Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Genie-In-A-Bottle Theology

Written by: on March 3, 2017

What is the relationship between trials and Christian leadership? What is the purpose of sitting on the bench while everybody else is engaged in the game? In Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader, Dr. Shelley Trebesch explains how God uses a diversity of difficult circumstances to make the leader a more refined instrument in His hands. She discovered this pattern in the majority of the leaders that she studied, which led her to conclude that anyone involved in Christian leadership must expect and embrace this process of isolation as part of God’s training.


Isolation is defined as “The setting aside of a leader from normal ministry involvement in its natural context usually for an extended time in order to experience God in a new or deeper way.” (p. 10) This isolation process can be voluntary or involuntary, and it takes the person through four stages. It begins with revealing deeper issues in the life of the leader that God wants to address. Then the person struggles with embracing this stage and assimilating the circumstances. Later the person begins to experience increased intimacy with God and eventually starts looking toward the future with more clarity and singleness of focus. The outcome of this process is that the leader acquires a transformed identity, a change of paradigm in how to approach life and ministry, and a deeper relationship with God. As a result the leader is equipped to make the level of impact that God desires, because “God will free you from the things that prevent you from being whom you have been created to be.” (p. 75).


In the past semesters we have learned that consumerism affects the way in which people relate to religion. Based on my ministry experience I have discovered that people commonly think, “If I do the right thing God will bless me.” Driven by selfish motives, people treat God like the genie in a bottle. However, a missing part of this theology is the role of hardship in the life of the believer. Consequently, when uninvited trials arrive they can destroy the faith of many. Questioning the prevalent genie-in-a-bottle theology, singer Laura Story wonders, “What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”

Dr. Shelley Trebesch challenges us to think of difficult times as transformational times, and to embrace a theology that includes trials as an important ingredient of sanctification. Perhaps this is not a message that many consumerist Christians want to hear. Yet, Dr. Shelley is simply echoing what Jesus and the Apostles already told us. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Paul told Timothy, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Peter told the church, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). They all tell us to expect hardship, not to be surprised by it, to keep our heads through it, and to trust Christ in it.

To be honest, I would prefer not to have trials and not to sit on the bench. But I understand that effective leaders need more than classroom theology. We need scars from battle. These are the scars that remind us of God’s faithfulness, giving us refined perspective and purer motives. They also inspire trust and increase credibility. So if I want to be an effective leader, I must be willing to graduate from God’s training school. Actor Jim Caviezel gives us a good example of this deeper faith that is willing to suck it up no matter what. As he reflects on his own trials filming The Passion of the Christ, he reminds us that we were not made to fit in, but to stand out and to reflect Christ. (If you have not seen this interview, I highly recommend it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ejaw0F8-sY).

The first involuntary isolation experiences of my spiritual journey happened during the years in which our church sanctuary burned down and my daughter died in an accident at home. As Dr. Trebesch affirms, these experiences do provide a paradigm shift and deepen our relationship with God. I just wonder how many more scars does God think I need. I pray that no matter what lies ahead, He will take me through it and use me for His eternal purposes. Keith and Kristyn Getty wrote a song entitled “Jesus draw me ever nearer.” It brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it (and still does today). May this be my prayer as I continue in this journey.


“Jesus draw me ever nearer

As I labour through the storm.

You have called me to this passage,

and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.


May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.


Jesus guide me through the tempest;

Keep my spirit staid and sure.

When the midnight meets the morning,

Let me love You even more.


Let the treasures of the trial

Form within me as I go –

And at the end of this long passage,

Let me leave them at Your throne.”


About the Author

Pablo Morales

Pablo Morales serves as the Lead Pastor of Ethnos Bible Church in Texas. He is currently pursuing the Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary in order to understand what it takes to develop a healthy multiethnic church.

7 responses to “Genie-In-A-Bottle Theology”

  1. Pablo,

    Wow, what a journey life has been for you. Thanks for being transparent. When you have been in those isolation moments how have you managed to continue in your faith? Has that ever been a questioning point?

    The author points us to stay in community even though going through isolation. How have you done this? Is this possible?

    I believe our cohort has been a “community” as we have embarked on a “choice” of isolation instead of just freedom of our time. Has this community of Portland Seminary been helpful in developing a new season for you?

    Thanks for your insight and for your thoughts. God Bless


  2. Pablo Morales says:

    During the times of trial my theological foundation became my anchor, and God gave us strength and peace through the pain. Abandoning the faith was never an option, even though I had abundant tears. Being surrounded by our community was important also. My wife and I made a commitment to speak openly to one another as we were going through our grief. People showed us love and cried with us. It was a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ that I had not experienced before. Having a good balance of privacy and community was important for us. In contrast to that involuntary isolation process, the voluntary process of going through this DMin with our cohort has been very helpful as I prepare for a new season of ministry in the years ahead. In underlined the last words of the book, and I hope that they are true for all of us. “God will do wondrous and amazing things in your life. Expect it and embrace his transformation.” (76)

  3. Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Pablo, I was touched by your blog and can relate to some of your experiences. Thanks for sharing your moments of isolation. It gave me encouragement.

    As I remember periods of isolation that are called
    separation to be considered involuntary seclusion it have to be imposed against the person’s will. However, God has a way of using what happens in our lives to create a certain environment causing you to be in silence , looking to him and hearing his voice. At that moment He totally become your refuge.
    The result of this type of experience, you will emerge a different and better person …closer relationship with God.
    Blessings Rose Maria

  4. Claire Appiah says:

    I was touched by your statement, “I just wonder how many more scars does God think that I need. I pray that no matter what lies ahead, He will take me through it.” Can you share an instance in which either of those isolation experiences has transformed you and/or equipped you to “make the level of impact that God desires?” Do you believe it was possible to have had those results without the isolation experience?

  5. Marc Andresen says:


    You quoted singer Laura Story: “What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?” I will say that whether or not the trial was a mercy in disguise I have discovered the merciful presence of God IN the hard times. Perhaps it’s the same thing. When my mom died we found a book mark on her desk that says, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”

    Your wrote, “We need scars from battle.” How do we make sure our scars continue to work in a positive way in our lives and not degrade into a ‘victim mentality?’

    No matter what lies ahead, He will take us through it.

  6. Garfield Harvey says:

    Thanks for the transparency in your blog. Like many of us, you stated that “I just wonder how many more scars does God think I need.” This is the same feeling we often have with involuntary isolation. This past Tuesday, I had to console my wife at work after she received news that her uncle was hit by a truck and died within a couple hours due to bleeding on the brain. She had just lost her aunt in December due to complications and lost month I was trying to convince her we’re in the greatest season of our lives in ministry. This is the dilemma as we manage the isolations we encounter. As we continue to pray for each other, we will continue to trust that God orchestrates the isolations in our lives for His glory.


  7. Pablo,
    Fantastic blog. I do think that trials have a major effect on cultures that have a consumerist mindset. Trials are a part of life. How do we help our people to continue to see this? What are some things your do practically that helps you keep the right perspective through the trials?


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