As a church we have been taking somewhere between 60-80 people through the Growing Leaders course, with various people accessing the material at different levels.
The course was developed by James Lawrence of CPAS out of the ARROW course originally designed by Leighton Ford. In parallel with the monthly course, mentor meetings, and homework assignments, we have also chosen to direct the whole church teaching programme to align with the monthly topics. This has been a great way of approaching the material with much longer able to be spent on difficult or slow-burning issues like our identity in Christ.
So this term we come to “clarifying call”, “discerning direction” and “developing character”. To illustrate the teaching in these modules we’re investigating them through the prism of twelve vivid characters in the opening eight books of the Old Testament.
First up is Abram – later to become Abraham. In the teaching section on “clarifying call” Growing Leaders follows the Rick Warren endorsed, 2006 ‘Purpose Driven Resource’: S.H.A.P.E. Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life by Eric Rees. From the Saddleback Church stable the concept is that instead of trying to be someone else you should celebrate the shape God made you to be. SHAPE is an acrostic for:
Enter our first character: Abram. There’s very little that we know about Abram before he had his call… It seems unlikely that he had spent a lot of his first 75 years contemplating ‘the secrets of his own deeply personal makeup – the remarkable ensemble of passions, talents, experiences, temperament and spiritual gifts that make you you’ [Rees]. And yet it would be hard to argue that he did indeed ‘discover a path to a life of unimagined purpose, impact and fulfilment’.
We pick up the story in Genesis 12 with very little background information to draw upon. Genesis 12:4 tells us he was 75 years of age, although his wife at the time was beautiful enough to tempt a despotic Pharaoh to bed and marry, so there’s some indication that ages in Genesis may have been used slightly different to today!
Personality:In the first chapter he both demonstrate extreme bravery (departing his land along with his entire household-business because The Lord had somehow communicated with him and told him to do so), and either wanton cowardice or guile depending on your perspective (setting his wife up in a situation where she may have been taken into the Pharaoah’s harem in order to save his own skin).
Heart: Abram consistently demonstrates a heart longing to please God. He can hear from God, he regularly builds places of worship to honour God, he is obedient to God on multiple occasions. He is also a loyal friend and relative to his wayward nephew – both being generous in giving him more than his fair share of prize land and hence possessions, and coming to his rescue with a minor military intervention when he has been captured.
Abilites: When he is not exercising Special Forces bravado, Abram is clearly also an accomplished business man and leader. He has the ability to take extreme risks (relocating then breaking up his enterprise to allow Lot to go his own way with the best ‘product’) while always somehow rising to the top.
Spiritual Gifts: Abram received a highly unusual spiritual gift of a blessing designed to impact ‘all families on the earth’. He was to become a great nation, and be blessed and made famous. Anyone who blessed him would be blessed and anyone who treated him with contempt would be cursed. It must have taken a substantial gift of faith to receive that blessing, as he received it aged 75 and it would be another 25 years before the birth of his covenantal son Isaac with his then 90 year old wife. The gift of faith demonstrated by Abram in Genesis 15:6 was so great that it was sufficient to make him right with God (justify/credit as righteous) and to make him the paradigm for New Testament believers today in understanding that we too can only be right with God through faith (Romans 4).
Experience: We know next to nothing about Abram’s previous experience… Archaeologically we know that Ur of the Chaldeans was an important, and flourishing city, on the Euphrates river not far from the Persian Gulf. His father Terah had already started out on the journey that Abram eventually finished (see Genesis 11:31-32) but had stopped halfway to Canaan in Haran. Was it climate, opportunity, fear, health that stopped Haran from making the whole route? No-one could know. But what we do know is that Abram was ready and able to go a step further than his father had. He had also experienced great loss in his life, the premature death of his brother (also called Haran) and the lack of any children in his culture especially was a deep tragedy and felt pain. He also had ‘difficult’ relatives to contend with like nephew Lot and his contrary wife. And he knew times of famine and hunger forcing him to relocate more often than he would like. Yet despite all these adversarties he was not one to give up or stop fighting…
He was SHAPED to become A GREAT FATHER IN FAITH.