Leadership Tests: No One Likes Them and We All Go Through Them


"God tests leaders. In the scene from Jesus’ ministry to the multitudes in John 6:4-6, Jesus asks a seemingly innocuous question to test Philip.Later in the Gospels, we learn that Philip was most likely an accountant, a man who dealt in exact numbers and precise records. When Jesus tested Philip, if we listen carefully, we can hear an unwarranted response from Philip to Jesus: “We don’t have enough money to do this...we only have two hundred denarii and besides, this is not in our budget.” What Philip did not say is, “I trust you, Master.”

A leadership test is a crucible that, by its nature, is intended by God to be a transforming experience. God does not initiate every human situation that tests us, but He uses them all.

As a 21-year-old leader, I asked God one morning to teach me “His ways.” Earlier that morning, I had read these words from Psalm 103:7: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” I realized I knew little of God’s ways, especially His ways in developing leaders.

I have since discovered that there are indeed certain “ways” God works in and through leaders’ lives. To discern His ways is to ease the path of our service to God. Neglecting to discern His ways is to wander through life blindfolded, unable to see the path ahead. A leadership test is a crisis, big or small, that God uses to teach us to depend more deeply on Him. Testing is one of the least understood aspects of God’s ways. We often ignore God’s testing in our lives, to our great detriment. As leaders pass through tests, they discover God’s goodness in new dimensions. They gain confidence that He can and will meet them in the crisis experiences of life.

In his crucial leadership book, The Making of a Leader, Robert Clinton says, “Not only does God meet the leader in the situation, but He does so with a solution that is tailor-made for the leader. The overall effect is a more confident leader.” God-orchestrated tests in leaders’ lives usually produce one of two results: drawing them closer to God, or pushing them further from God. Identifying the nature and purpose of the tests can help us move toward God, instead of away from Him. But that is a choice we must make for ourselves - God will not force us to trust Him.

One way to view the Bible is as a collection of leadership biographies that narrate the various kinds of tests God takes leaders through. By identifying and naming the tests we go through, we recognize that we are not alone in our experience and that God has good reasons for allowing us to go through tests. Most importantly, it gives us perspective. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, Paul describes the lessons he learned from the difficult tests he passed through: “We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally - not a bad idea since He’s the God who raises the dead!” (The Message)

Below are the components of unique tests we go through as individuals and the common tests most leaders go through at some point.

Components Of God-Appointed Tests:Difficult Circumstances (A Crisis) – If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be a test. • Desired Response – God wants us to seek Him. • Delight – God delights in our growth as we develop deeper dependence on Him. This is the reward He gives us for passing the test.

Common Test For Leaders:Rejection – Dismissal by friends, family, or trusted co-workers • Isolation – A wilderness time of loneliness or confusion • God’s Silence – When God does not speak • Integrity – To be true to our convictions no matter how hard • Hearing God’s Voice – Knowing it is God speaking • Obedience – Doing what God says, no matter the cost • Laying Down Our Rights – Not insisting on having our way • Word Test – Obeying God’s direction to us • Faith Test – Believing God in spite of overwhelming odds

All leaders are tested, but not all recognize the test and its importance for their development as wise and faithful leaders. It is hard enough to go through the test, but even more difficult to go through it and not have an understanding of what the test is.

At one point in my life, I went through an isolation test. I lived in a beautiful part of the United States, the Rocky Mountains, and was surrounded by close friends, yet it was a test of isolation nonetheless. I didn’t know what the test was at the time, but I sensed God was up to something. I often cried out to Him for understanding about the nature of my test. I knew about leadership testing, I understood God’s ways, but I lacked a personal, Holy Spirit revelation about the nature of my test. Many times I prayed: “Please Lord, just show me what the test is, Lord, and with your help, I will pass it.” Th
en one day a friend visited my wife and me. “I wondered what’s happening in your life, why you are stuck out here in the mountains, and now I know,” he stated emphatically. “You are isolated. God has isolated you!” In that moment it was like a light was turned on in my soul. I was going through an isolation test. I loved living in the mountains, but it was still a “wilderness” for me spiritually. I began to study the people in the Bible who experienced significant periods of isolation. I got perspective from the Bible as to why God tested leaders with the isolation test.

An isolation test occurs when a leader is separated from normal involvement with people, work, or ministry - often for extended periods of time - but life carries on. On a physical level, isolation can result from sickness, conflict with others, depression, or ministry or moral failure. Isolation can be a way of God cutting a person off from normal outlets of activity to put pressure on their soul. God uses periods of isolation to create new levels of dependency on Him. For some of us, we can continue in our normal place of service, but still experience a profound sense of isolation. Some periods of isolation are a result of God withdrawing His grace, and as a result, deep levels of frustration are experienced. God uses the “holy frustration” caused by isolation to draw us to Him. At times, He uses the frustration to prepare us for changes He wants to bring about in our lives. Some of those changes are internal in our character or identity, and in some instances, the change can be a career or geographical move.

We learn an imperative lesson from Jesus about passing our tests. No one has ever been tested to the degree Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is our supreme example of passing tests by being in total dependence on the Father. He prayed in the garden, “Father, let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Are you prepared to pray this same prayer of surrender that Jesus prayed in the garden?

What major tests has God taken you through in your life? Take time to make a list of those tests. Put names on them, such as “isolation” test, or “rejection” test, “forgiveness” test, etc., and then write the significant life lessons you learned (or did not learn) as a result of the tests. 
I suggest you read the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis as another example of a leader who was tested and what God accomplished in his life as a result."

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