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Playing the 'God Card'

Have you ever thrown down the God Card? Playing the God Card happens whenever one uses "God told me" as the ultimate justification for a decision that requires group consensus. Picture a meeting about budget allocation or using space in the building or ministry direction, and someone goes "all-in." They might say: "I really feel like God wants this to be happening." Or: "God told me we should make my announcement first on Sunday morning." At best, the God Card is an expression of passion and heart having a difficult time explaining itself. At worst, it's a manipulative tool, a power play to get one's way.

I think people use the God Card too much, ministry or not. And yes, God told me to say that. (God Card Alert!)

Making difficult decisions in the church is nothing new. The entire book of Acts is devoted to the development and spread of the early church. Acts is about explosive growth of the church, the Spirit showing up with many miraculous signs and wonders, and people converted faster than Paul and his crew could baptize them. I imagine the folks in leadership meetings could hardly keep up.

Can you relate?

Ever felt overwhelmed by your responsibilities, unsure how to move forward, and tentative in your leadership decisions? So did the early church. Ever been in a situation where people drop the God Card to get their way? So was Paul. We read in Acts 15 that some leaders were teaching that circumcision (one of the many laws of the Old Testament) was necessary for salvation. These leaders were confident that it was the way the Church had to proceed. They were "all-in."

But Paul and Barnabas disagreed with those leaders, and we get a ringside seat to the first of many heart-wrangling decisions about how to interpret the law in light of grace. So what can we learn from their struggles?

• They debated. They had it out, they argued, they disagreed. They held their ground on what they thought was important.

• They respected each other. When all parties decided to travel to be together over this question of circumcision, the Scriptures report that Paul and Barnabas were welcomed. They were received and embraced with love and respect.

• They were persuasive with facts and stories about God's evidence, not just God's "voice." Nobody threw the God Card in this meeting. Each side presented information: stories about what they had seen God doing and why they felt strongly about their argument.

• They searched the Scripture for understanding. They showed forethought and preparation in their argument. They wrestled with understanding scripture as a basis for their decision.

• They compromised. I doubt the final decision was what either side fully wanted, but it was what they could agree upon. And that had to be enough.

• They were tentative and humble. In Acts 15:28, the council comes to a decision and sends a letter back to the churches, saying "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." "It seemed" was all they could muster. They didn't say "God told us" or "God has said" or "This is law." It was not an audible voice or handwriting in stone. It was imperfect people working together to find a compromise, to move forward in unity so that the gospel could be preached effectively.

I love the idea that the final decision was only as strong as "it seemed good." There's no reason to throw a God Card, because with hard work, we can work together toward decisions that make sense.

Do you agree with the argument against the "God Card?" Have you struggled with decisions on "this is what God told me?" How do you handle it?

September22, 2010 at 9:19 PM

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