Retired and Still Developing
“There is no retirement in the Bible,” said yet another colleague when I announced I was retiring. I categorized the statement with other credulous truisms neither reflected in the scriptures nor the realities of aging, but which permeate the evangelical culture in which I predominately worked. I have always looked forward to retirement, in part my expectations were shaped by my dad, and other mentors who in retirement developed their mentoring, teaching, and relational skills. These mentors contributed to the development of others in retirement in ways they could not before retirement because of the demands on their time in the positions they held. My dad moved from a full-time professorship to pastoral ministry and adjunct work that had him working with young emerging professionals, prisoners, and other pastoral and lay leaders. Another mentor left the corporate world as an internal development coach/engineer to become a friend to pastoral leaders and a discipler of emerging professionals he found in his engagement with a local congregation.
Allow me to lay out two recurring themes in my reflection on retirement. First, what biblical foundations exist for shaping a healthy view of modern retirement and second, what developmental tasks do retirees face?
The modern Western concept of retirement isn’t found in scripture, nor is it possible in many developing contexts. However, transitions that come with aging are modeled in scripture for leaders and there are healthy and unhealthy examples. On the healthy side, I look to the instructions given to Levitical priests regarding temple service.
This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they[a] shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister[b] to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” (Num. 8:24-26; ESV)
The reasons for the restriction of older priests from temple service allow for a release from the taxing physical labor of temple service. But it also codifies a continuous transition of leadership/service to a new generation of priests. God established a pipeline of multi-generational leaders. Many organizations could benefit from such a pipeline that captures the experience of its aging workforce and invests it in the emerging generations. Nothing in the text presumes older priests are ineffectual or irrelevant. There is an indication that their value as individuals and priests are celebrated in releasing them from the demands of the job while encouraging their ongoing participation in supporting an emerging generation.
The benefit of this forced transition stands in contrast to poor transitions of leadership also found in the Jewish Scriptures. The transition of Saul to David is a poignant case study of a transition poorly done. Yet, David apparently didn’t learn as much about transitions as he could have as the end of his reign is filled with unnecessary conflict and intrigue. When transitions away from active leadership do not occur in a healthy way conflict, relational damage, organizational dysfunction, and broken generational links often occur.
Is there a definitive developmental task for retiring leaders – or retirees generally speaking? One of my mentors, J. Robert Clinton, analyzed leadership transitions throughout their careers. He codified stages of development and the developmental tasks of those stages in his landmark book, Leadership Emergence Theory (1989). So, while reflecting on my retirement, I returned to his book to review what he said about retirement or what he calls “After Glow.” I was disappointed in the summary he offered, “honor God’s faithfulness.” My disappointment rests in the lack of specificity, not my disagreement with the general statement. To be fair, Clinton assumes that a leader builds upon each successive stage of development so that prior developmental tasks are not forgotten but become an indelible part of how a person addresses their career/calling.
In reflecting on my own experience, I identify four core development tasks in Afterglow.
- Refine and define core life lessons. The initial shift in daily routine is shocking to every retiree I know, myself included. The move from direct responsibility for organizational and financial competitive health to the loss of power, prestige, and privilege inherent in leadership or a successful career is jolting. The jolt is amplified by the ageism of our culture that seems swift to relegate the retired to irrelevance. We live in a competitive society, business, jurisprudence, and governance all have a fundamentally adversarial (competitive) flavor. I include religious governance/service in this as we are not exempt from the cultural influence in which we live. The initial task then of retirement is how to conceptualize and then reproduce those life lessons that transcend the functional skills of leadership and the market in which we worked that helped us define purpose and meaning rather than mere success. This takes work since for many the formation of purpose and meaning was done on the fly and not always with a conscious enumeration. To the degree that purpose and meaning were consciously defined and conceptualized the initial stage of retirement seems less jolting because the transition to retirement is not a movement away from one’s primary contribution but a movement toward its undiluted and unfiltered expression.
- Process disappointment and regret redemptively. I don’t know an honest person who hasn’t experienced disappointment in their expectations around their career nor some regret at things they would now approach differently. Processing disappointment and regret redemptively is rooted in the act of forgiveness. This includes forgiving others as well as giving/receiving forgiveness for oneself. We can process disappointment and regret because we are dynamic rather than static individuals. If retirement had no developmental tasks the exercise of deliberately defining disappointments and regrets would be an act of futility.
- Exercise gratitude for a career well done. The power of gratitude is thoroughly documented. Being grateful for the successes, failures, relationships, resources, connections, and potential inherent in a life-long endeavor is an important transition exercise. Janice and I have had some fun doing this and have found that our perspective has shifted from past to future as we see an increasing sense of expectation commensurate to our gratitude. The nature of this expectation no longer frames itself in the sometimes-limited sense of our past (career growth, income, recognition, etc.), but has branched out to the recognition of the significance of friends, the contribution of experience, and the satisfaction of enjoying the fruit of our labor and the new relationships this enjoyment is generating. While many of our expectations about where we would go in our careers were radically assailed and changed by events, people, and circumstances well out of our control, hindsight gives us a wonderful perspective of the diversity and impact we have had on the lives we have encountered. Gratitude isn’t limited.
