Pastor Brandon 'b-side' Alvillar
Leadership: At Work, At Church, At Home
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
There’s a lot of books and other types of resources out there for how to lead properly. I’ve never read any of them. In fact, I’m not writing this in an effort to pretend that I have the slightest clue as to what a good leader is, or how to lead properly. If that’s what you were hoping for, you’ll have to go somewhere else. The truth of the matter is, I’ve found myself in leadership positions for a long time, and didn’t ask to be in any of them. So, like a lot of other people, I’ve just had to figure stuff out. As a leader of a ministry, the stakes are high. As a leader of Proper Knowledge Initiative, the stakes are even higher, and this last week, the LORD taught me a lot about what it means to lead people as a servant of His.
For those of you who don’t know, our ministry isn’t like most others that you might be familiar with. We are legally considered a church, but we don’t have a building with pews and a pulpit; and we’re not looking for one. We function as Bible teachers, but we don’t have classrooms or common venues to teach people in. We’re not really looking for that either. We operate like a missionary organization, but live surrounded by the affluence of Southern California. We’re small. We serve the needs of people that our culture tries to exploit and doesn’t care much about. We seek out people that just don’t fit into the modern church culture, who need to hear the Gospel in a slightly different dialect. As a result, we don’t have much support from the people and organizations that surround us. This makes us a poor ministry, where we struggle to survive, pay the bills and grow. Yet, it’s been made painfully clear that the LORD has called us to do this for the last fifteen years.
By all means, we’re not looking for sympathy. There are far more people that struggle way more, and the LORD is just as faithful to them. That said though, every decision we make is critical. We don’t have money to throw around to try new things. We don’t have time to waste. We don’t get the luxury of vacation time, celebrations, and so forth. We’re in the trenches, trying to make the most of what we have, because we believe in the value of what the LORD has given us. When you visit our website, or come to our studies, and only see James, my wife Cara, my kids, and myself, it’s because that’s the whole of our ministry. Sure, there are others that we consider like family, whom the LORD has used to enable and encourage us, but the workload you see, and the teaching you hear – it’s just us. We’re all full-time in this together, trying to do the best we can with the little that we have.
This means that, as the “leader” of the ministry, and “head” of my family, I have to make decisions every day, with two things in mind:
How does that decision affect my family and our ability to survive; and how does this affect the ministry and its ability to keep going?
This last week, I decided to pull the trigger on an “opportunity,” which, as the consequences of that decision began to unfold, I started to wonder if it was the right decision. Here’s how it all went down…
For the last seven or eight years, we’ve been working on a devotional series called “Getting To Know God.” If you didn’t know, there’s a version of it on our website now, in the Study section of our website. We feel like this is the one thing that the LORD has really commanded us to do, but we’ve been at a standstill lately, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the photography that’s supposed to accompany the lessons. We do our own photography. The reason why we do it ourselves is, usually, the LORD has used our photography experiences and sessions as teaching-tools for us to learn about the things we’re sharing and photographing. We’ve been stuck for the last couple months. Covid hasn’t helped. For the last couple of weeks, it seemed like the LORD was really convicting me to pick up the camera, trust Him, and get out somewhere to move in a “forward-direction” for this book project. So we did.
Seeing that there was decent a winter storm coming, I started to make plans to travel into it. We have friends/family that have a house up in Big Bear Lake, so I figured, we could save some money staying at their place, use it as base, and hike up to a remote spot to photograph some fresh-powder landscapes. My hope was to communicate the beauty of the LORD’s purity when it covers over things. It seemed like a good idea at the time. As I watched the forecast, I saw that my plans had to change. We had to move more quickly than I anticipated. The storm was moving faster, so we had to get up the mountain quicker. I talked to Cara, and got the green light. I talked to James. He was down too. So, with a few hours’ notice, we were packed up, and on our way up the mountain.
The decision seemed to be sound as we got to the base of the mountain. We skipped some of the heavier traffic. We got to the base of the mountain just in time, where it seemed like we would catch some daylight on the drive up. That made us feel good about the trip. Then we started to make our way up, and all sense of direction was lost – spiritually and literally. The front end of the storm brought in some of the heaviest fog we’ve ever dealt with. Much of the drive up, was zero visibility. All of the curves and turns made each move suspenseful. The higher we got, the thicker the fog became. I didn’t know Earth could throw fog at you until then. Interesting. The situation got very dangerous, very quickly, and there was nothing we could do about it.
So, like the faith-filled pastor that I am, I continued on with full assurance and confidence, settling James’ nerves with timely quotations of scripture. NOPE! That’s not how it went at all...
