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Shepherds in the Wilderness: What happens when our paradigms are stuck in the “old normal”?

martijn van tilborgh Sep 08, 2020

     Many of the “truths” we cling to depend greatly on our point of view.

     These are great words spoken by the legendary Obi-Wan Kenobi.

     As leaders, we lead others through the lens of what we perceive as truth. Our perception is our reality, and we are leading our organizations and ministries accordingly.

     The challenge is that perception is not always a reflection of the truth, but more about the context of the moment in a relatively small window of time.

     In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey said it this way: Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it.”

     None of us is exempt from this. We all see the world as we are conditioned to see it by our culture, our history, our upbringing, our experiences, the media, people’s opinions, and so on. Our realities easily get skewed and will therefore deviate from the truth.

     As a result, our leadership capacity is limited to the areas where perception and truth overlap.

     As leaders, we need to open ourselves for alternative realities beyond our current ones so that our perception of the world around us can be aligned to “truth” in order to lead more effectively.

     The other day I was reading in the book of Numbers where it says: So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt” (14:4).

     Wow! Really?

     Think about this for a moment …

     Here are God’s people. They just escaped the horrible regime of Pharaoh in the land of Egypt where they had been stuck for hundreds of years. They are about to step into the promise that they had heard about from their ancestors for centuries. As they found themselves at a pivotal point in history and were going to actually inherit that promise, their conclusion was that they really needed to “select a leader and return to Egypt.”

     Crazy, right? How stupid!

     What was it that was inside them that was so powerful that it would keep them from God’s promise when they were so close from inheriting it? And what do we need to learn as leaders from their mistakes that will prevent us from falling into the same trap?

     As I was meditating on these questions, I came to the conclusion that their perception of the truth was the thing that kept them from all that God had in store for them.

     Somehow, they had come to believe that it was better to die in Egypt then it was to die in the promised land. Something in them made them default back to the situation that had mentally conditioned them for 430 years.

     The paradigm that was formed over the course of their captivity caused them to make this statement:

     And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”

     There were only three possible outcomes of their situation:

  • Die in Egypt
  • Die in the wilderness
  • Die in the promised land

     What a way to look at the world!

     Because Egypt had conditioned their thinking for all these years, they preferred to go back to what they had known for so long, instead of the other two scenarios.

     What makes us believe that we are any different?

     I don’t know about you. But these stories in the Bible actually freak me out. Why? Well, it’s simple. These stories are not just about them. These are stories about us!

     If it happened to them, it could happen to us. In fact, could it be possible that we’ve lived most of our lives under the perception that we’re leading right while in reality, we’re falling in the same traps that these people fell into?

     The paradigms we lead through determine the outcome of our efforts. This is a scary thing when you think about it. What experiences from the past have contributed to our belief system that have made us into the leader we are today?

     Let’s explore three basic leadership paradigms that I believe we are all affected by on some level. We’ve all adopted leadership styles that are rooted to some extent in mindsets that are produced by the following examples.

Leading Like Slaves in Egypt

     I know what you are thinking. “That’s not me!”

     But let’s slow down a minute before drawing that conclusion. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the possibility that you share this leadership perspective.

     Take a deep breath and think about it for a minute. Here are God’s people—people who had a covenant, a history, and a relationship with God, just like you and me. These were His people. People He loved and people who loved Him.

     In other words, they were people like you and me!

     Apparently, it is possible for God’s well-intentioned people to spend 430 years working their butts off to build something that was completely foreign to what God had in mind for them. For hundreds of years, they spent their time, energy, and efforts in building pyramids that belonged to a different kingdom. Not only did they not build something in line with what God had in mind, they actually produced something that fortified the enemy.

     If this doesn’t freak you out, then I don’t know what does!

     Four hundred thirty years is a long time. Being in a situation like this for over 10 generations will mess with you big time. Your perception of reality will be impacted. Your situation will become your default. In fact, as horrible as it sounds, it actually becomes your safe place.

     If it happened to them, it can happen to us.

     Our perception of reality has the potential to keep us from greatness!

     The question we should ask ourselves is, What are we spending our time, energy and money on that is completely foreign to the kingdom that God is trying to build?