- Be present. The steps of reflection and transition represented in the first three developmental tasks lead to the most exciting task, being present. As we have engaged in new avenues of endeavor including local and state government, clubs, a new city, grandchildren, neighbors, and new professionals in our orbit, we have found the most exciting task is simply being present where we are. It is amazing what doors of encouragement, coaching, and friendships. The only limit we have discovered to our current influence is the failure to actively engage in the developmental tasks of this stage of life.
Retirement isn’t a process of mothballing our existence or influence. Instead, it has become a means of amplifying our influence and our flourishing in life. We have found the promise of John 10:10 to be at work. There is a task retirement engages and the satisfaction of this stage is dependent upon whether one openly engages in that task.
 J. Robert Clinton. (1989) Leadership Emergence Theory: A Self-Study Manual For Analyzing the Development of a Christian Leader. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Resources, 313.
A New Year…Again
The New Year is a time I use to reflect and anticipate. This year offers both a familiar and unfamiliar journey for me. As I reflect on the past year, I have deep gratitude for friends with whom I have related, their help in keeping me honest in faith by asking questions and observing behaviors of which I am not conscious, sharpens me. I love the laughter inherent in a good friendship – the good-natured ribbing and unabashed love encourage me. I am thankful for colleagues with whom I serve who have promoted my abilities and offered opportunities for me to further develop my skills as a leader. I am deeply enamored and thankful for Janice who walks with me in my most vulnerable times and helps me gather my angst, fear, and concern to the feet of Jesus. All of this is familiar to me and each year I am amazed at the number of experiences and relationships that have influenced and encouraged me.
The unfamiliar aspect of this year emanates from a sense of uncertainty. The post-COVID world is unfamiliar to me, I am left feeling like the scenery is familiar, but the compass directions have all changed. It is not unlike the feeling I had on my first visit to China when I could not find anyone who spoke English and I had to navigate a plane change in an unfamiliar international airport. Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret capture my sense of disorientation in describing the impact of COVID as a great reset of our economy, social order, geopolitical order, technology, industry, mental health, and view of humanity.
Schwab and Malleret define my sense of disorientation by pointing out that the speed with which things have changed can be baffling to our ability to assess both challenges and opportunities. I have more information and analysis than ever before and less time to decide. As I look toward 2023, I see more opportunities and greater challenges than I can wrap my brain around. At times, I just want to retreat to a cave, with a fire, a cup of coffee, and a good book.
While the new year trudges irrepressibly at me I hear the invitation of Jesus, “follow me.” In past years I mapped out concrete plans and strategies replete with key performance indicators and defined milestones. And, I have some of them for 2023 – I am myself after all. But the invitation Jesus gives comforts me. I don’t know the ultimate direction of the next year, Jesus does. And so, I accept Jesus’ invitation. I am invested in doing the work of God’s kingdom. I am expectant, I am humbled, I am comforted. And I give a similar invitation to those around me, let’s follow Jesus, let’s do the work of the kingdom not just in word but in action. Let’s be the healing, comforting, and delivering presence of God to one another and the world around us. Happy New Year!
As I prepare to officiate another family funeral, I am reminded of something I once wrote to my daughter about grief.
It is never enough…I grieve losses too, sometimes even after decades. A passing thought, a memory, a place, a smell, a song. Each of these triggers a surge of sorrow – now perhaps not as convulsive (the intensity has waned but not the depth). Grief I once thought of as a fearful specter to be avoided, now has become an intimate counselor. Grief reminds me to be present, to be engaged, to appreciate the mundane and seemingly uneventful things in life that make up my humanity. Grief is a counselor not a friend; when I see grief approach, I don’t rejoice, I look a full look and sigh a deep sigh, but I don’t run, I sit with grief and listen to its questions, and it’s reminders to live fully – in all my emotions. So, at times I weep, sometimes I sigh, sometimes I say I don’t want to converse. Grief intrudes nonetheless, and I learn. Always though, as grief departs my friend, comfort arrives in a quiet, burden-lifting way. Thank you, comfort, for following up on my sessions with grief. I see more clearly through the tears. I feel more deeply through the sighs. I am here; they are not. I cannot change this, but I am changed by this – still.
Janice Ellen Wheeler, May 27, 1935 – March 14, 2022.
My brother called on March 14, I answered, he paused, then slowly enunciated, mom has died. He shared the few details he had, she hadn’t shown up for their weekly breakfast meeting, he asked her apartment to do a wellness check and that’s when they found she had died. Mom is no longer here.
