Spiritual Life of the Leader - Lesson 4

Essence and Reception

Essence is who the Lord has created you to be. Biblically, essence precedes existence as oppose to Sartre's teaching that man is no more than what he makes of himself. God has given us the capacity of reception, to be able to hear God’s voice and follow it. The spiritual life that God calls you to live is based on what you receive from God, not on what you do for God.

Stephen Martyn
Spiritual Life of the Leader
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Essence and Reception

Essence and Reception

I. Essence

II. What's the result if my life is defined by what I do?

A. Jean-Paul Sartre

B. Thomas Aquinas

C. Ministry Can Be a Shortcut to Hell

D. John Ortberg

E. Reception is the greatest capacity God has given us

  • Dr. Martyn has surveyed church leaders around the world to understand their responsibilities and pressures. He aims to use his experience to help them develop a model of ministry that encourages spiritual formation, discipleship, and worship in a healthy way. His class is comprehensive on topics such as spiritual formation, discipleship, leadership principles, and worship. Listening to this class could benefit anyone regardless of whether they have an official leadership position or not.
  • Christian activism is Christians seeking to be involved in the issues and needs of the day and time. Wesleyans in the 1700's in England sought to minister to people that others didn’t care about. To be called by Christ is to be called into the body of Christ. A biblical model is that every member is a full-fledged minister of the gospel without distinction between clergy and laity. 

  • Mysticism can be described as the direct communication of your spirit with the Divine Spirit as taught and illustrated in the New Testament as a fundamental part of Christian belief. Receptivity means that I am open to what the Lord is saying to me through the revelation of his word, the magnificence of his son and the voice of his Spirit which is consistent with the written word. The church was emphasizing what they were doing for God rather than on first listening to what God wants us to be and then acting. Union with our Lord must come before any type of donation or work (kenosis) for our Lord. (Download the complete text of the sermon by clicking on the link on this page or under the Downloads heading on the class page.)

  • Which do you love more, the Lord or the projects you are doing for him? Is your goal to exalt the Lord or build a personal kingdom? Essence of anxiety is whether or not you can trust God. The question to ask when you begin having feelings of self-pity is, “Is you life going to be defined by how you think it ought to go?”  The blame-shame mindset is that you are unhappy because there is something wrong with the people around you. When you experience these red flags in your ministry, you should recognize it as time that it’s possible that the Lord may be prompting you to make a change in your life.The Mary in you must rest at the feet of Jesus if the Martha in you is to do her work.

  • Essence is who the Lord has created you to be. Biblically, essence precedes existence as oppose to Sartre's teaching that man is no more than what he makes of himself. God has given us the capacity of reception, to be able to hear God’s voice and follow it. The spiritual life that God calls you to live is based on what you receive from God, not on what you do for God.

  • How do you determine if your motives are right in your efforts to serve God? The more gifts and talents we have, the more susceptible we are to self-deception regarding our motives. Resist the urge to make pleasing people your primary motivation. You will never please everyone and in the process you lose sight of focusing on pleasing God. When people have expectations of you that don’t match what God has called you to do, there are times when you must, “let Lazarus die.”

  • God wants us to be faithful to the kingdom and his son and fruitful according to his metrics. What’s the goal and what condition do our hearts need to be in to understand the goal? The Mary in us needs to rest at the feet of Jesus in order for the Martha in us to do her work. Think about when you experienced renewal and think about when you were blessed. When you have received God’s blessing, how has that resulted in demonstrating his hand of mercy to someone else? How are your activities balanced?

  • A canal simultaneously pours out what it receives. A reservoir waits till it’s filled then discharges water without loss to itself. Today, there are many in God’s church that act like canals. The reservoirs are far too rare. So urgent is the charity of those through whom heavenly doctrine flows that they want to pour it forth to us before they have been filled. They are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves. High mountain lakes have one stream out and water level relatively constant throughout the year. How is the water level staying constant in your life? Depletion results in erosion of presence, and results in just going through the motions. 