The fog covered up my vision of the road, and covered over all sense of wisdom I thought I had before we left. I started to question my decision to head up the hill. I started to doubt whether or not the trip would be successful, and really felt like, if we could see the road more clearly, we should just turn back and go home before things got worse and costlier.
Thankfully, we made it up safely, but that didn’t set my mind at ease. I was thankful the LORD showed mercy to get us to the house unharmed, but I started to realize that there were a number of things that I didn’t account for, and we were already in this. The next day came, and we made efforts to confirm our plans. We checked the forecast every hour, on the hour, and it was all over the place. The snow was supposed to end earlier, and then it was forecasted to be later. The wind was supposed to die down, then it was forecasted to pick up. All the while, snow was piling up on our uncovered car. We did our best to keep the fresh powder off throughout the day, but it was too much. The entire time, in my head, I kept thinking to myself, I had made a mistake. This trip was not working out as planned. We weren’t going to be able to get the shots we planned for. We spent money unnecessarily. We wasted a bunch of time. We put ourselves at risk. This was not good. It was proving to me that, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have the right information when we got there. I didn’t have answers concerning the changes we needed to make.
Why did the LORD call me to lead in this position? Why were we even trying to take photos for a book we haven’t been able to finish in eight years? How many other wrong decisions had I made to get us to this point?
This was the downward spiral of doubt that was filling my mind quickly.
When we woke up the next morning to get ready to shoot, it was confirmed. We weren’t going to be able to get to our spot. The snow plow guy had cleared the road, but built a wall of snow in front of our car. The car was totally covered in snow, and frozen in place. We were just going to have to hike on foot to another spot, and hope to find something compelling to shoot. We didn’t. Where we were hoping to get the snow covering nature, having to hike on foot kept us too close to the city, which was just a bunch of snow-covered houses, power lines, and street signs. Hardly a compelling image that communicates the beauty of God’s holiness.
I felt so defeated in that moment. I’m not really an emotional guy in that sense, but I felt like I wanted to cry. The weight of the ministry’s struggles, my family struggles, and so forth, all seemed to pile on me, like the snow on the car at that point in the day. It sucked. I felt like a failure. I had made the call to travel and spend money, and I felt irresponsible. I had taken time away from my family, and they were having a hard time at home without me. I felt pretty helpless about that. I had put James at risk, driving up the mountain in those conditions. I took him away from his wife. I put him in a position to spend money unnecessarily. All of this for what? We didn’t even know what we were going to use the photo specifically for. We hadn’t heard some resounding voice from the sky to say that we need to do this book and take all the photos ourselves. What were we doing, and why was I leading in this direction? Again, if I was wrong about this, how much other stuff was I wrong about? Was my flesh getting in the way of the LORD’s leadership, or was this “enemy opposition?” Who knows, but in my mind at that time, I felt like, as a leader, I led the team, and my family, into loss. We went to gain ground in Jesus name, and it seemed like we failed.
Needless to say, my attitude was pretty lame the rest of that photo session. Since I couldn’t get the shot that I wanted, I was really struggling to find something creative to make the most of the time. I was praying so hard in my head, that I just couldn’t concentrate and focus on being creative. I took 9 photos that trip as a result. After we were done, we hiked back to the house, and did our normal daily devotional Zoom call through the Psalms. That day, we were in Psalm 104:10-15 talking about the LORD’s power, authority, and wisdom in how He created everything on the 3rd Day of creation, as documented in that portion of scripture. Hearing those words helped. It really laid the foundation for the lesson I learned in the following days.
The drive down the mountain was hopeful even though we didn’t get what we wanted. The LORD was putting encouraging things in my head to bring comfort about the situation. He was assuring me in my head that, things weren’t as they seemed. There was value to the trip. I just had to trust that, even though I couldn’t measure the value. When I got home and looked at the handful of photos I took, there was one that seemed decent to me. Whether we use it or not in the book remains to be seen. Still, the shot was pretty good, considering the circumstances. It wasn’t a total loss. The LORD certainly showed mercy in providing that shot, but there was more.
Over the last week in processing this whole situation, here’s what the LORD has taught me about leadership. I don’t know what I’m doing, but neither does anyone else really. Psalm 104 made a pretty compelling point that, there are just too many variables to consider. The LORD is in charge of all of them, at all times, and can change them up any way He wants, at any time. This means that, no matter the planning, the LORD will do what He wants. He might tell us, but He doesn’t have to. I’ve found that often times, He doesn’t make things as clear as I’d like them to be.
It’s true that I have to do my best to make decisions that seem sound and good for my family and the ministry. The problem is, how to I gauge the success of those decisions, if the LORD is using so many variables to produce results that are ultimately eternal and spiritual? Can I really account for all of that? Is it possible for any human to deal with all of that information and really know whether they got it right or not? How often does the Bible show how the perils of God’s people actually produce the most amazing spiritual results that bring Him glory, like the testimony of Joseph?