The announcement of death is, in my experience, always a gut punch. My brothers and I all live a vibrant faith in Jesus, we revel in the hope of the resurrection. Mom was a model of faith, love, and hope. Still, death creates a void in the present. We knew mom’s health was fragile. We knew the two years of COVID isolation and restrictions were wearing on her. We were working to get her more help in cleaning and monitoring her health. We were calling more, picking her up for visits, and talking with one another to ensure she was not isolated from us. And that is part of the void of death – she is not here anymore. Faith never exempts one from experiencing life. Faith provides that anchor and stamina needed to engage, endure, survive, and thrive. Faith moves us toward healing in the face of pain, deliverance in the face of oppression, and hope and comfort in the face of loss and cynicism. Mom is no longer here.
I saw in my mom’s eyes the reflection of hopes and dreams for a family. I saw patience and a commitment to Christ that is personal and real. I saw sensitivity to others and commitment to excellence and a job well done.
Mom’s eyes shone with the reflection of generations living out the hope, faith, and love that have carried and sustained her in trial and triumph, conquest and defeat, and contentment and loss.
These things made her special to me. She was a woman of many talents. She was excellent in her pursuits and vibrant as a woman of faith and ministry. She was a wife of commitment and deep abiding love. She was a co-laborer of many and a healer of broken lives. She set captives free with her warmth and belief that Christ liberates any who will come to him.
But for me, she was my first healer of wounds, comfort in trauma, model of grace and strength. When you see me, I hope I reflect these characteristics of my mom. I love you mom and I am proud to call you this dearest and cherished of names – my mom. I miss you.
Prophets? Part 2
I said in Part 1 that the assumptions we carry into exegetical work influence how we frame our understanding of Scripture. When the assumed model of prophetic ministry articulates its metaphors from Israel’s kingdom period, one’s language and demeanor may trend to dominionist illustrations and proclamations. Conversely, framing prophetic ministry from the premise of being aliens and strangers tends to use differences as a starting point for dialogue and the demonstration of God’s intervening love.
I am intrigued by seeing how prophetic ministry works holistically for the well-being of the context. In reading through the life of Elisha this week, the diversity of social settings and situations he addressed caught my attention. The categories of influence may correlate to the seven social spheres of power, but the record provides its own, and at times, more compelling, classifications of prophetic ministry.
Defining reliable and valid prophetic ministry requires defining what I mean by prophetic. Often the word, prophetic brings to mind fortune-telling or magical incantations. In contrast, what I mean by prophetic are actions and statements that give insight into God’s nature and intention. Bobby Clinton’s definition of prophecy is a helpful starting point.
Prophecy is the capacity to deliver truth (in a public way) either of a predictive nature or as a situational word from God to correct by exhorting, edifying, or consoling people or to convince non-believers of God’s truth. The central thrust is to provide correction or perspective on a situation.
In my view, the impact of valid and reliable prophetic ministry is critically needed today, which is why the function requires a model. Modeled behaviors are mentoring and discerning behaviors. Models help us recognize patterns and scope. Models are like a road sign encouraging us on the path of discovery and practice.
I find Elisha to be a compelling and holistic model of prophetic ministry. What are the traits of an effective and holistic prophetic ministry? As I outline these characteristics, it occurs to me that some do not make much sense to us who live in privilege in the west. However, these characteristics are profoundly relevant and comforting for friends of mine who live under corrupt regimes,or in the middle of war zones, or in neighborhoods under the thumb of oppressive gangs.
Healed the environment. I’m intrigued by this. The men of Jerico expressed their concern to Elisha about the bad water in the area. It limited the potential of their otherwise pleasant situation. Elisha prophesied healing to the water. (2 Kings 2:19-22) Environmental issues about today. Entire neighborhoods languish with both pollution and crumbling infrastructure. God cares about ecological issues recognizing that cities cannot thrive in environmental hindrances. Prophetic ministry understands that one impediment to hearing the good news of Jesus is the struggle to survive.
Castigated intimidation, violence, and incivility. This text exposes our frame of reference in a unique way. The text is troubling for the severity of its consequences if, like me, you grew up in the relative safety of the suburbs here in the United States. My initial picture of these children accosting Elisha with name-calling is that of a group of cub scouts who escaped the supervision of their den mother. If on the other hand you have grown up in neighborhoods ruled by gang violence this text is profoundly comforting. These children and youth accosted Elisha with intimidating insults (translations don’t give it justice). They followed Elisha out of the city to a more remote part of the road to intimidate and bully him with jeering threats. (2 Kings 2:23-25) That he responds by acknowledging their insignificance to him (a possible understanding of the word “small” in the text) is the prelude to his dismissing their threats by an appeal to the power of God. Their incivility and intimidation met with the harshest consequences. In his response, Elisha elevated the value of others who exist in the image of God. Prophetic ministry stands opposed to the tyranny of threats and intimidation that seek to rob people of their dignity and freedom.
