March 16, 2015 — by Sarah Singleton


Unlearning Our Natural Independence

Today on the ECO blog, we are grateful to hear from Sara Singleton, the founding director of ELI, Elder Leadership Institute: a church leadership training program in the Reformed tradition. ELI develops and supports spiritual leadership for the church by training ruling elders (members of Session) together with their teaching elder (pastor).

Most of my Christian life has been remedial. Since the Fall, perhaps that’s true in some sense for all of us. There’s a lot that comes naturally that must be unlearned: simple things that stem from our inherited and inherent sin, as well as our living in a broken world. For example, take the common measure that is used for success. Deep in our bones, how many of us feel that success involves a modicum of recognition from others, some degree of comfort, a measure of financial security and a sense of personal satisfaction? But how did Jesus measure success? By doing His Father’s will. Period. In fact, Jesus said that he could do nothing by Himself, but only what he saw His Father doing (Jn 5:19). I don’t think for a second that Jesus couldn’t think about his mission, open his mouth to speak, or implement a plan that involved his disciples. It’s just that Jesus wouldn’t do anything apart from His Father’s will and the Spirit’s power. He could do nothing by Himself, otherwise, He wasn’t fully God: the eternal, unchanging, omnipresent God who is in perfect fellowship within the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

"Learning" & "Unlearning"

You and I have been brought into this very realm of relationship through Jesus’ atoning work. Through the Spirit we listen to what our Triune God is saying and do what we hear that the Father wills (Col 3:1-3). Or do we? For me, I must first unlearn my inherent, stubborn independence and learn with a listening community of believers this dependence upon the Spirit in prayer. Jesus said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5). Nothing?? Wait a minute. Aren’t we able to assess our community’s needs, form a task force, implement a mission outreach, and expect God’s blessing? Surely the church and its leaders can do some things. And if we do these things with good intent, isn’t this all that God requires?

A comparison of the leadership of King Saul with King David gives us our answer, two men chosen by God and anointed for leadership of God’s people. Over and again we see Saul attempting to do for God what God did not require, or want (1 Sam 13). In contrast, David waited to hear God’s Spirit, and through listening and obeying, David victoriously led God’s people (2 Sam 5). David was a spiritual leader.

Are you a spiritual leader as well?

One of the jewels in Christian literature is the seminal work by Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, first published in 1979. Lovelace reminds us that spiritual leaders never outgrow complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings awareness of God through hearing the justice and love of God, and convicting us of the depth of our sin and the sin-soaked systems of this world. The Spirit keeps the church resting in justification, and focused on sanctification, indwelling believers in power and giving them authority over evil through Christ. The Spirit sends us into the world in mission and keeps us dependent upon God in prayer; unites us to one another in rich community and frees us from destructive enculturation; teaches us the truth and confirms us in the mind of Christ (Lovelace, Dynamics, p. 75).

If you would like to unlearn your natural independence and learn with a listening community of believers a fresh dependence upon the Spirit, I invite you to consider participation in ELI, Elder Leadership Institute. ELI aims to support church leaders to develop as spiritual leaders, listening and following and bearing much fruit, just as Jesus intended.


Sarah Singleton

Sara is the founding director of ELI and was formerly an associate pastor in spiritual formation and marriage ministries in in Colorado Springs. She now serves as a stated pastor in Londonderry, New Hampshire.  Following her delegation to the 2010 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, Singleton developed The Cape Town Commitment: A Call to Action, a study guide for churches with DVD. She authored the two audio-devotional series published by Oasis Audio, Hearts On Pilgrimage and Continuing the Journey. Upcoming works include A Simple Walk: Following God Beyond Fear, to be published in 2014 by InterVarsity Press.

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