Setting goals for the first 100 days became a U.S. tradition after President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched his first term in 1933 with an ambitious plan to combat the Great Depression. But in the world of the church, there is another measure: The first 40 days of Jesus’ ministry.
Rather than jumping into the fray, performing miracles and delivering profound sermons, three of the Gospels note that Jesus, “driven by the Spirit,” enters into a period of solitude, deprivation and temptation in the desert. For the Son of God, the beginning is a long period of preparation centered on prayer, sacrifice and contemplation.
Not everyone has a 40-day planning period before taking a new job, says retreat leader and author the Rev. Robert H. Ramey, Jr. But paying close attention to the life of Christ -- including that time in the desert -- is one way for Christian professionals to focus on servant leadership.
“I think it’s very important to remember who you are, that you are one who is called to office by God’s grace, through Jesus Christ,” Ramey said.
The period of preparation may begin even before the new position does. Discernment, coupled with prayer, should be an early part of the process, said the Rev. Edwin Aponte, dean of Lancaster Theological Seminary.
“I would advise someone to never make this move unless they have a group of close intimates who can help them in the decision-making process,” he said.
And keep in mind why you are considering the change, said the Rev. Philip Amerson, president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary: “Don’t just do this because you think it’s somehow a validation of who you are as a person. There must be a deeper reason to assume leadership roles.”
Once the job begins, leaders should continue to find time for contemplation and prayer, no matter how intense their schedule. Aponte and Amerson, for example, both regularly attend weekday chapel services on their respective campuses.
The Rev. Arnetta Beverly, pastor of St. Matthew United Methodist Church in Greensboro, N.C., says prayer has always been an important part of her life as she has moved though various ministerial appointments.
“Lord knows I bent the knee,” Beverly said. “I had to go to God more than once and sometimes many times for discernment, for guidance, for strength, for perseverance and to make sure I was open -- heart, mind and spirit -- to the leading of the Holy Spirit in what I was doing.”
Reading the Bible is another obvious source for inspiration, in the first days of a job and afterward. The Rev. Bill Leonard, founding dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School, in Winston-Salem, N.C., says he frequently reads Luke 4:16-22.
“I go back to that verse for myself and for the church and for the Divinity School -- it’s not an exaggeration to say almost every week in some form or another -- because it says what we’re about.” Leonard said. “It says who we’re with, and it says how our calling…mirrors that calling that Jesus had.”
Ramey says a Christian leader in a new job must begin, and always stay focused, on the connection to the divine. Going on retreat, hiring a spiritual director and establishing a regular prayer group are all ways to do that, he said.
“I would certainly recommend to begin this period in prayer and building your future ministry on a spiritual foundation,” Ramey said. “I don’t see any way we can function as leaders if we don’t renew the source of our strength, and the source of strength is from Christ.”