Spoke truth to power. Speaking truth to power has two aspects; encouragement and dissent. In the ministry of Elisha we see both. When the King of Israel faced the insurrection of a vassal state, he enlisted the King of Judah to help him squelch the rebellion. Jehosaphat, King of Judah, asked the council of Elisha before entering the battle. Elijah affirmed that the combined armies would gain victory. (2 Kings 3:12-27) Elisha’s encouragement of Jehosaphat points to the need leaders have for an outside voice in the face of threats and challenges for perspective. However, the story ends in the devastation of the enemy’s land and a child sacrifice made by the enemies of Israel to thwart their attack. The disgust engendered by this desperate act sent the armies of Israel packing. I take the story as a warning – even good council may bring about unintended results with devastating consequences. The text doesn’t take these consequences up. The political arena’s power, ambition, and compromise predictably distort outcomes. Before his death, Elisha was visited by king Joash. Elisha challenged Joash to act out the victory God intended to give him over the Syrian threat he faced. Joash met with Elisha’s dissent when Joash failed to carry through on the exercise. (2 Kings 13:14-19) Elisha also demonstrates dissent in obeying God in sending an envoy to anoint Jehu king – an act that God used to complete the judgment on the house of Ahab for his rebellion to God. (2Kings9:1-13). It seems obvious, but what Elisha predicted in each of these encounters happened – fulfilled predictions also validate prophetic ministry.
Meet physical needs. Food, health, and housing were all addressed by Elisha in the power of God. Elisha decontaminated a poisoned stew in 2 Kings 4:38-41. He meets a widow’s housing needs by providing her with a miraculous means of revenue in 2 Kings 4:1-7. He healed a leprous foreigner in 2 Kings 5:1-16. As a result of these actions of divine provision, people experienced the reality of God’s presence and love. Valid prophetic ministry often works among the poor and marginalized. Note that the subject of these miraculous acts included a single-parent family, foreigners, and a religious community, groups often unseen by social power.
Acted on emotional needs. One of the most touching stories from the life of Elisha to me is the Shunammite woman who, with her husband, served as a recurring host to Elisha’s visits. When he asked her what she would like in return for her hospitality Elisha’s servant pointed out that the couple was childless. 2Kings 4:1-17. Elisha prophesied she would have a son. She did have a son who then died in his preadolescent years. The woman was devasted and called for Elisha to come to raise her son from the dead – Elisha did. (2Kings 4:18-37) The event touches me because I have sat with numerous couples as they lamented their inability to have children. The grief is profound. Elisha saw God’s great compassion for this woman and acted on it. Later, Elisha warned her to flee the area about to enter a time of famine. She did, and her family survived the famine and later had all their property restored. (2 Kings 8:1-6)
Affirmed healthy social interaction. Elisha was with a group of prophets gathering lumber to expand their facility. One of the men used a borrowed ax. In work, the ax head loosened from the handle and flew into the Jordon River. The young man became distraught at losing a borrowed ax. As a result of Elisha’s intervention, the iron head floated back to the man on the water. (2 Kings 6:1-7) The respect for property ownership and the relationship that allowed the young man to borrow the ax resulted in a miraculous encounter. We aren’t told what the relationship of the ax owner was to the sons of the prophets. But we see that the relationship was meaningful enough for God to act through Elisha to save it.
Confronted conflicts of interest. Following the healing of Naaman, the leper Elisha turned down Naaman’s offer for a reward. This didn’t keep Gehazi (Elisha’s valet) from pursuing Naaman to take the reward for himself in the false premise that Elisha had sent him for the tip to give it to two needy prophets. (2 Kings 5:20-27) Gehazi violated his position of trust by manipulating the power of Elisha’s reputation. Elisha confronted Gehazi for his action, and as a consequence of Gehazi’s abuse of power, he fell ill with leprosy. Elisha made his ethical stand clear and refused to tolerate any compromise or receive gratuitous rewards due to God’s work.
Exposed maleficent intentions. The king of Syria intended to defeat Israel. (2 Kings 6:8-14) However, every strategy the king of Syria formed with his servant was revealed to Elisha by God. Elisha then forewarned the king of Israel, who escaped more than one entrapment. Politics and posturing exist in every group of people and make for strange bedfellows. In this case, prophetic ministry exposed such posturing and made way for the king of Israel to escape disaster.
