Pie before potatoes is backward, but it won’t hurt you. Buying before earning is backward, and it could hurt you a lot. Sometimes backwards is funny, sometimes sad. Sometimes backwards is insignificant, sometimes it’s life or death.

We use the word backward to mean reversed manner or order. There are times and things not bound by any special order or priority. There are, however, many things including spiritual things that must be kept in proper order, balance, and emphasis. Having traveled in a wide and diverse circle among God’s people in local church settings enables one to observe some common trends that are encouraging, some that are very innovative, some that are… backward.

Let me identify a couple common points of emphasis made from pulpits, class lectures, and in written material that are destined to backfire because they are backward to the basic emphasis of the Scripture.

It is backward to hitch the “cart of personal talent” before the “horse of personal tenderness.” God’s Word abounds with example after example of His pleasure in the tenderhearted. We see in Scripture men and women of great posture and position fail because of their lack of tenderness towards God. We also see men and women with little talent but great tenderness succeeds for God. But we never see human talent carry the day for God.

Developing personal talents and abilities for God’s glory are important to us as God’s stewards, but developing tenderness for God supersedes talent development. We are on dangerous ground if we promote, honor, or cultivate a brand of talent development in ministry that does not address the primary issue of the heart.

Professionalism pressures ministry on all fronts in our culture. This is the day of “the star” player, singer, and entertainer. We must be careful not to let this stardust set in our eyes. Let’s teach this generation to be tender to God, sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Let’s not contribute to the Christian star search mentality.

Here are some thinking principles upon which we should carefully reflect and consider in light of the Scripture:

  1. It is not what I do for God, but what He does through me that constitute my Christian service.
  2. Talent, whether described in terms physical or spiritual, is based upon sovereign selection. God Himself is the distributor of gifts, abilities, and talents. Developing your abilities and using your talent for God’s glory is your personal stewardship responsibility.
  3. Revival is never obstructed by a lack of talent among God’s people.
  4. Mankind naturally evaluates worth in others, based upon what can be seen by man. God’s evaluation is based upon what He sees. (God looks on the heart.)
  5. Talent wears thin when the work is tough.

Let’s keep the “horse called tender” before the “cart called talent”. Often it seems we honor and promote the talented. May we never undervalue the tender hearted. I must confess that as for myself and those I’ve closely worked with in pastoral and educational ministries, talent has not always been the strong thing. In fact, some of the most talented were the hardest to work with for the Lord. My heart is however uniquely warmed by the thoughts of tender hearted people who developed and used their talents for Jesus Christ.CoolClips_cart0302

Secondly, and closely related, is the backwardness of getting the “cart called leadership” before the “horse called followership.” When you consider the implications of the scriptural phrase “not a novice” in relation to pastors and “first be proved” in relation to deacons, it is clear that a person is to demonstrate himself as a follower of Christ consistently before being identified as a leader in the church. Let a man prove he can follow, then let him lead.

We often challenge young people as “tomorrow’s leadership in the local church.” Where will those young people lead tomorrow if they are not taught to follow today? It would seem the greatest need is for true followers of Jesus Christ. The best followers are the stock from which the best leaders do rise. Jesus, our Lord, made it clear that the pathway to the greatest heights in God’s service is known by the one who is called “servant.” We are on dangerous ground if we promote, honor, or cultivate a brand of leadership development in ministry that does not address the primary issue of followership.

Here again are some thinking principles upon which we should reflect and consider in light of Scripture.

  1. The single greatest credential any Christian leader has is his personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
  2. God Himself lifts and lowers men according to His purpose.
  3. There is no great hope in greater quantity of leaders but only in greater quality of leaders.

Let’s keep the “horse called followership” before the “cart called leadership.” Interestingly, the cliché “the cart before the horse” originated in a religious setting. Cicero said in 1340AD, “Many religious folk set the plow before the oxen.” The cliché has changed a little since then, but apparently the trend among Christians has not. Let’s make matter what does matter, and keep first things first. (Scripture used: Mark 10:35-45; 1 Timothy 3:1-13)