  • The Lord desires that we live dispositionally. Important elements include loving God, living devotionally, relational strengthening, vocational serving (listening with the intent of following what I hear). Dallas Willard wrote, “If I am a disciple of Jesus, I am with him to learn from him, how to be like him." The primary calling of a pastor is to follow Jesus, within the calling of leading a church. 

  • The eight deadly sins are in the order that Satan uses to try to get us and in the order in which we need redemption. Gormandize means you are overdoing it and being a slave to flesh. Fornication refers to a wandering heart and seeking to devour others. Avarice is the love of money and sometimes is a fear of not having enough. Anger is a rancorous spirit. The spiritual cancer of depreciation is looking at the vast horizon of God’s goodness in his creation and my life and depreciating it, only seeing what’s wrong. Psalm 51:10-12, create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.

  • When you experience a difficult situation, how do you begin to turn your focus away from the negative and on to what God is doing? How do you respond when you are working closely with people that don't like you? What do you do as a leader when there is a person that is angry with you and disagrees with how you are leading?

  • The sin of acedia is, “I don’t care anymore.” The sin of tristitia is sadness, wrongly processing suffering and loss, allowing the soul to close in on itself and refuse instruction from God. Tristitia is neither a result of other people or of our outward circumstances. Satan wants to get us off the track in stupid presumption or in sinful carelessnenss. God redeems the hurt that evil has done.

  • In the early church passion was seen as something that controlled you and out of control and leading you astray, not a positive motivation. John Cassion described vainglory as passion to take pleasure in our own qualities. The danger is that we take credit for what God is doing. In pursuit of being popular, we often sacrifice who we are at the core. Pride is the original vice from which all others spring. Pride can develop into functioning atheism. The cure for pride is to have the humility of Jesus in our heart. 

  • Is there a sin that's not deadly? To what extent can you worry about something before it becomes a sin? What does it take to overcome gluttony? The minute you make an exception for yourself, you either presume on the grace of God or break a known law of God. Admit what you are feeling and submit it to God to have faith in him in the situation, then do your part.

  • Instead of gluttony, we see temperance. Temperance means living a balanced life. Chaste love is extending love to others, not preying on them. Poverty of spirit rather than greed. Cultivate meekness to deal with anger. You have been forgiven much so you should be willing to forgive others much. Cultivate faith, hope and love to deal with hopelessness. Cultivate humility to deal with vainglory. Evangelism in the first 300 years a result of the quality of the lives of disciples as they lived in a hostile environment. 

  • A transcendent crisis is yearning for the “more than.” “Is life meaningful?” “Is God good?” Can I trust my life to God or have I been abandoned by God? An idolatry crisis happens when you run after a passion rather than pursue God. Each person in your sphere of influence is going through crises in their own lives. God can use a crisis to help something in us die so we can experience and share the light of Christ.

  • To feed the 5,000, the disciples had to rely on Jesus because they didn’t have the resources. Jesus walked out on the water to comfort the disciples with his presence. The disciples thought they were going to die a terrible death. If you choose to think your situation, the church and others are hopeless, it results in ego desperation, or hopelessness. You see what’s wrong, you think you have exhausted your resources and you see no way that it’s going to get fixed. If you allow the crisis to take you into the life of Christ and dependence on him, it will not destroy you. 

  • It's important for us to understand how our relationship with God is affected by being born at a certain period of time and in a certain society. The vital is the physical dimension of the human life. Vitalism is where your physical pleasures become the priority in your life.  Functional is the roles, tasks and responsibilities we take on. It’s a problem when we allow our roles and responsibilities to define us, which is functionalism. Transcendent is the longing for the “more than.” Pneumatic/Ecclesial level is the capacity the Lord has given each of us to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit, God’s voice. When ambition gets separated from the leading of the Spirit, it can become self-promotion. Functional Transcendence is you using the things of God for self-gain.