Reinforced the humanity of enemies. The Syrian invasion forestalled by Elisha’s prophetic insight into Syria’s strategies angered the Syrian king to the point he repositioned his strategy to capture Elisha. The king sent troops to Dothan to surround the city and eliminate Elisha. (2 Kings 6:11-23) When Elisha’s servant Gehazi saw the Syrian troops, he panicked, Elisha prayed, and Gehazi could then see the armies of God surrounding the Syrian forces. Elisha then asked God to blind the Syrian troops. Blind and unable to fight, Elisha led the Syrians to Samaria and then prayed God would open their eyes. The Syrians saw that they were defenseless in the capital of their enemy. Elisha fed them and sent them home rather than kill them, as the king of Israel wanted to do. What does this unique event suggest about prophetic ministry? Prophetic ministry does not minimize threat but exercises mercy on the defenseless, forgiveness toward enemies, and reinforces the humanity of others.
If the characteristics of Elisha’s ministry are generalizable, which I think they are, then behaviors that contradict these traits are susceptible to censure. To illustrate contradictions, I reviewed news stories and websites that express the opposite of Elisha’s work. I reject those claims to prophetic ministry that behaviorally contradict the traits of valid and reliable prophetic ministry.
|Traits of Elisha’s Ministry||Contradictions|
|Healed the environment||The idea that “dominion” is a free pass to exploit higher polluting resources like coal, oil, and natural gas without concern for the environment’s detrimental impacts. (cf., https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/03/scott-pruitt-has-laid-bare-the-growing-environmental-schism-within-christianity/).|
|Castigated intimidation, violence, and incivility||What does give one pause, however, is the unwillingness on the part of so many evangelical Christians to condemn abuse when it does occur. (cf., https://reformedjournal.com/evangelicals-lets-talk-about-violence-against-women/). When Evangelicals ignore gang violence or excuse it as an inherent trait of minority populations a contradiction emerges.|
|Spoke truth to power||This era’s evangelical leaders do not speak truth to power but seek access to power. The ancient Hebrew prophets might call on them to repent — a tough demand for those utterly convinced of their righteousness. (cf., https://www.mcall.com/opinion/readers-react/mc-opi-let-motsay-evangelical-leaders-20190626-srm5wzeikzgyloq4tkeuqc5vmm-story.html).|
|Meet physical needs||Evangelicals look at the personal dimensions of poverty. But the sins that cause a person to be in poverty may be the sins of others, not of the person who is poor. Conservative Christians need to acknowledge that more often as they have a very inadequate understanding of the structural dimension of sin. (cf., https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/03/christians-are-more-than-twice-as-likely-to-blame-a-persons-poverty-on-lack-of-effort/)|
|Acted on emotional needs||Everything you feel in evangelical circles must be filtered through the right words and expressions. For example, you can talk about your feelings, but can’t show them. You can admit you’ve been going through “struggles,” but can’t break down and sob or have a panic attack or say, “life sucks.” (cf., https://www.theodysseyonline.com/evangelicals-emotional-labor).|
|Affirmed healthy social interaction||And once we lose the ability to communicate about things, about which we disagree, we begin to isolate ourselves, we begin to stop the effort for progress or moral progress, finding ways to introduce policy that does honor human dignity. (cf., https://cct.biola.edu/church-incivility-happened-honoring-everyone/)|
|Confronted conflicts of interest||The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners defines fraud as “any intentional or deliberate act to deprive another of property or money by guile, deception or other unfair means.” Many Christians would be surprised and disappointed to learn that such behavior was occurring in their church or favorite ministry. (cf., https://www.ecfa.org/Content/Fraud-in-Ministries-Real-Examples-and-Red-Flags).|
|Exposed maleficent intentions||Hamilton County prosecutors told an appeals court that church officials have made “misleading and inaccurate” statements about records they were ordered to share last year. (cf., https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2003/church-accused-of-hiding-evidence/)|
|Reinforced the humanity of enemies||Rhetoric that stereotypes to incite fear and reaction, e.g., language referring to liberals, LGBTQ community, Islam, the poor, etc. Christians have too often opted for a harsh approach to interacting with public communities. How can we get back to the concept of honoring everyone, regardless of their status or religious and cultural perspectives? (cf., https://cct.biola.edu/church-incivility-happened-honoring-everyone/).|
To conclude, I love the longing of Moses when told two of the 70 elders he appointed were not present at the commissioning meeting but were nonetheless prophesying. Joshua wanted Moses to stop them. However, Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”
 Dr. J. Robert Clinton and Dr. Richard W. Clinton. Unlocking Your Giftedness: what leaders need to know to develop themselves and others. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1998.
 The idea of children in gangs is a recognized problem. See, https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-and-Gangs-098.aspx.
 Mordechai Cogan and Hyim Tadmore. The Anchor Bible: II Kings. New York, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1988:39.
Prophets? Part 1
If you are unfamiliar with the current “prophetic” trends in Charismatic/Pentecostal churches and nonprofit organizations, this article may not register as relevant. Thank you for checking in, and please watch for future articles about leadership if that is the case.
