Not long ago I was going through one of the piles in my office (yes, I sort by piles not by files – yes, I generally know what is in each pile) and came across a message that I had started about 12 years ago. It is based on just a few short verses in the book of 2 Samuel, v. 17-25. David had just been crowned as king over Israel and the Philistines were coming against him. He’s already at this point an accomplished fighter and an accomplished leader. He’s gained the trust of his people, in particular his army. Whatever he wanted to do, they likely would follow him, particularly against this nemesis. Despite all of these credentials and ripeness of the situation, David chooses to inquire of the Lord. It seems like a no-brainer and yet there is a humility to this action that runs almost counter intuitive. From that inquiry comes assurance and focus. From the assurance and focus comes determined action. On its own this story is good, but the follow up story makes it even better.
A second time the Philistines come against Israel. Now David and his army have all the credentials and experience they had previously plus they can add, “we just beat the snot out of them” to their resume. It would again seem like a no-brainer – just go get after the Philistines. However, again David inquires of the Lord – he doesn’t make assumptions based on his experience or knowledge. And this time the Lord comes back with a different approach, one that reveals the need for readiness and action together with discernment and timing.
In consideration of Caroline Ramsey’s writings on the “Scholarship of Practice”, I am compelled to agree with her conclusions that “a scholarship of practice recognizes the constitutive importance of ongoing relations within management practice.” (p.17) This is true not only from an ancient biblical perspective but also from a contemporary ministry perspective. “The improvisational and mindful skills” which Ramsey also mentions are necessary terms that speak to the discernment and sense of timing. In her work on Provocative Theory, her stories of Mike and Kieran accentuate the importance of inquiry in the decision-making role of a leader, “For it is in the cycle of inquiry, as reflection follows action before projecting into further action that evaluation of the quality of previous evidence can be made.”(p.24)
If David had gone ‘by the book’ on these advances against the enemies; few people would have questioned him. It would have been easy to say, “this is the way we fight, this has been our plan, this is what our plan will be, now let’s execute the plan.” Instead David models a different way of leadership – rather than focus on the executing the plan; he demonstrates the importance of preparing for action without necessarily defining the action until it has been made clear by the Lord.
- What would those inquiring conversations between God and David have been like?
- What would the conversations between David and his armies been like, between battles and while they waited?
That movement from planning to preparing seems to be one that includes the impact and influence of relations, including the Lord and those among whom we serve. Here are some brief thoughts on this transition:
- Planning usually is done with an end in mind (“if I do this and this, then this will be the result”)
- Preparation will incorporate many of the same actions of planning, except the need to consistently be submitting ourselves to the Lord’s direction.
- Planning can get us into routines, where as the Lord often changes the strategy despite having us prepare the same way. He is preparing us for His purpose, not our own.
- Although the differences between planning and preparing are often unseen, planning focuses on outcomes, preparing focuses on characteristics and motives.
- Preparing is a humble recognition that the Lord is directing my life, therefore I am open to where he takes me, what he wants me to do, who he wants me connect with, when he wants me to do it.
- Planning communicates that the leader or management already possesses the necessary information and knows what the result swill be; preparing allows room for listening and incorporating input from those involved in the process. Preparing has the potential to unite people, build enthusiasm and develop a sense of ownership across an organization.
- Feel free to add some of your own thoughts on transitioning from planning to preparing …
I have been reminded in different ways over the last few days and weeks that the cultural landscape in which our ministry functions is undergoing rapid and continuous change and/or fragmentation. Therefore the importance of letting go of isolated preconceived plans to allow for a relational process through which wisdom and timing can be continually discerned will be all the more vital to making an Gospel centered difference in our communities.
I haven’t finished writing the message on 2 Samuel, but instead of have shared it on two or three occasions, in its incomplete state and have instead asked for input from those who have listened to help add value to the ideas of what the preparing, waiting, inquiring, discernment and action would have been like for the armies of Israel, as well as thinking of circumstances in our own lives where we could benefit from that kind of approach.
Ideas are always welcome…