  • It's important to keep Christ at the center of who you are. Interiority includes memory, intellect, will. Augustine says will is most important.In addition to our personal thoughts, we exist in community with others who are submitting their lives to the will of Christ. The Lord has placed us in a certain place and time and wants you to live a life of obedience in that context every day, not just one day a week. The Father is seeking to form your life into the image of Christ as you were meant to be. Through our experiences, God forms you into a unique person. On the relational side, this results in compassion for others because we love others with the same love we experienced. God gives us confidence that he has given us the gifts and resources we need to live out the calling he has given us. Competence that our ministry will be effective. Our courage comes from trusting in the strength of the Lord. Community, the work of God’s Church is a work done with others. Confirmation comes internally from God and externally from the community of faith. 

  • If you are following Jesus, you have a role as a leader. If a spiritual leader does not understand what their task is according to scripture, then their spiritual life is not going to have the focus the Lord wants them to have.  Worship is a response of the love that has been shown to us. Worship involves our all aspects of us and is enabled by God’s Spirit. We worship God because of who he is. By looking at Jesus, you see who God is.

  • The Church needs you to present what Scripture says, not your own ideas. Worship means to kneel before someone out of respect or honor. We owe it to God as an act of service to sit at his feet and worship him. Spiritual worship is to place our physical bodies at God’s disposal. Are we leading people to worship God, or just providing religious goods and services to them? Solid biblical teaching is important. Structure follows purpose. We are failing to dig down into the revelation of God and let the revelation of God set the compass. If you are not careful, your program sets your agenda.

  • Movements in worship: 1. kneeling in acts of loving worship. Kneeling in submission before God to acknowledge that you are dependent on him. 2. Exalting God by declaring his worthiness 3. Receiving God’s life symbolized by the sacrament of communion. 4. Empowers us and encourages us to go out and serve. We participate in the fellowship and life of the Trinity. We need to immerse ourselves in relationship to God and let that inform and empower what we do so that our worship service is more than creating an experience or transmitting information. Be explicit about your purpose in worship and include prayer.

  • The elders fall before the throne, they worship the Lord and they cast their crowns before him. Falling before the throne represents an acknowledging of God as absolute deity. What is going to happen in the future tells us what we should be doing now. When we fall down before the throne, our heart condition is inward humility and submission to the Lord. Then they raise up and exalt the Lord by proclaiming his worth. Inward love results in proclaiming what is right, good, just and holy. Taking of crowns is an outward expression of placing everything we have under the Lordship of Christ and an inward movement of total abandonment of everything we are to God.

  • The call of Jesus to, “follow me” is the call to redirect everything in our lives. A disciple is one who seeks to fulfill the will of the father by actively following Jesus the Son while continually depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Faith is my trust in Jesus as well as the content of the Gospel. Practice is putting it into play. Catechism is the content of the faith, and catechesis is how you express it. Cheap grace is not biblical because it allows for justification without ensuing discipleship. Primary purposes of the church are to proclaim the Gospel, worship and make disciples. In addition to knowing the content, you must live it out. Clergy need to learn how to make and train disciples. Laity must be fully committed full-time ministers of the body of Christ.

  • Movements that are necessary for the church today to fulfill what God is calling them to do. For the clergy, 1. moving from pastor as the primary minister to each believer fulfilling their calling as full-time ministers in their spheres of influence; 2. Moving from preaching only to not only appropriate sermon preparation time but also discipling a core group; 3. Moving from a priority on numbers to staying with a process that results in mature disciples; 4. From solo leadership to team leadership. Discipleship should not be optional. Old Christendom model is breaking down but confusion on who and what we are called to be. “Is my first aim to make disciples, or do I just run an operation?” For the laity, 1. From going to church to being Church; 2. From expecting benefits from Christianity requiring no sustained effort to being intent on being disciples; 3. From being passive observers to full-time ministers. Primary purpose of leader is to equip the people of God to do the work of God.