However, if you are part of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement, I’d like to observe the work of Biblical prophets as a model for seeking the well-being of our cities. Suppose you have been troubled by prophets in the news, predicting, prognosticating, backtracking, and doubling down about the last presidential election. In that case, I may confirm your concerns and offer a practical model to serve our broken world. This article may not sit well if you follow the latest “prophetic” assertions. But, I ask that you give me a chance to spell out valid and reliable prophetic ministry characteristics.
My thesis is that the work of Elisha the prophet provides a compelling and holistic compendium of a valid and reliable prophetic ministry. Elisha’s ministry focused on the well-being of others and reconciliation with God. He functioned within the covenant community of Israel and operated in what Ralph Winter called a centripetal mission focus, meaning God drew the nations to Israel to encounter God. In contrast, our centrifugal mission is sent to the nations to bring an encounter with the redeeming work of God. So, the holistic approach of Elisha is all the more significant as we move into new contexts.
Corollary 1, Jesus and the New Testament define their relationship to the world around metaphorically them from the context of the exilic period using descriptors such as pilgrims and strangers (cf., Jeremiah 29:7 and Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11). Jesus never assumes a socially dominant strategy. He employs a servant strategy rooted in seeking the welfare of others. He talks about dominion applied to exercising authority over the demonic and disease (cf., Luke 10:19). In contrast, today’s “prophetic movement” among Pentecostals/Charismatics found their definitions of social interaction on the word “dominion” from the context of Genesis 1:27. Their metaphorical imagery draws from Israel’s kingdom period. In the context of Israel’s kingdom period, dominion equates to subjugating those outside the “kingdom” and inviting them to conform to godliness.
Corollary 2, using imagery from Israel’s exilic period, focuses on the city’s welfare (Jeremiah 29:7), resulting in a definitively different agenda for action than seeking to control (dominate) the city and its systems of religion, governance, education, media and entertainment, healthcare, family, and business. The focus on the city’s welfare is an extrapolation of the Abrahamic covenant of blessing.
Because in today’s Charismatic/Pentecostal movement it is vogue to talk about dominion theology, I feel compelled to set out my contrary assumptions. Dominion theology undergirds the suppositions of some individuals covered in the media. “Seven Mountains of Influence” also undergird the assumptions of some individuals covered in the media. The two perspectives sometimes conflate into one frame of reference. What are they?
Dominion theology asserts that the first coming of Christ has restored dominion over every area of life. Therefore it is the task of the church to reclaim the rule of Christ on planet earth. For the Reconstructionist branch of dominion theology, this is accomplished through the ethical means of obeying the Word (Biblical law). The Charismatic branch teaches that dominion is achieved through the metaphysical means of confessing the Word. Thomas D. Ice of Liberty University notes that both branches believe that Christians take dominion over all humanity before Christ physically returns to planet earth.
Dominion theology founds its views the commission God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis (Genesis 1:27). However, Dominion theology misstates the Genesis commission in its focus on dominion over people and their systems—Genesis limited human dominion to the planet and animal kingdoms as stewardship of care. In what is the most overt twist of the meaning of dominion, George Grant (1987) wrote in Changing the Guard,
Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ-to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
But it is dominion that we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less.
If Jesus Christ is indeed Lord, as the Bible says, and if our commission is to bring the land into subjection to His Lordship, as the Bible says, then all our activities, all our witnessing, all our preaching, all our craftsmanship, all our stewardship, and all our political action will aim at nothing short of that sacred purpose.
Grant’s assertions are inaccurate. Our obligation is not dominion over people or the public square through the force of asserted prominence. Our obligation is to love others and to be the metaphorical salt that influences others. Jesus was clear in his discussion with Pilot that political dominance fell far short of the work he initiated – Jesus did not initiate a revolutionary political action in his death and resurrection but something far more reaching, cf., John 18:36. In advancing Jesus’ mission, Peter was clear that leaders must serve not to dominate, cf., 1 Peter 5:3. We possess authority and power over the demonic and diseases, cf., Luke 9:1. Our task is not conquest; our task is to deliver people from sin’s grasp and make disciples.
The concept of Seven Mountains or Spheres of social influence was framed in 1975 when Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission(YWAM), developed a strategy to reach the world for Christ. Their mandate: Bring Godly change to a nation by reaching its seven spheres, or mountains, of societal influence. They concluded that to transform any nation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these seven facets of society must be reached: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business. On its own, the Seven Mountain perspectives recognize those centers of influence in which the love of Christ makes a difference. It is an inspiring recognition that the church exists in and is called from every aspect of society.
However, popular practitioners of Seven Mountain thinking vilify their target audience and reframe shaping these centers of influence to dominating them. For example, one group writes,
The Christian Church is described in the Greek language as the ecclesia. Literally translated, the word ecclesia means “governing body.” Although we don’t condone theocracies, this translation suggests that the church should have great influence in all other spheres that make up a society.
