6 NASB).
Every part of our church should have the stated, repeated goal of encountering God. We should build this value into our church’s DNA.
Prayer clearly demonstrates humility and dependence, and God responds to the bended knee and bowed heart. He “is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). If you desire God’s presence, you must pray.
There are occasions when God manifests Himself in spite of our prayers, but He clearly and repeatedly calls us to invoke His presence. We must teach our leaders and our people to cry out to God as they prepare for any gathering, because “all is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.”
It is startling how unintentional we are in planning for God’s presence. Take worship services, for instance. A pastor who tells his worship leaders, “Just prepare some music and tell me when it’s time to preach,” is going to get what he asks for.
In my opinion, the pastor is the ultimate worship leader, and he should prepare by:
- Spending time every week with church leaders, prayerfully discussing every part of the service
- Asking for God’s creativity to lead people to Him in fresh, God-initiated ways (He is, after all, the Creator of all things.)
- Planning each service with the primary goal of opening a door so that Christ can enter and do His work
I once heard a gifted leader say, “The one who comes to the meeting prepared, leads.” So what should we prepare for?
We should think about how we can open the door for God. After all, what good is a planning meeting, an administrative gathering, or a small group if God is not there?
We may think of things that promote God’s presence, but what of those that distract? I recently heard a man say that Satan doesn’t have to destroy us, just distract us. As we prepare, we should heed anything that would pull people’s attention away from Christ.
While the physical environment itself can distract, random thoughts or announcements in the middle of worship can completely destroy a train of thought. So while planning, we need to ask, “Is there anything in our agenda that hijacks God’s agenda?”
God shows up at unexpected times, but a good shepherd knows when He is present. I have often cringed when God manifested Himself and the leader walked right past the moment.
Just as we seize teachable moments with our children, we should not rush through “God moments.” Give them time. Savor them. Give God room.
If you sense God’s presence, say so. If you sense conviction, let God’s hand rest on heavy hearts. If you believe God is calling people to respond—even in the middle of something else that has been planned—move to a time of response. Don’t miss God’s presence!
We’re not aiming at slick perfectionism, but we should be more intentional about all that we do. Since we are entrusted with the awesome privilege of leading people into God’s presence, we need to get better and better at our responsibility. To help this, we should ruthlessly evaluate every service and environment by asking ourselves and others:
- Was God there?
- Did this work?
- What were the distractions?
- What did we learn from this?
- How can we do this better next time?
If you led a presidential gathering but forgot to make it possible for the president to be there, it would be a monumental disaster. People would be terribly disappointed, and I imagine the president wouldn’t be too happy either!
How tragic for people to come expecting God when our negligence has made no room for Him. Become an expert at making room for God, because everything flows from His presence.