  • The sermon is a critical part of the discipleship process. The “through” movement is the process of the “from-to” movement. Each of these steps must be contextualized to your situation. We are aiming for maturity in Christ. As a leader, you love the whole but you only disciple the few. Don’t neglect public proclamation but don’t see that as the end of your ministry. Daily pray, read scripture, weekly services, small groups acts of service, fasting, giving. Discipleship is helping people integrate the word of God into their lives.

  • Tozer says we don’t have the right of choosing Jesus as Savior and postponing our obedience. Dispositions are something that’s part of your daily life. Christian disciplines help us to love God and love our neighbor. Encourage people to seek God’s direction for where he wants them to serve. The biblical model is that mature Christians will live as disciplined followers. Make it a goal for pure love to fill your heart and govern your words and actions.

What do you think the priorities should be for a leader in the Church? How do you cultivate your personal spiritual life in a way that keeps you emotionally healthy and helps you avoid choosing sin? What is your measure of success for your church? How does that compare with a biblical measure of success? What is a disciple? What should the process of discipleship look like? What principles can you learn from the way Jesus interacted with his followers that will help you to encourage spiritual formation of the people in your sphere of influence? What are sins that people in leadership have commonly struggled with over the past 2,000 years? How do you recognize them in your own life and what are some practical ways to avoid them or repent and recover from them? What is the essence of worship? How do you live your life so you are worshipping God authentically in everything you do? How do you lead worship in a group setting in a way that encourages others to worship authentically? 

These are a few of the questions that Dr. Martyn poses to begin a conversation regarding the subject of the spiritual life of the leader. As a pastor for more than 20 years, Dr. Martyn asked and answered these questions in the context of loving and serving people personally. As part of his current position of teaching future pastors at Asbury seminary, he and some of his colleagues have conducted extensive surveys of church leaders throughout the North America and the world to get a better understanding of the responsibilities and pressures that church leaders face every day. His goal is to be able to understand biblical principles and use his experience to help leaders develop a model of ministry that helps them develop their personal spiritual life and give them a model to disciple and encourage the people they work with in a way that is healthy and encourages their faith and practice. 

Whether you have an official leadership position or not, you will benefit from listening to this class. It is one of the most comprehensive classes on spiritual formation, discipleship, leadership principles and worship that you will ever hear. If you listen and reflect on each of the lectures from beginning to end, you will be glad you did. 

Dr. Stephen Martyn

Spiritual Life of a Leader


Essence and Reception

Lesson Transcript

Essence is who the Lord has created you to be. Biblically, essence precedes existence as oppose to Sartre's teaching that man is no more than what he makes of himself. God has given us the capacity of reception, to be able to hear God’s voice and follow it. The spiritual life that God calls you to live is based on what you receive from God, not on what you do for God.

I. Essence

We have talked about the Wesleyan Revival in the 1700s and about Christian Activism in the 1800s and how that set a mode of living and working that permeated broad sections of the church today. I want to try and give a further foundation to a certain important term. The church had a term which you will see come up conceptually in any number of places in the early church. There were people like John Cash, an early church father writing in the late 300s and early 400s. Where you really see it come into flower and explained thoroughly is in the theologian times of the medieval age, a person the church referred to as the dumb ox. This person was a very overweight person, yet a beloved man of God by the name of Thomas Aquinas. He had this word which was nothing really original to him; it is the idea of essence. It had to do with who the Lord created us to be. We will spend a lot of time discussing the image of God from Genesis, along with how we are being formed into the image of God in Pauline thought. So essence is who God created me to be. What they would write is that essence precedes existence. There is a lot of theology behind that this course doesn’t have time to unpack. From a Christian standpoint, we believe that the Lord holds every single person in his mind and heart, even before they were born. This is why we cherish human life and why we stand so firmly that nothing is a mistake or accident regardless of the circumstance of birth, regardless whether they know their parents. You now have people saying to their children that they were unwanted. I have students who have been rejected by their parents. Some don’t even know their birth parents. In regards to the doctrine of essence, the church fathers affirmed that we are held as cherished because I am created by God the Father, almighty. My deepest dignity is in God’s work in my life, not in what I do to create my own identity. This doesn’t take away from the responsibility that we have. This is important to understand in terms of being driven that many of us find in terms of the rise of Christian activism. It is also important in terms of getting the balance not only in terms of what Jesus does for us but what Jesus does within us.