Here too, I take issue with definitions. The rendering of the Greek word ecclesia above is suspect. The lexicon definition isn’t governance; instead, it is a gathering of citizens to deliberate. Deliberation denotes thinking about or discussing something very carefully to make a decision. Discussions are a discovery process, not an imposition process. Specifically, it is used in the New Testament to denote a meeting of Christians for worship. To infer governance stretches the definition to fit a dominionist perspective.
On its own, the observations of Bright and Cunningham can help Christians get out of the bubble of their Sunday services to see the work God is doing in the lives of people around them at work. But when the Seven Mountain perspective marries Dominion Theology, the message of good news about God’s love for humankind devolves to ugly sectarianism that is indistinguishable from any other form of sectarianism.
Christians who promote domination need to hear themselves. They decry the existence of dissenting voices. Decrying diversity isn’t limited to just other religious agents but every voice that doesn’t align with the speaker’s assumptions. It is impossible to differentiate Christian dominionist or fundamentalist speech from any other type of toxic fundamentalist speech that aims to conform society to sectarian norms.
Using the Seven Mountain perspective constructively recognizes that Christians already work in these areas and can use their social networks as a platform to share and demonstrate the love and power of God. Even seemingly inconsequential voices in these seven areas can make a significant and long-lasting change, as is illustrated in the impact a little girl enslaved in the house of Naaman had when she told him of the prophet in Israel who could heal his leprosy. (2 Kings 5:1-14)
Here again, I refer us back to the starting assumptions. Suppose the model of prophetic ministry frames its metaphors from Israel’s kingdom period. In that case, one’s language and demeanor may trend to dominionist illustrations and proclamations. Conversely, suppose prophetic ministry starts from the premise of being aliens and strangers. In that case, it tends to use differences as a starting point for dialogue and the demonstration of God’s intervening love. In Part 2, I discuss the significance of Elisha’s holistic ministry and what it may mean for prophets in the church today.
 Jeremiah’s strategy for survival and influence is surprisingly useful for the majority of Christians in the world who are minority populations, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7 ESV)
 For more on Seven Mountains of influence see, https://www.generals.org/the-seven-mountains; Accessed 13 Dec 2021.
 For a full study of Dominion Theology see, https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1073&context=pretrib_arch.
 Ice, Thomas D., “What is Dominion Theology?” (2009). Article Archives. 74. https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/74
 Source: https://www.wthrockmorton.com/2011/08/26/it-is-dominion-we-are-after/; Accessed 13 Dec 2021.
 Source: https://www.wthrockmorton.com/2011/08/26/it-is-dominion-we-are-after/; Accessed 13 Dec 2021.
 Source: https://www.generals.org/the-seven-mountains; Accessed 14 Dec 2021.
Growing Capacity: how leaders develop
Leaders who face and embrace challenges grow in their capacity to handle complexity. Conversely, leaders who avoid challenges tend to become cynical power mongers.
I met with a couple of younger leaders the other day whose presence on the Zoom call was stunningly different than it was at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. I’d have characterized their presence as tentative at best two years ago. They had just bought a successful but stagnant insurance agency and stepped into the challenges of owning a business. In the transition, employees challenged their authority, questioned their decisions, and tempted themselves to second guess. The pandemic blew up their sales, threw them into a tailspin trying to figure out how to keep serving clients and engaging new clients.
Last week’s meeting was different. We scheduled the most recent session to go over their Q3 performance. When they logged on, I noticed a new sense of calm, not rooted in naivete but a growing experience. They defined the challenges in front of them and reflected on accomplished goals. They were ready to engage in a creative exercise of future perfect thinking rather than handwringing anxiety about an uncertain future.
Leaders who embrace the challenges of their context grow their capacity. But challenges don’t automatically develop leadership capacity. One of my graduate professors was fond of saying that development as a leader depended on several variables, one of which was the leader’s response. How a leader responds to pressure determines whether that pressure shapes additional skill and capacity or warps the leader’s assumptions and perception. One question that helps reframe a leader’s perspective from panic to learning is, what assumptions do I need to let go of to grow rather than rage?
When I hear a leader rage about their challenges (including blaming others and self-pity), I anticipate a failed learning opportunity. Anger covers the fear of failure and exposes the leader’s unspoken (and frequently unrealistic) expectations of others. Rage blinds a leader to the possibilities of challenge. Seething anger bends the leader toward a reliance on power and threats and essentially turns a leader into a complete ass.
So, I encourage leaders who sense a loss of control to ask the reframing question. How do you handle the challenges of your role? Do you rage or reframe?
Happy? New Year!
