Horse trainers designed blinkers or horse tacks to keep the horses focused. Many racehorse trainers believe that blinkers keep horses focused on what is in front, encouraging them to pay attention to the race rather than to distractions such as crowds. The blinkers shut off the horse’s peripheral vision so they can only look forward. It is even considered a vital piece of safety device that protects the horse and pedestrians. The problem is that the device’s efficacy has never been proven scientifically. Still, most, if not all, racehorse trainers swear by it.
I am not an expert in horse training nor a scientist, but as a social observer, I can’t help but be reminded that some church leadership practices have become our own blinkers. Acts 10 and 15 tell a powerful story of how the Holy Spirit intervened so the gospel could be freed from its reigns and explode into the world.
Despite the many blindspots of the early church leaders, Cornelius, a gentile, a centurion – defender of the Roman empire, thus an enemy of the Jewish people, was able to come to faith in Yahweh. Acts 10 was clear. He was a devout worshipper of God. He was not just a superstitious, political worshipper. He was a man that lived out his faith. He “gave alms generously to the people” and “prayer continuously” (Acts 10:2, ESV). The Bible does not implicitly explain how Cornelius came to faith, but the point it makes is clear, God does not need any others to accomplish the work of reaching the lost. Yet, as the story continues, even though God does not need anyone in the work of reaching the lost, he invites us into the work with him.
Peter was shown a vision. A vision that challenges his very identity as a Jew. What he held in high regard, his kosher diet, was used to illustrate his and the early church leaders’ narrow view of God’s love and desire to reach the lost. Though clearly not a directive on abandoning his kosher diet, it was a direct injunction to abandon his close-minded, ignorant Jewish nationalism and to preach the gospel to all who are God’s redeemed, including the Gentiles. God was smashing their tinted glasses to bits, starting with Peter.
Peter witnessed how the Holy Spirit descended upon a group of non-baptized Gentiles as an affirmation of the call. He accepted it and was clearly defending it in Acts 15.
It is interesting also to see how God can use anything for his cause, even sharp disagreements, as catalysts. At the beginning of Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas’ dissensions and debates resulted in a reformation that relieved the Gentile from unnecessary burdens and created a clear baseline of expectation for them. Later in the chapter, Paul and Barnabas’ sharp disagreement resulted in the work moving quicker than before, with Paul and Barnabas each taking a new disciple and reaching different parts of Asia Minor concurrently.
The biggest lesson for me as a leader from these two chapters is to be observant of the Spirit’s work. To prayerfully consider the doors he opens and prayerfully submits to the way he is leading. It is easy as a leader to fall back on tradition, methodology, and habits. But God is creative. He has never reused any of his methodologies, even if it seems highly effective and successful (like the 3000 from one sermon approach during Pentecost, God does not recycle his methods!). Instead, he uses what is necessary and useful at that moment and keeps creating new ways of reaching the lost and interacting with his children.
Are we wearing blinkers and tinted glasses?