II. What’s the Result if My Life is Defined by What I Do?

A. Jean-Paul Sartre

So when we talk about essence preceding existence, let’s move forward in terms of where things end up eventually; as to my life being defined by what I do. If my life is defined by what I accomplish or what I build or by what I accumulate or by whom I influence. These are all prime things in ministry. My wife and I have built buildings in ministry and accumulated things for ministry. If I get to the point of saying okay, the value of my life rises or falls on what I build or the influence or metrics that I measure myself by. It is very common in congregations to measure yourself by the number of baptisms or by the sheer attendance. There are many different ways in which we measure ourselves. If these statistics become my primary means of self-worth, then I am on really slippery slope in my life. Let’s look at where that slippery slope goes as we go into the 1900s. I want to look at a school of thought that was highlighted by a person named Jean-Paul Sartre. The book which I’m reading from is on existentialism and human emotion. Please keep in mind that Sartre was an atheist. He was an existential humanist, who said that there was no God and that the philosophical atheism discarded the idea of God. Well, people have discarded the idea of God for a long time. But, anyway, this gained a lot momentum in the 1800s, but not so much for the notion that essence precedes existence. To a certain extent, this idea is found everywhere. We find it in Voltaire and in Kant, both notable philosophers of the day. Man has a human nature and this nature is found in all people. This means that everybody is a particular example of a universal concept. Kant says that the result of this universality is that the natural person as well as the famous and rich person are circumscribed by the same definition and have the same basic qualities.

Atheistic existentialism, which Sartre represented, is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, this is his presupposition, there is not God. Many people in church today don’t believe in God; they only believe in their own social agenda and not at all willing to submit anything to the Lordship of Christ. However, they do everything under the banner of the church. So, it states, if God doesn’t exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence. He is flipping it; a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept and that this being is us. So, what is he saying? This existence is what defines me, what I do defines me. So what is it that is meant by saying that existence precedes essence?

B. Thomas Aquinas

The church, since the time of Thomas Aquinas, says that my essence is what God created me to be. But the atheists say no, that is nonsense; I define my essence. I define who I am. Is this not the cry that we universally hear today? Not only do I define my essence, even today, we will see that we are now trying to define our gender! People have now started to define everything about themselves. It is all about self-definition. There is no given here as such. So, that which is meant by saying that existence precedes essence; first of all we exist and then only afterwards we define ourselves. You have to be a self-made person which is what defines ourselves and thus there is no human nature sense there is no God to conceive it. A person is nothing else but what they make of themselves. That is what a number of philosophers then and now. Humanity if nothing else but what we make of ourselves.

Let me suggest that kind of bent understanding has permeated Christian thought or more so permeated Christian action. It works itself out in all of those negative things we have been talking about. So, what is missing today in the church is a gap of understand just what the church is. We also have a gap of no anthropology; we don’t understand how the Lord made us and what he created us for and understanding of receiving the good gifts of God before entering into any kind of kenosis or self-living out of this. The same person who codified it for the church; Thomas Aquinas said that the soul seeks to give form to the body. In other words, God has created me in his image. I am an incarnated soul; I am made in the image and likeness of God. I am destined to be with God in eternity. Christ through his sacrifice has made that destiny possible for me through the interactions of the merits of Christ and the Holy Spirit within my life; I can now allow the Holy Spirit to lead all that I am to redeem me. This is what the new birth does; it restores the image of God within me. I don’t have to live by those red flag issues that I’ve pointed out earlier. I realize here that I am a child of the King.

