The Old Testament is divided into three major sections: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books. Old Testament Christian Theologian Walter Brueggemann observes that these three are an excellent representation of the sequential stages of healthy human development. They may also serve as a representation of the stages of developing ourselves as healthy church leaders.
The Torah: The First Stage of Self-Development
The Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) gave the Israelites an understanding of the Law, God’s authority, and their identity as beloved children of God. In his infinite wisdom God knew that his people needed the foundational structure to healthy life the Law and his unfailing love provides.
For healthy self and leader development we first need an understanding of a similar structure. As individuals, we each must begin with some clear structure, usually provided by our parents, to feel safe and for normal healthy development. As educators and clergy have learned, for natural and effective education, faith, and self-development it is easiest and essential to start with an initial sense of order and structure.
In this stage we begin to develop our identity, an understanding of God, self and others, and learn how to set boundaries and accept authority. We learn to order our lives around scripture and develop the core disciplines and practices of spiritual and self-leadership that are foundational to success and health. Without this foundation, self and leader development is stunted at best and dysfunctional at worst.
The Prophets: The Second Stage of Self-Development
The books of the Prophets represent the birth of necessary and effective critical thinking and learning from failure and suffering. The Prophets functioned as a mirror for Israel, critiquing how little attention they paid to God’s word. The Prophets forced Israel to recognize their own hypocrisy, idolatry, and self-serving interests.
As we learn to think critically, it is usually initially oriented outwardly in criticizing other people, organizations, plans, processes, policies, etc. To truly grow and become effective as a leader we must develop skills in critiquing and evaluating the matters that fall under our responsibility. If we stop there though we risk becoming hypercritical and hypocritical.
Healthy critical thinking helps you realize you are not that good and neither is your group or organization. You begin to realize all things are both good and bad. Here you realize through critical thinking that order and structure alone won’t solve all problems.
Honest and humble self-critical thinking is necessary to see one’s own faults, complicity, and hidden narcissism. It is necessary to learn from our stumbling blocks, suffering, and failures. The Prophets are the most neglected part of Scripture, most likely because we haven’t developed a capacity for healthy self-criticism. Only when I confront and encounter my own failings and shortcomings do I realize that I am part of the problem and the biggest problem is usually me.
The leaven of God’s structure and understanding my beloved-ness provided in stage one allows me to take and wisely apply self-criticism and criticism of others learned in stage two.
The Wisdom Books: The Third Stage of Self-Development
The Wisdom section of the Hebrew Scriptures includes the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Psalms, and Proverbs. The Wisdom literature develops our ability to take the order and critical thinking we learned in the first two stages of our development and apply them wisely.
Here we learn to make good decisions and prioritize correctly by applying what we learned in the first stages of our development. We begin to exhibit the fruits of the spirit, develop compassion, mercy, patience, forgiveness, and death to our egocentricity. We begin to learn to live wisely and at peace with the complexity, mystery, questions, and paradoxes of faith, life and leadership.
Wise people always pass through the first two stages of development and experience the transformation to wisdom and holiness that occurs in this third stage. Healthy self and leader development is all about getting you to this third stage. Yet, regretfully, most of us tend to stop or get trapped in stage one or two of our development, but only in stage three do we fully experience the risen life of Christ.
Posted on October 24, 2017