Of all the skills required to lead a local church, maybe the most important is the ability to hear from God about the direction of your church.
Every church and Christian movement needs a Moses (and only one Moses) who can ascend the mountain and hear from God about His desires and direction for His flock. Ideally, we’ll hear from Him daily. But for big, directional initiatives, it’s imperative to hear clearly, or in the case of vision, see clearly where the Lord wants to take His people.
Fortunately, the Lord wants to talk to us more than we want to talk to Him. He’s a constant communicator. David says, “Day after day God’s heavens pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (Ps. 19:2).
Over the years, I’ve developed an eight-step process that helps me to hear His voice in important areas of my life and ministry. This process is as much about heart as it is head.
How to Hear from God when you Need Leadership Direction for your Church
1. Clear Up Any Blockage
My first step is to clear up anything that will hinder His communication.
Ps. 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened…” Sin dampens His desire to hear from me on things on which I want input because sin creates a barrier between us, and His priority is always to remove the barrier before moving forward with other things. If I’m harboring a grudge, or bitterness, or resisting something God has already asked me to do, our communication in hindered at best, and most likely, blocked substantially.
So as I begin my process of seeking God’s voice, I ask, “Lord, is there anything I need to confess to You right now? Is there anything You want me to do before we talk together?” That’s a prayer He loves to answer! If there is something, I’ll see or hear it in my mind, usually quietly or gently. But if there is a nudge or whisper from the Holy Spirit, then I know I must confess this thing, and deal with it now before expecting to hear more.
2. Empty My Ambition
My next, and very-much related step, is to empty my own ambition from the situation. So I pray, “Lord, as I seek to hear from You, I am intentionally letting go of my own agenda right now. I want what You want more than I want what I want.”
3. Set My Mind on God’s Thoughts
I’ve found the most effective way to help me empty my ambition is to set my mind on God’s way of thinking by reading some Scripture.
On average, our world sends each of us 5,000+ messages per day through our exposure to the internet, television, radio, and more. The agenda of each of those ads is designed to indulge us in some way. I can’t erase what I’ve seen, read, or heard, buy I can override those messages with God’s messages of love, salvation, selflessness, and joy.
So before I ask the Lord my questions, I listen to some of what He’s already told me by reading a portion of His Word.
4. Frame My Question
Now that I’m ready to hear from God, I clarify what it is I want to hear about from Him. I do this by framing my question. “Lord, what sermon series would You like me to teach Your people next?” Or, “Father, is there a theme or direction You’d like to take Your church in this year?”
Someone smart once said that a question well-asked is half-answered. My asking doesn’t mean that God will answer, sometimes He has something different He wants to talk with me about. In which case, our conversation goes that direction. But by asking my question clearly and specifically, I’m more likely to hear Him clearly and specifically.
5. Identify What I Already Know about the Answer
My feeble inner ear is too poor to hear answers to broad or general questions very often.
And a question like “What should I preach?” is broad enough to generate a thousand possibilities, so I find it helpful to narrow my search parameters by thinking through the parts of God’s answer that I probably already know. God and I are in a partnership. He doesn’t want to hand me every answer on a silver platter.
Part of what He’s doing in my life is helping me to grow up to be a wise, responsible, and godly leader.
So He wants me to engage my brain as we talk together. When people I’m helping develop ask me a question, before answering, I try to respond with, “What do you think?” God does that with me when I ask Him questions. Four questions help me narrow my question as well as clarify what I think:
- What’s our mission?
- What part of this mission do we need to emphasize right now?
- What do my people need to know or hear to move the mission forward?
- What does God seem to be putting on my heart, or teaching me personally lately?
The answer to these guides me close to the answer I’m seeking. I have to be careful with question four though. It can open me to self-deception or personal motives, so of the four, I under-weigh the answer to this one.
6. Speak Lord
Now I’m ready to hear. My mind and heart are tuned to God’s will.
So I say, “Speak Lord, I’m listening.” And then I write down whatever I hear. I’ll also write down any clarifying questions. I record our conversation like a dialogue on my paper. I want to be able to go back later and review who said what. As New Song’s primary leader, there are five major events I seek significant input on.
- The Vision. Has it changed? Is there something that needs to be clarified, or emphasized at this time? Sometime during the first eight weeks of the year, we hold a “Vision Night,” to remind ourselves what God has called us to do, and how He’s calling us to do it.
- Sermon Series. I try to discern what we should be learning on Sunday mornings three to twelve months ahead of time.
- Easter. This day is so important it deserves its own “hearing” from God.
- Oasis. Each August, I ask everyone who is willing to set aside two days for our own New Song Leadership Conference. This and Vision Night are the most important sessions of our year because they mobilize and equip our leaders, and everything rises and falls on leadership.
- Church Campaign. In September/October we dedicate a focused time when all Life Groups study the same material and all members read the same daily devotionals that accompany our Sunday sermons, and accelerate our personal and group growth.
7. Is It Biblical?
After I hear from God, I want to make sure what I’m thinking is really true. So, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), I scan Scripture to make sure that what I’m about to teach or cast vision for is Biblical. If I can’t find a verse, passage, or principle illuminated by a story in Scripture, then I need to go back to the drawing board.
8. What Do Trusted Leaders Think?
Before implementing what is now forming in me, I want to seek the counsel of a few members of my inner circle.
Pr. 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Sharing my newly-forming idea, thoughts, or vision helps me begin to refine the words I’ll use as message titles or big ideas, and these trusted friends usually have suggestions that make the idea better.
Following these steps to hear from God has kept me from missteps and mistakes, increased my clarity and confidence, and helped our church lead over 23,000 to Christ in these past three decades. I hope they’ll help you too!
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Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at www.pastormentor.com. Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.