C. Ministry Can Be a Shortcut to Hell

I have worth that cannot be measured because I am a child of the King. The Lord fills his purpose for us which may not be tied up in all the activity that I tend to think that will fulfill us. We need to hear a tough word from ancient authors and that is, ‘ministry can actually be a shortcut to Hell.’ If you don’t get some of this stuff grounded in your life about who you are doing this for, why you are doing it and who gets the honor and who is directing it all, it can be a shortcut to hell by entrapping me in layer upon layer of things that will undo my life. It will also bring harm into God’s kingdom.

D. John Ortberg

I want to put up a little schema here that comes from John Ortberg, a sweet man of God in the western part of the United States. He addresses these issues straight on, writing a recent text called ‘soul keeping, caring for the most important part of you.’ He gives us a good example and schema for the difference between letting Martha have it all her own way and being grounded in Christ in midst of the heavy demands of ministry. At no point have I ever thought that ministry did not press me at times and make very real requirements of me. I never try to get away from that at all. But what Ortberg points out, there is a difference between falling into the trap of which states that work determines everything. I am my work, in other words. You are not your work. Your work is an extension of your relationship with Jesus. When you get this out of balance, life begins to collapse. I am not my work. The definition of my life is not my work. When Martha has it all her own way, according to Ortberg and he isn’t even using the Mary/Martha outline here. He is talking about the same concept. Then, I end up hurried and when you are hurried, you are always pre-occupied and unable to be fully present. By that, anytime you are with someone or involved in doing work for the Lord, you are worried and anxious about what is next or what still needs to be done. You can’t be full present or fully relaxed in the moment to what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in that ministry moment. As a pastor having back to back services; three back to back services. Sometimes I felt that I needed a whip for the other staff and for myself. This hurried feeling became an inner condition of the soul, writes Ortberg; and it becomes so dangerous. And when this takes over, the same thing that happened with Martha will happen with us. It becomes spiritually draining. The spiritually presence of God gets drained and then what happens, you do ministry just to do it. It becomes rote as your heart is no longer in it. There is no longer anything there.

And then ultimately Ortberg writes: it causes me to be unavailable to God. He compares this; he admits there are times when we are busy, but there are times when we have to be un-busy. Ortbergs continues to say, I really can maintain a full schedule. There can be a lot of comings and goings; I can have in that sense many activities. But he makes a distinction that this is an outward condition and opposed to an inner condition of the soul. But all of this reminds me that I continually need God. Whereas I’m unavailable to God here, the schedule itself drives me and pushes me to this very sense of needing to be with the Lord.

E. Reception

A quick point that I want to make here; reception is the greatest capacity God has given us. When he made you as a living person in his image, part of that capacity that he has given each one of us is the ability for you to hear his own voice and to follow it. Reception is the greatest capacity he has given to you. The idea of essence, to be made in the image of God means that I can hear and I can respond. I have the capacity to listen and accept his word, his ongoing invitation to me and I can respond. I can be responsible with what he is asking of me. The spiritual life that we are called to live, is based on what we receive from God, not on what we do for God. I don’t want to be accused of being a dualist here. I want to explain this; the spiritual life that is sound and solid is based on what I receive from God. If you flip it and base your spiritual life on what you do for God, then all of the issues that we have been trying to cover began to collapse. You will not be able to do enough to earn God’s favor. Paul had a lot to say about this. Are you able to fulfill the Law? No way! It isn’t going to happen. Are you going to work your way to heaven? No, it doesn’t happen that way. It is a gift; I am here because of a gift of God. I am a gift of God and you are a gift of God. You are a redeemed gift of God. Reception is the priority given to us by the Lord himself. There were times with the Lord that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat. He would pull away and go up into Mount Herman just to get away from the pressing crowd. We are not talking about an unrealistic understanding of life. There will be heavy times of demands, but it is through all of this; in putting this priority that the Lord has given us that we sudden realize with Saint Augustine in his famous Easter sermon, you are what you receive. Blessed be the name of the Lord for allowing us to be what we receive from him. Amen.