The Christian Leader as Theological Lens-Crafter by Jonathan Watson

August 31, 2016

Central to the task of Christian leadership is the shaping of a theological worldview by which those we lead will rightly view and respond to the world. In his book Conviction to Lead, Albert Mohler writes, “Leadership is the consummate human art. It requires nothing less than that leaders shape the way their followers see the world. The leader must shape the way followers think about what is real, what is true, what is right, and what is important” (47). Such worldview-shaping leadership, Mohler notes, must be done in accordance with God’s holy written word.

Theological Lens-Crafting

The metaphor of lens-crafting seems to capture the worldview shaping aspect of leadership well. For followers to respond rightly to the world around them, they must see and interpret the world rightly. Thus, the leader is in this sense like an optometrist who crafts lenses that correct the patient’s vision. As Christian leaders, the lenses that must be constructed are inherently theological. That is, they must help our followers see all of life through the reality of who God is, what he has done for us, and who we are in Christ (among other things). Because our vision is the instrument through which we interpret reality, this task of theological lens-crafting is critically important.

The importance of the leader’s task of theological lens-crafting is matched by the urgency of this task. Theological lens-crafting requires thoughtful reflection on God’s word. Such reflection is difficult to accomplish in the midst of a crisis or test. As such, the lens we are wearing at the onset of a crisis are the lens we will likely wear through the crisis. It is crucial, therefore, that Christian leaders equip themselves and those they lead with the correct theological lens before a crisis comes.

A Vivid Example

We see a vivid example of theological lens-crafting in Hezekiah’s leadership in Second Chronicles 32. The crisis moment for Hezekiah’s people comes in in Second Chronicles 32 when servants of Sennacherib announce their impending invasion:

Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, “On what are you trusting that you are remaining in Jerusalem under siege? Is not Hezekiah misleading you to give yourselves over to die by hunger and by thirst, saying, ‘The LORD our God will deliver us from the hand of the king of Assyria’? Who was there among all the gods of those nations which my fathers utterly destroyed who could deliver his people out of my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand? Now therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you like this, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you from my hand?” (2 Chron 32:10–11, 14–15)

The bluster of such a message has the potential to break the spirit of Hezekiah’s people. This potential is only strengthened by the body of work that supports its claim: a host of cities already conquered between Jerusalem and Assyria.

It is at this point that we see the God-given wisdom of Hezekiah. Earlier in the narrative, having learned of the encroaching army and the threat they posed, Hezekiah took action. Not only did he prepare the battlefield (2 Chon 32:2–5), Hezekiah also prepared the hearts of his people. He anticipated the intimidation that they were soon to face, and he equipped their hearts to stand firm. How?

After gathering the people, Hezekiah “spoke encouragingly to them” (2 Chron 32:6). It is important to note the content of this encouragement: “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles” (vv. 7-8a). As a result, it says, ”the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (v. 8b). Here, Hezekiah frames theological lenses through which his people can rightly see their predicament. When the enemy inevitably confronts them they can (and did) act wisely trusting that their God would see them through. Having the proper theological lens, the people were equipped to ignore the mocking taunts of their blasphemous oppressors.[1]

Conclusion

I would like to offer two thoughts in conclusion. First, the theological lens-crafting task is predicated upon the leader wearing the same lenses as well. When the invaders came, Hezekiah turned to the Lord in prayer, and God delivered his people (2 Chron 32:20–23). To be effective in the lens-crafting task, the Christian leader must also be shaped by the word and Spirit of God.

Second, the test of our leadership on this issue will inevitably come. When a child is killed, or job is lost, or our government oppresses, or war breaks out, will we and those we lead be able to see God as both sovereign and good? Will we be able to remember that God is able to work his will through even the most difficult of circumstances? Will we maintain personal faith in the faith once delivered to the saints when doing so means losing a friendship, a promotion, or even our job? Will we see that in the gospel our hope lives even when the ultrasound doesn’t trace a heartbeat? Christian leaders equip their followers to respond rightly in such circumstances by recognizing the importance and urgency of the theological lens-crafting task and humbly carrying it out by the aid of the Holy Spirit in accordance with God’s word.

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[1] Hezekiah’s example is only one of many across the Scriptures where we see leaders doing the important and urgent work of theological lens-crafting. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11–12). Without the proper theological lens, Jesus knew his disciples would interpret persecution wrongly. Rather than a curse, persecution for Christ is to be seen as a blessing. Appreciating this truth is an important preliminary to faithfulness in the fires of the stake. To this example we could add many more (e.g., Matt 10:16ff.; 2 Tim 3:12; Heb 12:7; Jam 1:2-3; 1 Pet 1:3–9; 2:18­–28; etc.). The farewell speeches of Scripture would be a particularly rich area to mine on this issue (e.g., Gen 49; Deut 31–33; Jos 23–24; 1 Chron 29:10–18; Matt 28:16­–20; John 14–16; Acts 1:6–11; 20:17–38; 2 Tim 4:1–8). Whether in the home, workplace, or church, the leadership task of theological lens-crafting is an urgent one that we neglect only to the peril of ourselves and those we lead.

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