I step into 2021 gingerly. After the unfolding events of 2020, I feel a little gunshy. Yet, traversing 2020 has given me a commitment to the power of being present, a drive to listen before I speak, a dedication to addressing racism, an obligation to be generous, and a renewed vibrancy in my faith.
I find my perspective on world events or domestic events to be more complex than some of my friends. They have not had the international exposure and interactions that I have had the privilege of engaging. I monitor social media from almost every continent because of my international friends and have come to appreciate their non-western take on global events. The perspective of my international friends has ruined me for simplistic slogans and culturally bound perspectives that are bandied about under the guise of patriotism here in the United States. The world is so interconnected that I cannot simply hide from the challenges my friends face. I struggle to find the means to respond as a friend to their financial, material, spiritual, and emotional needs. I think this is why faith has taken up a new vibrancy.
The economic impact of COVID-19 or the political upheaval experienced in 2020 on friends in the United States, or the United Kingdom, or Nigeria, or Uganda, or Kenya, or Israel, or Thailand, or Cambodia, or Singapore, or China, or Korea, or Brazil, or Chile, or Germany, or Pakistan, or India is not a distant news item to me. I have conversations with these men and women and hear their laments, their cry for help, and their frustrations. I regularly get Facebook Messenger updates about the great things God is up to in each of these places and the struggles that are unique to each. If I had millions of US dollars I could respond to each of the needs. Instead, I send gifts where I can and spend time each morning praying for these needs.
Meanwhile, here in the United States I hear certain friends and acquaintances whin about trampled personal rights and persecution – I hear these statements through the grid of having international friends. I can’t hear from a parochial filter anymore. I hear some evangelical pastors announce on social media that they will stand for their first amendment rights by exercising their second amendment rights and I groan at the distortion of faith such statements represent. I pray for these friends too, friends who march in open rallies against the imperfect attempts for public health imposed by state governors. Admittedly I am not always sure what to pray when talking with God about these. So, I pray a lot in the Spirit.
I mentioned to another friend the other day that I was looking for ways to practically address the systemic racism that haunts so many of my friends in the United States. He turned toward me and launched into a tirade about liberals and their “bullshit.”
“Racism doesn’t exist in the United States,” he announced, “it is a construct of the liberal machine designed to rob us of our rights and oppress us.” My jaw dropped.
“Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in the experience of many of my friends,” I replied. “So, you may want to investigate the stories of others before announcing a universal solution has been met in the constitution.”
The conversation just stopped.
2020 has been a strange companion, a presence of diametrically opposing assertions, conversations filled with rage and reaction, and loads of uncertainty. Somehow through all the haze, and I haven’t listed the personal tragedies we went through in our family this year, I come out of 2020 stronger. I enter 2021 with both reticence and assurance. I have a heightened sense of caution and a feeling of deeper peace. I have the disappointments of 2020 mixed with an expectation of God’s work in 2021.
So, happy new year! May this be a year you find the faithfulness and love of God in a deeper and more personal experience. May you know the comfort of friends, the joy of forgiveness, and the power of reconciliation. May your days be undergirded with songs of deliverance and peace. May you see God’s provision and power in ways you have not seen before. I’ll stay in touch. Bye 2020, I won’t miss you, but I do appreciate the shaping work you have done in my life.
Develop the Right Mindset as a Leader
A recent article in Forbes reiterated an MIT study that shows only 12% of employees strongly agree that their leaders have the right mindsets to lead them into the future. The article asked, “What kind of leaders do people want? They want leaders who can navigate the speed and complexity of the digital workplace. They want leaders who explain the why of the work, who connect with empathy, who communicate with authenticity, and who collaborate with openness.”
Dunkin’s point in the Forbes article is that we must do better in how we lead in business. I couldn’t agree more. That is the point behind my book, Lift: Five Practices Great Managers Do Consistently. Engendering trust, establishing a positive environment, giving employees the tools and the empowerment they need to thrive are not optional actions. They are essential actions.
As business resets in the uncertainties around a Covid-19 environment positive leadership becomes even more important. Great practices are not just good for business they are essential for good mental health.
A right mindset builds high-performance teams by consistently building ownership, working facts, knowing their people and themselves, managing activities, and building a climate of hope. The right mindset is one that loves people. Dr. Mick Bates, Associate Professor of Marketing, Taylor University, Upland, Indiana affirms this, “In his book, Lift, Dr. Wheeler expertly and succinctly gives managers in nearly any type of organization tools to love people towards personal and organizational success. He distills decades of organizational behavior and development research, case studies, and his personal experiences into a simple 5-point model for loving people to success.”
Now is the time to develop the right mindset and the actions that mindset engenders.
Purchase Dr. Wheeler’s book Lift in a Kindle e-format or print format at:
- https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BKWD55D/ (kindle)
- https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HSB4MJW/ (paperback)