Wrestling with the winter of the soul: winter school reflections
Article by Steve Hodgson, Leader, Fresh Hope Youth (Youth Vision NSW)
A man far wiser then myself once told me that ‘a leaders shadow is only as big as their character’. People find themselves in positions of influence for a variety of reasons, and when that happens, we quickly realize that Character, not charisma or skill, is the determining factor of a leaders capacity and effectiveness. This is nowhere more true then in spiritual leadership.
Brennan Manning noted that ‘leadership in the church is not entrusted to successful fundraisers, brilliant biblical scholars, administrative geniuses, or spellbinding preachers, but to those who have been laid waste by a consuming passion for Christ.’ As A.W. Tozer once said the ‘size of a man’s soul’ determines his effectiveness before God.’
Anyone who has been in leadership for long enough will have found themselves at the point where their leadership calling meets the seemingly unscalable wall of the strongholds that possess their soul. Strongholds such as those hidden fears and experiences that prevent our character from growing to where our calling and skill may take us.
Sadly, for many in leadership in the church, the journey to the dark valleys of our soul comes late in life. Whilst young and zealous we seem to strive to overcome our soul-barriers through sheer will, power or creativity. But the reality remains; the strongholds in our life will only be uprooted by the work of the Holy Spirit and through a valley where we encounter the poverty of self before the grace of a loving God.
It is the heart of Fresh Hope to see young influencers wrestle with this Kingdom reality early in life.
There has been much written and discussed about the leadership dilemma in the church, simply put - we need more leaders! Whilst acknowledging this, we also must hold in tension that across Australia there are some 13,000 ex-pastors/ youth pastors who are no longer in leadership.
To respond to the need for more leaders of the future by simply equipping and skilling people with the gifting to lead, is simply not enough.
The church desperately needs deeply formed spiritual leaders, who are first and foremost disciples of Jesus - being conformed to his image - before they are leaders of people.
The model of leadership in the scriptures is more often then not, of one who is called first to experience the wilderness and wrestle with their soul before they experience the position of leadership.
IMPART, NAVIGATE and THE TOPS INTERNSHIP programs have, at their heart, the desire to see deeply formed disciples and Kingdom influencers. They aim to raise up young men and women who know that the state of their heart before God is of far greater importance in the Kingdom then the excellence of their preaching and seek to foster a desire to influence the church in the next generation - not because of status or positional power, but because their experience of the loving and graceful God compels them to.
Winter school saw a small part of this become reality. For six days, 25 young leaders wrestled with the strongholds that hold them back.
The question was posed at the start of the week - ‘what do you ‘possess’ and what ‘possesses’ you?’ - What in your heart and character holds you back from stepping into the Kingdom call of Christ on your life? It was an incredible week.
It was exciting to be a part of a community of young men and women who were willing to be vulnerable, to risk openness and to dig up things deeply rooted in their lives in order to allow the Holy Spirit to do his transforming work. We learnt together, retreated together, worshipped together, rose early (6.30am) for devotions together, played together (the daily sports competition was a lot of fun), laughed together, ate together and in many ways were once again captured by the love and glory of Jesus together.
There was no doubt for any involved that it had been a significant experience in the trajectory of the lives of all of those involved. On one night around a fire, a number of leaders stood watching 25 young adults ministering to & encouraging one another and responding to the leading of the Spirit. One of the leaders put it simply - ‘you long all of your life in ministry to be a part of something like this’. For those involved, whether student or leader, it was an incredible experience.
As one who has been a leader participating in the journey of these students, it makes me excited about the future of our movement. That indeed, the leaders of the next generation (and of today), will be deeply formed spiritual leaders who embody the transforming reality of the Kingdom wherever they are planted.
Take a look at a students perspective of Winter School 2014, here.