     Are we building the church? Or are we merely investing our time unknowingly building pyramids because our perception of our reality has adapted to a false truth?

Leading Like Shepherds in the Wilderness

     Another leadership paradigm to explore is the one that God’s people experienced for 40 years after the incident described in Numbers 14:4. God intervened and decided to send all of them back into the wilderness to die.

     However, there is one short sentence in Numbers 14:33 that provides a powerful insight for us as leaders that could impact the way we lead our organizations and ministries.

     Here it is: “And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness.”

     As God judged the older generation whose paradigm was still rooted is the “old normal” of Egypt, He declares a promise to the younger generation. He promises them everything he had originally promised their fathers.

     There was one catch, though: they had to wait it out and spend 40 years as shepherds in the wilderness. They had to be patient and wait until all of the older generations had passed away. Then, and only then, were they able to transition from the wilderness into what God had in mind all along.

     Now take another moment and think about this.

     By circumstance, not by choice, a whole generation was caused to become something that they were never destined to be! The decisions of those who went before them caused a whole generation of leaders to become something they were never supposed to be: shepherds in the wilderness!

     These were young kids when this all came down. Their paradigm was formed by the 40 years that followed.

     Think about it. When you are forced (through the decisions of others) to become something you were never supposed to be for that length of time, you simply will start to accept that reality of the wilderness is the “normal” you’re supposed to experience.

     Could it be that we’ve been leading our ministries like shepherds in the wilderness while in reality there is so much more?

     Is it possible that our leadership paradigm has resulted in leadership styles that actually prolong our wilderness experience rather than propelling us into all that God has for us?

     I believe we owe it to ourselves (and the people we lead) to ask ourselves these questions.

Leading Like Owners of the Promise

     Our true inheritance is not found in Egypt, nor in the wilderness. It is found on the other side of the River Jordan. If we are going to conquer the promises that God has for us as individuals, as well as the church collectively, it’s going to require a true paradigm shift in how we lead.

     As leaders, we must be willing and able to reform the mindsets by which we lead. Progress happens on the edge of chaos. We have to move into uncharted territory if we’re going to inherit all that God has for us. This demands that we think differently about how we lead and build our organizations.

     In my effort to help you identify whether or not you’re preconditioned to one or more of the leadership paradigms discussed in this article, I have outlined some of the characteristics for each of them.

     I hope and pray that this will help you break away from what is keeping you from all that you can be:

Leaders in Egypt

  • All activity happens in one place
  • Culture and leadership bow to external control
  • Hard work fortifies the enemy
  • Passive attitudes
  • Lack of vision/guidance
  • Enslaved to a system foreign to God’s plan
  • Miracles needed, but not happening

Shepherds in the Wilderness

  • Wandering activity, but around the mountain
  • One-man leadership (e.g. Moses leading all)
  • No work at all
  • Reactive attitudes to circumstances
  • Corporate vision/guidance only (e.g. following the cloud)
  • Freed from Slavery
  • Miracles needed and happening

Owners of the Promise

  • Dispersed across the land (individual inheritance)
  • Empowerment to lead individually
  • Hard work to fortify the kingdom
  • Proactive attitudes for auccess
  • Personal vision for all people
  • Empowered for greatness
  • No miracles needed due to abundance

     The mindsets of Egypt keep us in Egypt. The leadership styles designed to survive the wilderness keep us in the wilderness.

     In order to break free from the limitations of yesterday, we have to adopt new realities that will result in new practices that will change the way we lead forever. This is not an easy task, but a difficult journey of trial and error that touches every aspect of our organizations and ministries that we are responsible over. Some will resist us and try to “select a leader and return to Egypt.” but the ultimate payoff is going to be worth it.

     Instead of becoming the best mediocre us that we can possibly become, we will break away from status quo leadership and experience all that God has for us.

     Let’s move forward into the future with confidence while allowing God to align our perceptions with His truth.

 

This article was extracted from Issue 2 (Summer 2020) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.

 


 

This article was written by Martijn van Tilborgh

 

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Martijn van Tilborgh is the co-founder of Kidmin Nation, owner of Four Rivers Media and Kudu Publishing, and is a renowned author, speaker, and leader in the marketing and communications space. books as handbooks worldwide in leadership development.

 

 

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