Since that’s the standard of God’s work, there’s no way that I can measure the standard of mine. That’s why, leading the right way, is described by Jesus Himself, as making ourselves the greatest servants we can be, for His purposes. Did I get it right or wrong on this trip? Who knows. What I do know, is that, before I pulled the trigger, I prayed like crazy, depending on the LORD for wisdom. I know that I really had the hope to gain ground on a project we’re trying to complete, to teach people the true identity of God according to the Bible. I know that I was willing to put myself at risk, sacrifice the time and money, in a desperate attempt to bring attention to the One True Living God according to His Word, as He’s shown it to us.
If I look back and assess my motives, I feel like they were in line with things good for the Gospel. That doesn’t necessarily mean that God will use my efforts in the way that I planned. That also doesn’t mean He won’t use my efforts at all.
The point is, I don’t know what God will do. So to lead, simply requires me to admit I don’t really know what’s going to happen; admit I can’t assure a particular outcome; and simply do my best to check my motives to ensure they’re spiritually centered with the objective to glorify the LORD, and not myself.
If you want to lead Biblically, you first have to come to the realization that you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll never really know what direction the LORD is leading you in all the details of life, because His ways are not like ours. We can have good intentions, but if we’re honest with ourselves, most of the time, we’re just guessing. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not. I just see in my experience, that’s the truth of the way it is, because we’re not God. When you compare our understanding to the truth of scripture, I guess the people who seem to have it together and walk confidently about their life-decisions, are better at covering their uncertainty than me. To me, what’s the point of covering my uncertainty, if Jesus only wants me to serve Him. How good and confident do I really have to look to others, if I’m just a servant at the end of the day?
The point Jesus was trying to make when He commanded His disciples – the leaders of the church – to be servants, was to humble themselves. To make sure their “guesses” were in the line of His own patterns of work. When the disciples selected Matthias to replace Judas, they were guessing. The only thing they knew for sure, was that Jesus originally selected 12 men, and one was gone. They used the guidance of scripture for the selection method, and went with it. They didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. They admitted to themselves, and to others in the practice of casting lots, that they didn’t have all the answers (Read the full story here).
Paul often confessed that he wanted to get certain places, and couldn’t (Acts 16:6, Romans 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 2:18). He admitted that he made plans that failed for lots of reasons. He made assumptions to the Philippian church that he would see them. He was wrong. He didn’t see them. If people of such great faith like them got it wrong so often, how can we expect to get it right so often?
The irony is that, to lead Biblically, it seems that we first have to remember that we’re blind. Then, in order to walk by faith, we kind of have to grope the scriptures, feeling around the Word with fear of the LORD and caution, to see where the LORD might be leading. That doesn’t mean we sit back in fear of circumstances so that we’re unresponsive to convictions to move. We have to understand that, each decision is high stakes, because who knows whose watching, or who will be affected. This is true, even of the decisions that we think are simple and mundane. Again, what does success really look like if we can’t see the outcome and rippling effect of the decisions we make, whether the decision is a “big one” or not.
When leading others, even our own families, we’re going to make good calls that seem to produce fruit the right away. We’re going to make bad calls that seem like worthless losses. Thankfully, at the end of the day, the LORD is not depending on us for anything. We were saved by grace on account of faith He gave us in His testimony. We weren’t saved by our ability to know the right decisions. We are kept in His grasp by His power, not our intelligence or resolve. It’s Him. It has always been Him, and always will be. If there was a chance that any of us could get it right, Jesus wouldn’t have come in the flesh to die for the sin of the world. Like I learned on this trip, sometimes the LORD will let “the leaders” look stupid in their planning, to remind us that He’ll show His glory the way He wants, often times, in spite of how we thought or planned, just to remind us that He’s in charge, and our position with Him, is based off of grace, not merits. That’s not a bad thing to know. We’re not put in positions of leadership and influence because God is impressed with our ability. Scripture presents a pretty good argument that, God’s best leaders, were often the most simple and unqualified. Knowing that, I don’t have to measure my decisions and my perception of their success in ways that validate my worth as a husband, dad, or leader in ministry. I just have to keep seeking the LORD and His righteousness, remembering that, whether I get it right, or don’t, no matter my perception of the stakes, I don’t have to go to hell because Jesus paid the full price of my inadequacy. I’m learning that, this truth is good enough at ALL times! We’d all be wise to learn that simple, but profound truth, more and more, together.
#leadership #lilfelessons #ministrylife #humility #stormyweather #christianliving